Ecstasy Drug Information and History

Get the facts about the drug known as Molly and MDMA

Ecstasy (MDMA) tablets white

 Willy turner / Wikimedia Commons

Ecstasy, also commonly known as "Molly," is a synthetic drug known primarily for its hallucinogenic and stimulant effects. It's known to impart feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth, and distorted sensory and time perception. The chemical name for ecstasy is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It is a derivative of amphetamine and has a similar structure to methamphetamine ("meth").

Other Names for Ecstasy

Some of the most colorful slang terms used for ecstasy (MDMA), based on the name of the drug, effects, and appearance, include: 

  • Adam
  • Beans
  • Candy
  • Clarity
  • E
  • Essence
  • Happy Pill
  • Hug Drug
  • Molly
  • Scooby Snacks
  • Lover's Speed
  • X
  • XTC

Ecstasy Production Today

Unlike other recreational drugs such as cocaine and nicotine, which are derived from plants, ecstasy is synthesized by altering the structure of the amphetamine molecule. Because of the way it's made, its purity can vary substantially, and other compounds can be easily combined into the same tablet. Ecstasy additives and contaminants often include methamphetamine, caffeine, ephedrine, and ketamine.

Ecstasy typically comes in a tablet form that's often imprinted with graphic designs or commercial logos. While it's usually taken as a capsule or tablet, some users swallow it in liquid form or snort the powder. The popular nickname Molly (slang for "molecular") refers to the supposedly "pure" crystalline powder form of MDMA. But people who purchase powder or capsules sold as Molly often get other drugs like synthetic cathinones (bath salts), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The History of Ecstasy

MDMA was initially developed in 1912 as a pharmaceutical compound that could be used in the preparation of other pharmaceuticals, and it was patented in 1914. But once the drug's hallucinogenic properties were discovered, further development was stopped for several decades.

Ecstasy was one of several drugs tested in a military context decades after. It was then re-synthesized, first by Gordon Alles, then by Alexander Shulgin, who tested it on himself, his wife, and his friends. Shulgin went on to develop a range of new compounds, with varying effects and risks, including MDMA and PMMA, many of which ended up as versions of street ecstasy. It was many years after this that MDMA eventually appeared on the streets as a recreational drug.

Ecstasy Use and Misuse

Though known today mainly as a recreational drug, ecstasy has also been used off-label in medical contexts. Ecstasy was briefly explored as a therapeutic drug, as some psychotherapists believed it opened people up and enhanced their potential for empathy and understanding of one another. This use was interrupted by the criminalization of MDMA. The view that ecstasy can reliably enhance the therapeutic process has now fallen out of favor in the psychotherapeutic community.

An earlier version of ecstasy, MDMA became popular as a recreational drug among hippies in the 1960s and spread to the gay scene in the 1970s. In the 1980s, MDMA became fashionable in the Acid House nightclub and rave scene.

However, due to concerns about the health risks associated with ecstasy, it was made illegal in the United Kingdom in 1977, way ahead of its popularity in that country. It was made illegal in the United States in 1985, at which time it was classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule 1 drug, according to the Controlled Substances Act.

For a few years, in an attempt to circumvent the law, different versions of ecstasy were synthesized, which was the basis of the designer drugs movement. This production was eventually outlawed but re-emerged as a problem around 2000 with the popularity of homemade crystal meth.

Despite a number of high-profile deaths associated with ecstasy use, and the illegal status of the drug, a subculture of ecstasy users continue to use the drug, mainly in the nightclub, rave, party, and festival scenes.

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Article Sources

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