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MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse

A Brief History of MDMA

MDMA was developed in Germany in the early 1900s as a parent compound to be used to synthesize other pharmaceuticals. During the 1970s, in the United States, some psychiatrists began using MDMA as a psychotherapeutic tool, despite the fact that the drug had never undergone formal clinical trials nor received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in humans. In fact, it was only in late 2000 that the FDA approved the first small clinical trial for MDMA that will determine if the drug can be used safely with 2 sessions of ongoing psychotherapy under carefully monitored conditions to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. Nevertheless, the drug gained a small following among psychiatrists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with some even calling it "penicillin for the soul" because it was perceived to enhance communication in patient sessions and reportedly allowed users to achieve insights about their problems. It was also during this time that MDMA first started becoming available on the street. In 1985, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) banned the drug, placing it on its list of Schedule I drugs, corresponding to those substances with no proven therapeutic value.2

image of cerebral cortex neurons showing the loss of serotonin-containing nerve endings in monkeys folliowing 2 weeks (about 95% reduction) and 7 years (about 50% reduction) following MDMA exposureSerotonin Present in Cerebral Cortex Neurons Long-term effects in monkeys. The left panel is brain tissue from a normal monkey. The middle and right panels illustrate the loss of serotonin-containing nerve endings following MDMA exposure.

This page was last updated March 2006

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