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MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse

What is the history of MDMA?

MDMA was developed by a German pharmaceutical company in 1912. Originally known as “Methylsafrylaminc,” it was intended as a parent compound to synthesize medications that control bleeding, not to control appetite as is often incorrectly cited.33,34

MDMA gained a small following among psychiatrists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, despite the fact that the drug had not undergone formal clinical trials nor received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in humans. Some psychiatrists believed that it enhanced communication in patient sessions and allowed patients to achieve insights about their problems.35 It was also during this time that MDMA started becoming more widely available on the street.5,36

In 1985, the DEA declared an emergency ban on MDMA, placing it on the list of Schedule I drugs, defined as substances with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. MDMA has remained a Schedule I substance since then, with the exception of a brief period of time between 1987 and 1988.37,38

Does MDMA Have Therapeutic Value?

The evidence on MDMA’s therapeutic effects is limited thus far,39 although research is ongoing in this area. Proponents of MDMA-assisted therapy recommend that it only be used for reactive disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder because it can worsen some psychiatric conditions.40

In the early 1990s, the FDA approved the first human trial exploring whether MDMA could help relieve pain in terminally ill patients, as well as serve as an adjunct to psychotherapy.41 Results from this study have not been published; however, these early studies helped establish safety parameters for administering MDMA to human participants in controlled, clinical settings.42 Clinical trials are ongoing to explore whether MDMA has therapeutic potential in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in autistic adults and patients with a terminal illness such as cancer.  

This page was last updated September 2017

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NIDA. (2017, September 26). MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/mdma-ecstasy-abuse

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This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.

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