The drug methylenedioxymethylamphetamine (MDMA) is commonly referred to as Ecstasy. The belief that MDMA was marketed as a drug capable of suppressing appetite is almost certainly not correct. In fact, it was an intermediate product in the synthesis of certain other products. The American military was interested in the drug during the 1950s when experiments with psychedelic chemicals were being carried out to identify a "truth serum".
Ecstasy was synthesized for the first time in 1912 by Anton Köllisch, a chemist working for Merck, during the course of developing substances for stopping abnormal bleeding. Merck was making an effort to evade one of Bayer's existing patent for a similar compound called hydrastinine. Köllisch made a preparation of methylhydrastinine, a hydrastinine analogue, at the request of his superiors. Though Merck was disinterested in the properties of the product at that point of time, the company filed two numbers of patent applications, giving a description of MDMA synthesis and its conversion subsequently to methyl hydrastinine.
Ecstasy was forgotten for almost 65 years, though the researchers at Merck studied the compound occasionally. Mark Oberlin carried out a study on the pharmacology of Ecstasy. He observed that the effect of the compound on smooth muscles and blood sugar was similar to that of ephedrine. Further research experiments were conducted in 1952 as well as 1959. During this period, the U.S. Army commissioned a study on behavioral and toxicity effects on injected with mescaline and many other analogues, including Ecstasy. In 1973, the results of these investigations were declassified and published. A scientific paper on Ecstasy was published for the first time in Yakugaku Zasshi, the Journal of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan, in 1958 wherein Yutaka Kasuya described the process of synthesizing Ecstasy as part of his antispasmodics research.
Ecstasy was used for recreational purposes in the U.S. during the 1970s. Alexander Shulgin at the University of California came to know of the effects of Ecstasy, especially the fact that one of them was able to overcome his stutter. In 1976, Shulgin synthesized Ecstasy and tried the drug on him. A couple of years later, he along with David E. Nichols published a report for the first time on the Ecstasy's psychotropic effect on human beings. The paper described that the drug altered the state of consciousness with sensual and emotional overtones comparable to that of marijuana and psilocybin, but without the hallucinatory component.
Shulgin occasionally used Ecstasy for relaxation and referred to it as his low-calorie martini. He also gave the drug to researchers, friends and others who he felt would benefit from its use, including Leo Zeff, a psychotherapist. Zeff used psychedelics in his practice. Effects of Ecstasy impressed Zeff and prompted him to come out of semi-retirement to convert other psychotherapists to the use of Ecstasy in their practice. Zeff traveled all over the U.S. and sometimes to Europe in order to train other psychotherapists in using Ecstasy. The drug's ability to enhance the communication during sessions of clinical psychotherapy, reduce the psychological defense of the patients and increase the therapeutic introspection capacity earned it a reputation among underground psychotherapists.
By early 1980s, Ecstasy gained popularity as "Adam" in gay dance clubs and trendy nightclubs in the U.S., particularly in Dallas. The use of Ecstasy spread to raves in big cities and mainstream society. The Drug Enforcement Administration proposed to schedule the drug for the first time in 1984 and Ecstasy became a controlled substance and was classified as a Schedule I drug in 1985.
The drug came to known by the name Ecstasy during late 1980s and its use spread to the U.K. and other parts of Europe not only as part of the rave culture, but also as an integral element in music scenes influenced by psychedelics. Ecstasy was widely used by young adults studying in universities and later by high school students as well. Along with heroin, cocaine and cannabis, this drug became popular as one among the four most widely used illicit drugs.
Criminalization of Ecstasy stopped its use for medical purposes, though some therapists continued their practice of illegally prescribing the drug. The U.K. reported a reduction in the use of Ecstasy during the latter part of the first decade in the new millennium because of seizures and a decline in the manufacture of chemicals required for producing Ecstasy. The availability of alternatives such as BZP, methylone, mephedrone and MDPV also contributed to the decline in the popularity of Ecstasy.