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MDMA Frequently-Asked-Questions
First Author/Editor: Jon M. Taylor (jmt0165@u.cc.utah.edu)
Last Major Update: 15-Feb-94 R. Jesse (bob@hyperreal.com)
Last Minor Update: 20-Jan-96
FAQ Maintainer:  Brian Behlendorf (brian@wired.com)
Changes in 15-Feb and 27-May revisions:
   * Modified dosing information; added supplemental dosing note
   * Added III. Safety and Neurotoxicity Discussion
   * Added Note on Using MDMA Many Times
   * Replaced Chemistry section with Lamont Granquist's new survey
   * Added more references
Changes in 1-Jan revision:
   * Updated links
   * Added some new links

Table of Contents:
  1. Introduction
        o Disclaimer
        o Credits
  2. General
        o Dosing
        o Contraindications and overdose information
        o Effects
        o Notes on having a rewarding time
        o Drug Quality
        o Note on using MDMA many times
  3. Safety & Neurotoxicity Discussion
        o Behavioral Safety Concerns
        o Neurotoxicity?
        o Immune System
        o Preventive Measures
        o Conclusion
  4. Chemistry
        o Introduction
        o Precursors
        o Synthetic Routes
        o Methylamine
        o Literature
        o Net Sources
        o Manufacturing Road Hazards
  5. Miscellany
        o Rumor Control
        o Analogues and related compounds
        o Related Reading
        o Organizations
I. Introduction
This file is an attempt to collect some of the information about MDMA that
is floating around on the net in various stages of organization into one
easy-to-read document. Ideally, everything that anyone would want to know
about MDMA would be included in this document. In practice, there will
always be some useful bit of information that haven't made it in yet.. If
you find anything that you feel should be added, changed, deleted, or
properly credited, please let the maintainer know (address given above).
This FAQ is provided for informational purposes ONLY. The authors,
contributors, and editors do not advocate the use of anything described in
this document, and accept NO responsibility for any harm that might occur
as a result of acting on any of the information contained here. Although
good faith effort has been made to ensure the validity of the information
contained in this document, no guarantees or assurances of accuracy are
provided by anyone. Read at your own risk, act at your own risk.
Many people on the net have provided, knowingly or not, much of the
information that went into making this FAQ document. In particular, the
largest contributors were:
   * David Honig (honig@ics.uci.edu), assembler of the first proto-FAQ for
   * Lamont Granquist (lamont@hyperreal.com), author of the new Chemistry
     survey inserted into the FAQ 27 May 1994, and provider of general
   * Robert Jesse (bob@hyperreal.com), author/editor of the first Neurotox,
     Behavioral Safety Concerns, and Using MDMA Many Times sections.
II. General
MDMA (also commonly known as Ecstacy, X, E, XTC, Adam, etc.) is a
semi-synthetic chemical compound. In its pure form, it is a white
crystalline powder. It usually seen in capsule form, in pressed pills, or
as loose powder. Average cost ranges from $10-$30 (U.S.) a dose. Common
routes of administration are swallowing or snorting, although it can be
smoked or injected as well. Currently, MDMA is on the U.S. Schedule I of
controlled substances, and is illegal to manufacture, possess, or sell in
the United States. Most other countries have similar laws.
According to Nicholas Saunders (1993), "MDMA was patented as long ago as
1913 by the German company Merck. [...] The patent doesn't mention uses."
See PIHKAL (Shulgin & Shulgin 1991) or Shulgin 1986 for more history,
including how Alexander Shulgin brought the drug to the attention of
psychotherapists in the 1970s.
Usual doses of MDMA range from around 80 to 160 milligrams (orally), though
monks have used lower doses (40-60 mg) to assist meditation, and therapists
have sometimes taken similarly low doses to become more in tune with
clients. A benchmark standard dose is often considered to be 2 mg of MDMA
per kilogram of body weight (though response to the drug is not strictly
proportional to body weight).
When MDMA is taken by mouth, the effects manifest about 30-45 minutes
later; snorting, smoking or injecting produces much quicker onset. The
primary effects usually reach a plateau at T+1:00 (one hour after taking
the dose) to T+1:30, stay there for some two hours, then start tapering
gradually. The primary effects are pretty much over by T+4:00 to T+6:00.
Secondary effects (afterglow) may be felt for days, and tertiary
psychological effects (e.g. improved outlook) may last indefinitely.
Supplemental dosing: If you have taken an ordinary dose of MDMA (say 2
mg/kg), you like where you are at about T+1:30 (you will have reached
plateau by then), and would like to prolong your stay there, take a
supplement equal to about 1/3 to 1/2 the initial dose. Taking much more
than this is likely to induce or increase unwanted side effects without
providing additional benefit in return.
Contraindications and overdose information:
MDMA causes an increase in blood pressure and pulse rate, modest in most
people, similar to moderate exercise. Because of this, and because a few
people may have a more pronounced cardiac response to MDMA, people with a
history of high blood pressure, heart trouble, or stroke are advised not to
use MDMA, or at the very least are advised to start with a much lower than
average dose. The same warning applies to people who are hypersensitive to
drugs. Liver or kidney problems may also contraindicate MDMA use. It is, of
course, desirable to hear from your physician that you're in good overall
health before ingesting any powerful substance.
Deaths have been reported of some MDMA users who were also taking Monoamine
Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs are often prescribed as antidepressants). MDMA is
*not* recommended to anyone taking any MAOI. Ask your doctor or pharmacist
if you're unsure whether a drug you are taking is an MAOI. Also be aware
that some antidepressants (e.g. Prozac and Zoloft) may inhibit some of the
effects of MDMA.
MDMA is thought by many to be a fairly safe drug, as long as you keep track
of what your body is telling you (see Section III below for more discussion
of safety). The euphoria that it induces can make it easy to ignore bodily
distress signals, so be watchful for things like dehydration (drink lots of
water or fruit juices!), muscle cramping, dizziness, exhaustion or
overexertion. Several reports from England tell of dosed ravers dancing
themselves into severe dehydration and heat exhaustion that required
hospitalization and in a few cases resulted in death. An MDMA overdose is
characterized by high pulse or blood pressure, faintness, muscle cramping,
or panic attacks. If you experience any of these symptoms, sit down, rest,
and drink some fruit juice, water, or a gatorade-type sports drink. In the
unlikely event someone has a more severe reaction, e.g. loss of
consciousness or seizures, get medical help as soon as possible.
The physical effects of usual doses of MDMA are subtle and variable: some
users report dryness of mouth, jaw clenching, teeth grinding, nystagmus
(eye wiggles), sweating, or nausea. Others report feelings of profound
physical relaxation. At higher doses (overdoses), the physical effects of
MDMA resemble those of amphetamines: fast or pounding heartbeat, sweating,
dizziness, restlessness, etc.
The psychological effects are a bit more difficult to describe, since they
are many and of widely varying effects. The major ones are:
     Entactogenesis ("touching within")
          This is a generalized feeling that all is right and good with the
          world. People on MDMA often describe feeling "at peace" or
          experiencing a generalized "happy" feeling. Also, common everyday
          things may seem to be abnormally beautiful or interesting.
          Alexander Shulgin reported that mountains that he had observed
          many times before appeared to be so beautiful that he could
          barely stand looking at them.
          Empathogenesis is a feeling of emotional closeness to others (and
          to one's self) coupled with a breakdown of personal communication
          barriers. People on MDMA report feeling much more at ease talking
          to others and that any hangups that one may have with regard to
          "opening up" to others may be reduced or even eliminated. This
          effect is partially responsible for MDMA's being known as a "hug
          drug" - the increased emotional closeness makes personal contact
          quite rewarding.
          Many people use MDMA primarily for this effect, reporting that it
          makes potentially awkward or uncomfortable social situations
          (singles bars, dance clubs, etc.) much more easily dealt with.
          "[Conversation] just flows like water" said one person. "It seems
          like you know exactly what to say and when to say it. It's like a
          filter between what you want to express and what comes out of
          your mouth that you didn't even know existed is stripped away."
          This same person also reported that they used to use alcohol for
          many of these same reasons, but found MDMA to be more effective.
     An enhancement of the senses
          MDMA can significantly enhance (sometimes distort) the senses -
          touch, proprioception, vision, taste, smell. MDMAers can
          sometimes be seen running their hands over differently textured
          objects repeatedly, tasting and smelling various foods/drinks.
          This effect also contributes to the "hug drug" effect because of
          the novel feeling of running one's hands over skin and having
          one's skin rubbed by someone else's hands.
Before it was made illegal, MDMA was gaining a reputation among the
psychiatric community as a valuable therapeutic tool. People under its
influence often report seeing their lives in a whole new light. "I was
completely blown away the first time I did X" said the same person quoted
above. "I saw some of my problems that I didn't even know I had! All of a
sudden, It seemed like the source, nature and sometimes even the solution
of all my personal difficulties were completely obvious." Surfacing of
repressed memories has also been reported.
Despite the legal risks surrounding Schedule I drugs, some therapists are
still using MDMA in their practices. For a report on the subjective
experiences and psychological/behavioral sequelae of 20 psychiatrists who
took MDMA, see "Phenomenology and Sequelae of 3,4
Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine Use" (Liester, Grob, Bravo, and Walsh) in J.
Nervous and Mental Disease, Vol 180, No. 6, June 1992, Serial No. 1315.
Most people find the MDMA state so valuable by itself that it's not clear
there's much to be gained from combining MDMA with most other substances
(though the combination of of MDMA with LSD seems to have a strong
following). Further, combining drugs ("polydrug use" and "polydrug abuse")
complicates the medical and behavioral safety picture. For this reason, it
is not a recommended practice in the absence of expert guidance. Here is a
chart of commonly encountered drugs and some of their reactions when
combined with MDMA:
     Drug     |            Reaction Information
Marijuana     | Not known for dangerous reactions.  MJ is habit-forming for
              | some users.
LSD           | Not known for dangerous reactions.
Amphetamines  | Amphetamine overdosage probability is dramatically increased.
              | Strongly discouraged.  Speed is addictive.
Cocaine       | Same as Amphetamines.  Cocaine is addictive.
Heroin or     | No dangerous reaction, but the stimulant effect of MDMA may
other opiates | mask the opiate's sedative effect and increase the likelihood
              | of overdose.  The opiates are addictive.
Tobacco       | Not known for dangerous reactions.  Tobacco is highly
              | addictive and carcinogenic.
Alcohol       | Same danger as opiates, also can dangerously exacerbate the
              | dehydration that MDMA normally causes.  Not recommended.
              | Alcohol is habit-forming for some users.
Note that this chart does not cover cross-reactions of mental effects. This
will be covered in the next section.
Notes on having a rewarding time:
MDMA is used by different people for different things. Because the drug has
such a wide range of effects, it can add to almost any activity. Here are
some of the more common activities than people take MDMA and engage in.
          Raves (dance events featuring "house" music) are common settings
          for taking MDMA. The atmosphere of a Rave is designed to be
          conducive to enjoying the MDMA experience, in the company of
          other people who may also be taking MDMA, or who can be as
          friendly and open without chemical assistance. MDMA's enhancement
          of proprioception (deep body sense) makes movement notably
          pleasant, so Ravers on MDMA often dance for long periods of time
          (remember to drink water frequently!). The feeling of unity and
          shared ecstatic joy at a successful Rave can be overwhelmingly
          wonderful. Some ravers regard this as spiritual or religious
          practice. For more info on raves, subscribe to the newsgroup
          alt.rave or obtain the alt.rave FAQ from hyperreal.com.
          Since MDMA can catalyze a broad range of psychotherapeutic
          effects (surfacing of repressed memories, dealing with emotional
          issues, etc.), MDMAers sometimes will trip by themselves or with
          a trusted guide, and spend the experience thinking about their
          lives. It has been said that "one hit of X [MDMA] is worth 3
          months of conventional psychotherapy". Whether that is an
          exaggeration or not, MDMA has been praised by many
          psychotherapists as a notably effective means of dealing with
          personal issues. People who have had an MDMA experience of this
          kind often will want to talk to some people they are close to in
          order to discuss what MDMA has made them more aware of.
     A substitute for speed
          MDMA is also sometimes used for some of the same things that
          amphetamines are used for, typically activities that require
          concentration, motivation, creativity, or energy. Doing homework,
          studying, writing, playing video games, and dieting are some of
          the many activities that MDMA may facilitate.
     The sensorium
          The sensory enhancement of MDMA can make sensual activities
          unusually enjoyable. Touching can become such an intensely
          pleasurable sensation that close personal contact (sexual or
          otherwise) can be quite fun, especially when coupled with MDMA's
          empathogenic effects. Hugging someone and running your hands over
          them are such a common thing to see people on MDMA doing that it
          is known to some as the 'Hug Drug'. Eating, drinking, smelling
          flowers and even the sensations of waste elimination can become
          special experiences on MDMA.
MDMA can also be mixed with other drugs for a different experience. The
health hazards of each of these combinations were discussed in the section
on contraindications. Here are the mental effects: (note that this is based
on subjective information. Personal reactions may differ.)
     Drug     |             Information
Marijuana     | Fun, but can cloud the mental effects of the MDMA.  Have to
              | smoke more before you notice it.
LSD           | Can go very well together.  LSD and MDMA is commonly known as
              | "XL" or "candyflipping".  Most prefer quite low doses of LSD.
Amphetamines  | You're already speeding.  Why bother?  Health risks noted in
              | contraindications section.
Cocaine       | Similar to Amphetamines.
Heroin or     | In terminal cancer patients, MDMA has restored the lucidity
other opiates | that is often obscured by opiates given for pain.
Tobacco       | Tastes good, if you're into it.  Easy to smoke too much.
Alcohol       | Can cloud the desired effects of MDMA.  Dehydrating.
Drug Quality
To have a rewarding time on MDMA, you need to have good quality MDMA. The
only way to maximize your chance of getting the real thing is to know &
trust your supplier. Note that MDMA is not known for causing strong visual
distortions. If you take some "MDMA" and notice that a predominant effect
is trippy visuals, what you got was probably not pure MDMA, or MDMA at all.
Note on Using MDMA Many Times:
Most users of MDMA who have taken the drug many times report that after
some number of sessions, varying by person from a few to a few dozen, the
desirable effects of the drug are no longer as pronounced. Said one, "it
loses its magic." Another person who used MDMA perhaps a dozen times
(separated by weeks to months) noted the dropoff, waited three years (!),
tried an ordinary dose of high-quality MDMA again, and found that the
annoyance of the physical side effects outweighed the greatly diminished
positive effects. He has sadly given up the drug. Others who have had fifty
or more MDMA sessions still find them to be worthwhile on balance.
This MDMA effect dropoff might be explained by a psychological mechanism:
loss of novelty. (On the other hand, people who have experienced MDMA
effect dropoff generally report that there is not a similar dropoff in the
effects of other psychedelics with which they are equally or more
experienced, e.g. LSD and DMT.) Or the dropoff might be caused by lasting
neurophysiological or neurological "changes" to the brain from exposure to
MDMA, the prior state of the changed structures being necessary for
ecstatic MDMA experiences. It is an as-yet-unanswered question whether such
changes, if they happen, are best regarded as harmful, neutral, or
If you choose to use MDMA, the lesson here may be to spend your first few
sessions wisely and cherish them. Later sessions may never seem as
III. Safety and Neurotoxicity Discussion
Behavioral Safety Concerns
As noted, a primary psychological effect of MDMA is to make the user feel
"safe", at peace with the world, pleasantly reconciled to things as they
are, and things however they will be. This can remarkably diminish one's
ability to make sound judgements during the session. Examples:
   * It becomes easy to want to prolong the MDMA state by taking more and
     more of the drug (or of other drugs), beyond what you would judge wise
     or worthwhile when not under its influence.
   * It becomes easier to have unsafe sex. You may "forget," judge that the
     risk of infection is very small, or feel that infection wouldn't be
     such a terrible thing after all. If you think you might have sex while
     on MDMA, it may help you and your partner to stay safe if you lay out
     safer sex supplies before dosing in a place you'll be sure to see them
     later, and agree beforehand that you'll use them if the occasion
Another danger stems from MDMA's lessening of the awareness of pain
(whether through chemical analgesia, or through psychological analgesia).
Combined with the extra energy the drug gives, it becomes easy to sustain
bruises, blisters, or other bodily damage from extensive dancing, hiking,
climbing, etc., without noticing it until after the damage is done.
Under MDMA, it may seem "right" to make immediate changes in relationships
(increasing or decreasing commitment) of all kinds. The fresh points of
view appreciated during an MDMA session are one of the drug's most prized
benefits, but it is probably unwise to actually make lasting relationship
changes until you have a chance to see how you feel about them after the
drug and its afterglow wear off.
One claimed effect of MDMA use is lowered brain serotonin levels. One study
(Peroutka) found no evidence for this, but at least two others (Ricaurte)
have found significantly reduced serotonin metabolite levels, the more
recent study showing a 30% average difference between the control group of
non-MDMA users and the experimental group consisting of people who had used
MDMA about 75 times each, on average. (Note though, that some of these
studies used psychiatric patients or "polydrug abusers" - not
representative user samples.)
What does this mean for users? Anecdotal evidence from years of legal and
illegal use suggests that this is not of much concern for most people. Some
folks, however, report periods of depression after using MDMA, on rare
occasion severe depression. Considering that a primary action of many
antidepressant drugs (MAOIs, SSRIs) is to increase brain serotonin levels,
a connection between MDMA use and subsequent depression is not
unbelievable. Psychological factors - sadness at returning to an ordinary
state of consciousness after ecstasy - may also account for feeling down
for a while. In any event, most users report the opposite: feelings of
well-being or gentle euphoria in the days following an MDMA session. To get
a better understanding of why the serotonin system may be critical to
normalcy for some individuals and less so for others, see Listening to
Prozac by Peter D. Kramer (Viking 1993). The entire book is worthwhile, but
note pages 134-136 especially.
There is solid experimental evidence that MDMA, administered in large doses
and/or repeatedly, causes partial loss of serotonergic neurons in
laboratory animals. Uncertain is whether this loss is permanent,
reversible, or important. One study found in the rat nearly 100% recovery
within a year. In another study (Ricaurte), non-human primates were dosed
with MDMA and their brains were examined for morphological changes.
Ricaurte found that there was no effect after 2.5 mg/kg oral doses given
every two weeks, for a total of eight doses. But after a single oral dose
of 5 mg/kg, he observed a 20% reduction in serotonin and its metabolite
5-HIAA, only in the thalamus & hypothalamus. There appeared to be some
regrowth over time, not necessarily complete, and also some "collateral
sprouting" - growth of other types of neurons in the reduced serotonin
Note that in all of the animal studies, even when there are quite large
serotonin system reductions (up to 90% in high MDMA dose rat studies), no
behavioral deficits are observed.
It is also uncertain how these studies would extrapolate to humans - the
human brain may well be more or less sensitive, or sensitive in different
areas, compared with other animals. In any case, what is known is that
there are no reported cases that link behavior changes in humans with
MDMA-induced serotonin system changes or neuronal loss. And, the long-term
human behavior changes that are noted (in studies and from anecdotal case
reports) are generally regarded as positive - lowered impulsiveness and
hostility, improved social/interpersonal functioning, changes in
religious/spiritual orientation or practice, etc.
One of the reasons so little is known about the lasting effects of MDMA on
the human brain is that no subjects (to date) have recorded their drug use
history, then volunteered their brains for post-mortem study. If you would
like to consider doing this, you can get donor information at
Studies with live human subjects are also underway - both volunteers and
donations are needed. One good source of current info is the
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) - see
"Organizations" at the end of the FAQ.
Immune System
Some users of MDMA report an apparent decrease in resistance to disease,
especially with frequent MDMA use. It is unknown how much of this may be
due to the pharmacological "body load" of MDMA, to staying up all night and
dancing, to increased physical contact with people with colds, to
suppressed appetite and poor nutrition, etc.
Preventive Measures
A fundamental precaution is to stay well hydrated. Drink water frequently
during the MDMA session, and moreso if you're physically active. Under the
influence, time can pass surprisingly quickly. It is useful if trip guides
or trip buddies remind each other to drink water often.
For those who are concerned about the possibility of serotonin level or
serotonin system changes in humans with therapeutic doses of MDMA, some
researchers reckon changes can be lessened or prevented by taking
antioxidants. In an article titled "Phenethylamines, Free Radicals, and
Antioxidants" (MAPS Newsletter, Volume IV Number 1), author Brian Leibovitz
suggests in Table 1 taking as a preventive measure the following: 5 mg
B-Carotene; 2 grams Bioflavonoids; 100 mg Coenzyme Q10; 2-4 grams
L-Ascorbic acid; 1 gram L-Carnitine; 2 grams N-Acetylcysteine (NAC); 250 ug
Selenium, and 1,000 IU Vitamin E. "There is nothing magic about the doses
listed; it is my best estimate based on present knowledge in nutrition." If
you don't feel like buying out the local vitamin store, taking a subset of
these (even just the ascorbic acid - vitamin C) could well be helpful.
And, if you're really concerned, recent non-human animal research suggests
that most or all of the serotonin system reduction may be prevented by
taking Prozac (fluoxetine) 0-6 hours after taking the MDMA (see McCann and
Ricuarte in J. Clinical Psychopharmacology, 13 (3):pp. 214-217, 1993). One
might speculate that other SSRI drugs (Zoloft, Paxil) may work too. Note,
however, that some people report that Prozac taken before or in the early
part of an MDMA session lessens some of the desirable effects of the MDMA.
One take on all this information is that there are a great many questions
unanswered by research as yet. Thus a conservative, prudent assumption is
that the risk of some kind of subtle neurological "damage" in humans from
MDMA use is not zero. Yet there is no behavioral evidence of neurological
harm in humans (and there is considerable evidence of psychological
benefits) - this in many years of legal use (before 1985 in the US), and
quite widespread illegal use since then.
Given any non-zero risk, it makes sense to examine the benefit side of the
equation, and take the drug only when you expect to get some tangible
positive outcome from it that you feel makes taking the risk worthwhile.
IV. Chemistry
All information here is to be used at your own risk. The procedures
documented in this file, if carried out by unlicensed individuals would
violate laws against controlled substances in most countries and could
result in criminal charges being filed. If carried out by individuals
unskilled at chemistry they could result in serious bodily harm.
MDMA ("Ecstasy") is a semi-synthetic compound which can be made relatively
easily from available precursors. Synthesis instructions exist which can be
followed by an amateur with very little knowledge of chemistry. However,
people with less than 2 years of college chemistry experience would
probably not be capable of sucessfully synthesizing MDMA, and would either
botch it in the best case or kill themselves in the worst case. For those
interested in the techniques involved in synthesizing MDMA, a good book for
self- learning is the following:
  Zubrick, James W.  "The Organic Chem Lab Survival Manual:
  A Students Guide to Techniques."  ISBN #0471575046.
  Wiley John&Sons Inc.  3rd ed.
It is recommended that this book should be supplemented with at least one
more of the 'dry' and technical O-Chem lab manuals available at any college
bookstore. It is not recommend that the information from these books or
herein this file be used to synthesize MDMA for the previously stated
reasons. Knowledge, however, is not (yet) illegal.
The following chemicals are some of the more important ones in the
synthesis of MDMA and related chemicals:
    O  //\  /\       O  //\  /\       O  //\  /\\       O  //\  /\\  NO2
   / \//  \/  H     / \//  \/  \     / \//  \/  \\     / \//  \/  \\/
  /   |   ||       /   |   ||  ||   /   |   ||   |    /   |   ||   |
CH2   |   ||      CH2  |   ||  ||  CH2  |   ||   |   CH2  |   ||   |
  \   |   ||       \   |   ||  CH2  \   |   ||   CH3  \   |   ||   CH3
   \ /\\  /         \ /\\  /         \ /\\  /          \ /\\  /
    O  \\/           O  \\/           O  \\/            O  \\/
    piperonal          safrole         isosafrole     beta-nitroisosafrole
   O  //\  /\  O     O  //\  /\  Br
  / \//  \/  \//    / \//  \/  \/
 /   |   ||   |    /   |   ||   |
CH2  |   ||   |   CH2  |   ||   |
 \   |   ||   CH3  \   |   ||   CH3
  \ /\\  /          \ /\\  /
   O  \\/            O  \\/
     MDP-2-P      3,4-methylenedioxy-
   * safrole: 3,4-methylenedioxyallylbenzene,
   * isosafrole: 3,4-methylenedioxypropenylbenzene,
   * MDP-2-P: 3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone,
     3,4-methylenedioxyphenylacetone, 3,4-methylenedioxybenzyl methyl
     ketone, piperonylacetone
   * piperonal: 3,4-methylenedioxybenzaldehyde, heliotropin
   * beta-nitroisosafrole: 3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-nitropropene
Safrole, isosafrole, MDP-2-P, piperonal and beta-nitroisosafrole are the
most commonly found precursors to MDMA in clandestine labs.
Synthetic Routes:

For an overview of MDMA synthetic routes it is suggested that the readers
familiarize themselves very thoroughly with the following reference:
  Dal Cason-TA. "An Evaluation of the Potential for Clandestine
  Manufacture of 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) Analogs
  and Homologs." Journal of Forensic Sciences.
  Vol 35(3):675-697. May 1990.
The most common synthetic routes for production of MDA, MDMA, MDE (MDEA),
and MDOH are from the precursor MDP-2-P. To get MDP-2-P first a natural
source of safrole is acquired. Safrole can be extracted from sassafras oil,
nutmeg oil, or several other sources which have been abundantly documented
in _Chemical Abstracts_ over the years. The safrole is then easily
isomerized into isosafrole when heated with NaOH or KOH. The isosafrole is
then oxidized into MDP-2-P. This latter procedure has been most clearly
presented in _Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved_ by Alexander Shulgin
under synthesis #109 (MDMA). The synthesis of MDP-2-P from isosafrole will
require the use of a vacuum pump to evaporate the solvent from the final
product in vacuo. An aspirator will not, unfortunately, be sufficient.
Once the MDP-2-P is synthesized there are several synthetic routes which
can be taken:
  1. Sodium Cyanoborohydride
  2. Aluminum Amalgam
  3. Sodium Borohydride
  4. Raney Nickel Catalysis
  5. Leukart Reaction via N-formyl-MDA
  6. Leukart Reaction via N-methyl-N-formyl-MDA
The sodium cyanoborohydride method is probably the one most attractive to
clandestine chemists. From the Dal Cason reference:
  "It requires no knowledge of chemistry, has a wide
  applicability, offers little chance of failure, produces
  good yields, does not require expensive chemical apparatus
  or glassware, and uses currently available (and easily
  synthesized) precursors"
The aluminum amalgam synthesis is often used but has a slightly higher risk
of failure and is not as versatile. The Raney Ni synthesis is more
dangerous and requires special equipment to be done right (although this
scheme is used in a significant number of clandestine labs). The sodium
borohydride requires harsher conditions for the chemicals (ie. reflux) than
sodium cyanoborohydride or aluminum amalgam and produces lower yields. The
Leukart reaction is 2-step with lower yields and requires chemical
There are also two synthetic methods which proceed directly from safrole
rather than through isosafrole. The first is the Ritter reaction which goes
through the intermediate N-acetyl-MDA. The Ritter reaction is
time-consuming, requires a degree of laboratory skill and produces poor
yields. The other method uses HBr to produce
3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-bromopropane which is then converted into MDA or
MDMA. This scheme produces poor yields, and Dal Cason referenced the
australian journal _ANALOG_ where a hazard had been documented. It is,
however, attractive for its sheer simplicity. It requires no specialized
chem equipment or reagents at all.
Beta-nitroisosafrole is a less used precursor, but there is a large
literature on the synthesis and reduction of nitro alkenes. This synthetic
route isn't as popular due to the easier availability of precursors for
MDP-2-P, and it also results in MDA which must then be further processed to
give MDMA or any other N-alkyl homolog of MDA. There are numerous ways to
convert beta-nitroisosafrole to MDA: LiAlH4, AlH3, electrolytic, Na(Hg),
BH3 - THF / NaBH4, Raney Ni catalyst, Pd / BaSO4 catalyst, Zn (Hg).
Beta-nitroisosafrole, when used, is commonly synthesized from piperonal.
Beta-nitroisosafrole can also be used as a precursor for MDP-2-P, but this
is not commonly done.
There are other synthetic routes, such as the use of substituted
3,4-methylenedioxycinnamic acid or the construction of alkyenedioxy bridges
from dihydroxy compounds. These, however, are typically not used for a
variety of reasons (difficulty, multiple-step, special equipment, etc). It
is also possible to synthesize N-alkyl derivatives of MDA from MDA (e.g.
synthesizing MDMA from MDA) but this is not commonly done in clandestine
Methylamine is a chemical which is technically not a "precursor" to MDMA,
but it is necessary in most of the syntheses. It is also a watched
chemical. A private citizen ordering methylamine from a chemical supply
company would get the undivided attention of the local DEA. Methylamine can
be diverted in small quantities by individuals working in legitimate
chemical labs. In some cases this "diversion" is simply theft. It is not
recommended that any persons engage in this activity, but it remains a
common source of methylamine (along with many other chemicals).
Methylamine can be synthesized through hydrolyzing N-methylacetamide via
refluxing it with concentrated HCl. Dump a gallon of concentrated HCl in a
large RB flask, dump in a mole or two of N-methylacamide and reflux the
hell out of it for about 2 days. This leaves water, methylamine and acetic
acid. Boil off the water, and strip the acetic acid off with a vacuum pump
and what's left is the methylamine. Some acetic acid may be left over, but
it shouldn't affect the cyanoborohydride reaction.
It can also be synthesized by doing a large hypohalite Hofmann degradation
on acetamide with bleach and lye. Heat it up and distill off the
water/methylamine from the basic mush and catch it in HCl. Boil off the
water/acid distillate and the result is methylamine HCl.
N-methylacetamide is unlikely to be watched, and acetamide is almost
certainly not watched.
Some syntheses use N-methylformamide as an alternative to methylamine, but
it is unlikely that there would be any advantage to using it. The 3
syntheses focused on in this file (HBr, cyanoborohydride and aluminum
amalgam) all use methylamine.
Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacturing has both a synthesis of
methylamine and a synthesis of N-methylformamide, but i haven't had a
chance to peruse the book to comment on them.
oil of sassafras -------> safrole ----------> isosafrole --------> MDP-2-P
               (extraction)  |  (isomerization)         (synthesis)   |
                             |                                        |
                             V                                        V
                      *1. safrole + HBr           *1. sodium cyanoborohydride
                       2. Ritter reaction         *2. aluminum amalgam
                                                   3. sodium borohydride
piperonal ------> beta-nitroisosafrole             4. Raney Ni catalyst
        (synthesis)      |                         5. Leukart reaction
               [numerous routes to MDA]
* of interest to aspiring kitchen chemists
   * the sodium cyanoborohydride method is the preferred method
   * the safrole + HBr route is attractive due to its sheer simplicity
   * the aluminum amalgam route is as useful as cyanoborohydride, but may
     have a slightly higher risk of failure.
"Popular" Literature:
     Psychedelic Chemistry:
          Contains instructions for isomerizing safrole, a synthesis of
          MDP-2-P from isosafrole, and a synthesis which uses the Leukart
          reaction. The synthesis of MDP-2-P is better presented in PiHKAL
          and the Leukart reaction is is not a recommended synthesis. Also,
          please see "ROAD HAZARDS" below, on the dangerous typos in this
     Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacturing:
          Contains instructions for synthesizing MDMA via the safrole + HBr
          method. This is the simple and dirty way to synthesize MDMA. Pay
          attention to the part where it tells you to make sure that you've
          got all the ether evaporated before placing it in the reaction
          bomb... for your own good. References to the original journal
          articles and Chem Abstracts are included. It also has synthesis
          instructions for methylamine and N-methylformamide, but i haven't
          had a chance to read them.
     PiHKAL #100 (MDA):
          Synthesis of beta-nitroisosafrole from piperonal, synthesis of
          MDA from beta-nitroisosafrole using lithium aluminum hydride,
          synthesis of MDA from MDP-2-P using sodium cyanoborohydride. The
          latter is probably the most useful. Although piperonal is
          commonly used to synthesize beta-nitroisosafrole. LAH is somewhat
     PiHKAL #105 (MDDM):
          Synthesis of MDDM (N,N-dimethyl-MDA) from MDP-2-P using sodium
          cyanoborohydride. This stuff isn't terribly active, its just
          another example of a sodium cyanoborohydride synthesis.
     PiHKAL #106 (MDE):
          Synthesis of MDE from MDA via N-acetyl-MDA. Synthesis of MDE from
          MDP-2-P using aluminum amalgam. Synthesis of MDE from MDP-2-P
          using sodium cyanoborohydride. The latter two are the most
          useful. Synthesizing MDE from MDA is not particularly useful to
          clandestine chemists.
     PiHKAL #109 (MDMA):
          Synthesis of MDMA from MDA via N-formyl-MDA. Synthesis of MDP-2-P
          from isosafrole. Synthesis of MDP-2-P from beta-nitro-
          isosafrole. Synthesis of MDMA from MDP-2-P using aluminum
          amalgam. The synthesis of MDP-2-P from isosafrole and the
          aluminum amalgam synthesis are probably the most useful. The
          synthesis of MDP-2-P from beta-nitroisosafrole might be useful,
          but most often beta-nitroisosafrole is used to produce MDA
          directly. Synthesizing MDMA from MDA is not particularly useful
          to clandestine chemists.
     PiHKAL #114 (MDOH):
          Synthesis of MDOH from MDP-2-P using sodium cyanoborohydride.
          This stuff is active, and the synthesis is useful. I don't know
          of any explicit synthesis for MDMA using sodium cyanoborohydride,
          but it can be done simply by substituting the correct number of
          moles of methylamine for ethylamine in the MDE synthesis. Also,
          substituting methylamine for ethylamine in the cyanoborohydride
          synthesis produces slightly better yields.
Net Sources:
   * HTML version of PiHKAL Book II
   * The synthesis of MDP-2-P from PiHKAL, plus the Leukart reaction from
     Psychedelic Chemistry.
   * Safrole + HBr method out of Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacturing
Road Hazards:
     Chemical Abstracts 52, 11965c (1958):
          In the synthesis of MDA from MDP-2-P this reference has a
          misprint that should read "add 100ml H2O" instead of "add 100ml
          H2O2" which would cause an explosion. Chemistry is dangerous, and
          a little ignorance can cause spectacular pyrotechnics...
     Psychedelic Chemistry:
          The synthesis for MDA/MDMA is the same as the above Chemical
          Abstracts reference including the explosive typo. There is also
          another typo which should read "75 ml 15% HCl" instead of "57ml
          15% HCl." This might simply mess your yields up.
          AKA diethyl ether and tetrahydrofuran. These two chemicals form
          explosive peroxides when they are exposed to air for extended
          periods of time, and which are easily set off by refluxing (for
          example). These are likely the cause of most explosions and fires
          in amphetamine labs. Do not play around with these chemicals, and
          if you use them, know what you are doing.
          "piperonylacetone" is an ambiguous term which might refer to the
          4-carbon analogue of MDP-2-P. Shulgin has noted that at least one
          chemical supply house has sold this 4-carbon analogue as
          "piperonylacetone." The correct piperonylacetone (MDP-2-P) is
          sassafras-smelling oil that is yellow colored. The incorrect
          piperonylacetone has a weak terpene smell and is white and
          crystalline. Substitution will merely result in some interesting
          4-carbon analogues of MDMA which are probably totally inactive.
          See PiHKAL #109 (MDMA).
          Lithium Aluminum Hydride (LiAlH4), is a chemical which explodes
          on contact with water, and can be set off by moisture in the air.
          It should only be used under an inert atmosphere, which requires
          special equipment.
Various and Miscellany
Rumor Control
There is a lot of misinformation out there about MDMA. Here are some
commonly heard rumors and facts about them.
     Rumor #1: MDMA drains your spinal fluid, ruins your back, etc.
          Untrue. This urban legend apparently started because some
          pharmacological studies are done by giving subjects MDMA, then
          withdrawing cerebrospinal fluid samples for analysis via spinal
          tap. It is "MDMA research", not "MDMA" that may drain your spinal
     Rumor #2: MDMA causes brain damage similar to Parkinson's disease
          MDMA does not cause Parkinson's disease. This rumor apparently
          got started because of confusion between MDMA and MPTP
          (1-methyl-4-phenyl- 1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine). MPTP can appear
          as a contaminant from bad manufacture of a synthetic opiate, and
          has caused tragic neural damage to unfortunate recipients of the
          contaminated black market opiate. MPTP bears no chemical relation
          to MDMA, and has not been associated with MDMA manufacture.
Analogues and related compounds:
MDMA has several chemical "cousins" which have different effects. PIHKAL is
an excellent reference to find out about them. Briefly, here are
descriptions of some of the more common ones:
     MDA (3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine):
          MDA was popular for a while during the 70s, when it was known as
          the 'Love Drug' (a nickname sometimes associated with MDMA as
          well). It is similar to MDMA in its effects, but is slightly more
          stimulating. It has been shown in laboratory studies to be
          approximately twice as neurotoxic as MDMA, though in some 30
          years of human use, case reports do not suggest that it has
          caused behavioral or psychological problems.
     MDE or MDEA (N-ethyl-methylendioxyamphetamine):
          Commonly called "Eve" (if MDMA is "Adam", MDE is "Eve", get it?),
          MDE is similar to MDMA, though it seems to turn the subject
          inwards and invite less communication than does MDMA, though in
     MMDA (3-methoxy-4,5-methylenedioxyamphetamine):
          Often confused with the similarly-named but chemically different
          MDMA. MMDA is reported to generate interesting, closed-eye
          hallucinations - "brain movies", or conscious dreams.
     MBDB (N-methyl-1-(1,3-benzodioxol-5-yl)-2-butanamine):
          Differs structurally from MDMA only by the addition of an extra
          carbon to the MDMA chain. Effects are similar to MDA.
References and Related Reading:
     Adamson-S. Through the Gateway of the Heart. Four Trees Publications,
     San Francisco, 1985. 197 pages.
          A collection of stories about drug experiences, primarily with
          MDMA, and also with 2C-B and other psychedelics, typically taken
          with MDMA.
     Beck-J and Marsha Rosenbaum. In Pursuit of Ecstasy. SUNY Press, 1994.
     Del Cason,-TA. "An Evaluation of the Potential for Clandestine
     Manufacture of 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) and Analogs and
     Homologs." Journal of Forensic Sciences. Vol 35(3):675-697, May 1990.
          Synthesis of MDMA and related chemicals.
     Eisner-B. Ecstacy: the MDMA Story. Ronin Publishing, inc. Box 1035
     Berkeley, CA 94701, 1989 (revised 1993). 228 pages.
     Naranjo-C. The Healing Journey: New Approaches to Consciousness.
     Published by Random House (paperback: Ballentine), 1973. 197 pages.
          Accounts of groundbreaking therapeutic uses of MDA, MMDA,
          Harmaline, and Ibogaine.
     Peroutka-SJ, ed. Ecstasy: The Clinical, Pharmacological and
     Nerotoxicological Effects of the Drug MDMA. Kluwer Academic
     Publishers, 1990.
          A collection of authorititative papers on nearly every aspect of
     Saunders-N. E for Ecstacy. Published by N. Saunders, 14 Neal's Yard,
     London WC2H 9DP England, 1993. 318 pages.
          Full overview of MDMA, also includes the latest version of
          Alexander Shulgin's MDMA bibliography. Extensive references with
     Shulgin-AT. "The Background and Chemistry of MDMA." Journal of
     Psychoactive Drugs. Vol 18(4)"291-304, Oct-Dec 1986.
          "Suggested entrypoint in the literature to the history, chemistry
          and controversy surrounding MDMA - a FAQish document," says
     Shulgin-AT, Sargent, and C.Naranjo. 1967. "The chemistry and
     psychopharmacology of nutmeg and of several related
     phenylisopropylamines." In D.H. Efron [ed.]: Ethnopharmacologic search
     for psychoactive drugs. U. S. Dept. of H. E. W., Public Health Service
     Publication No. 1645. Pp. 202-214. Discussion: ibid. pp. 223-229. 49
     Shulgin-A and Ann Shulgin. PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story. Transform
     Press, Box 13675, Berkeley, CA 94701, 1991. 1008 pages.
          The first part of this book contains autobiographical accounts of
          the Shulgins' life history and experiments with psychoactive
          drugs. The second part describes the synthesis, dosage and
          effects of 179 different compounds in the phenethylamine family,
          including MDMA and several of its analogues.
Most of these books can be ordered from various places listed in the
addresses FAQ, available from hyperreal.com drugs archive.
MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), 1801 Tippah
Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. 704 358-9830. sylviamaps@aol.com.

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