Background: Little is known about the origin of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy). The most commonly repeated statement in the medical literature is that MDMA was synthesized by the German pharmaceutical company Merck in 1912 in order to develop an appetite suppressor.
Aim: To reconstruct the true story of the first known description of MDMA at Merck using the original documents.
Methods: A systematic analysis of the original documents in Merck's historical archive in Darmstadt, Germany, was conducted (years 1900-60).
Results: There were no indications for plans to develop an appetite suppressant at Merck between 1900 and 1960. Although MDMA was, in fact, first synthesized at Merck in 1912, it was not tested pharmacologically because it was only an unimportant precursor in a new synthesis for haemostatic substances. The new pathway was patented in order to evade an existing patent by a local competitor. MDMA was called "Methylsafrylamin" in 1912. In 1927 and 1959, the pharmacological effects of MDMA were studied at Merck, but not in humans.
Discussion: A systematic analysis of the original documents in the company's archive revealed that uncritical copy-paste procedures may have contributed to the famous myth that MDMA was patented as an appetite suppressor in 1912.