The origin of MDMA ("ecstasy")--separating the facts from the myth

Pharmazie. 2006 Nov;61(11):966-72.


MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine), better known as "Ecstasy", is a synthetic drug with psychedelic and stimulant effects which has gained great popularity. It is closely tied to the underground scene, but has also been used therapeutically as an adjunct to psychotherapy. Both scientific as well as newspaper articles communicate faulty or incomplete information on the origin of MDMA and the role of the German pharmaceutical-chemical company Merck in its development. One of the most common misconceptions is that the substance was synthesized with the goal of creating an anorectic but was not marketed by Merck because of side effects. It was our aim to clarify the circumstances of MDMA's discovery at Merck. An interdisciplinary working group conducted a comprehensive analysis of the original documents in Merck's historical archive in Darmstadt, Germany. It could be revealed that MDMA was in fact mentioned for the first time in files from 1912, but not under this name. In the lab journals it was called "Methylsafrylamin". In a patent certificate it was mentioned only with its chemical structure. Merck applied for this patent to protect an alternative chemical method for synthesizing the styptic hydrastinine, not appetite suppressants. MDMA was not the key substance in this patent, only a precursor. Archive documents revealed that Merck's scientists did not perform basic pharmacological tests with MDMA (now called "Safrylmethylamin") before 1927. These tests were halted for economic reasons. In the 1950s, primitive toxicological studies were conducted but MDMA was not tested in humans.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Germany
  • Hallucinogens / chemistry
  • Hallucinogens / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / chemistry
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / history*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / history
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Hallucinogens
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine