MDMA was ‘rediscovered’ by Dr Alexander Shulgin who, although in official retirement, was the sole holder of the licence given by the Government of the United States to develop compounds that may have health and commercial benefits. Shulgin spent a lot of time working on the phenethylamine group of drugs of which MDMA (first synthesised by Merck just before the First World War) belongs to. It was used as a tool in psychotherapy, and its rediscovery pushed it back into that field again. It was found that the drug had disinhibiting qualities that promoted feelings of ‘empathy’ and ‘openness’ which helped couples in dysfunctional relationships. As it gained popularity amongst students as a ‘party’ drug in the US, the name ‘E’ (short for ‘ecstasy’, although it may originally have been intended to stand for ‘empathy’, which could be considered more logical) became associated with it.
Ecstasy became very closely associated, and its use and popularity magnified with the dance rave culture in the late 1980s. This continued for around a decade, after which a great decrease in purity was seen along with a move away from the dance scene and perhaps associated with the ageing 80s ‘clubber’ generation. However, the last few years have seen another big explosion of Ecstasy use. This time round, we are seeing MDMA powder becoming more popular, probably due to the very low quality of pills found, and MDMA powder entering the market as a ‘cleaner’, purer, more real form.