Wednesday, October 21, 2009
How Pure Is Ecstasy?
Dutch study of street MDMA.
For 16 years, the Drugs Information Monitoring System (DIMS) in The Netherlands has gathered and analyzed tablets of purported MDMA sold on the street as Ecstasy. In a research report published in Addiction, Neeltje Vogels and others at the Netherlands Institute for Mental Health and Addiction in Utrecht found that between 70 to 90 % of the samples submitted as MDMA were pure. The most common non-MDMA adulterant was found to be caffeine.
The study covered the years from 1993 to 2008. In the mid to late 1990s, researchers saw an increase in ephedra and methamphetamine in the samples, and sample purity hit an all-time low of 60% in 1997. The years from 2000 to 2004 were the golden era, so to speak, for MDMA purity. “After 2004,” the study authors write, “the purity of ecstasy tables decreased again, caused mainly by a growing proportion of tablets containing meta-chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP).” mCPP belongs to a class of stimulants, the so-called piperazines, that have been banned in several countries (See my post).
As noted on the DrugMonkey science blog, a lack of consistent published data has hampered efforts at studying street MDMA. Tablets for analysis are obtained either from law enforcement—which seizes drugs that may or may not be for sale at the club level--or drug analysis and harm reduction sites. The problem, DrugMonkey writes, is that “perhaps Ecstasy found to result in suspicious subjective effects on the user are submitted to harm reduction sites preferentially.” In other words, people only submit the brown acid.
The Dutch study, on the other hand, obtained samples for testing from capsules seized by club owners and given to the police, who then passed them on to DIMS for analysis. This system helped eliminate the possible bias effect of voluntary submissions.
The study also found that larger tablets, containing 100 mgs or more of MDMA, became increasingly popular starting in 2001.
DrugMonkey, an anonymous NIH-funded biomedical researcher, calls the study “an impressive longitudinal dataset.” The data, he wrote, give us “a good picture of the percentages of MDMA-only across time (higher than certain MDMA fans seem to acknowledge when it comes time to assess medical emergency cases) and the relative proportions of specific contaminants (certain baddies are quite rare.)”
Specifically missing in action most years is the baddy known as PMA, or para-methoxy-amphetamine, which has been implicated in many of the alleged Ecstasy deaths by overheating--a condition known as hyperthermia.
Graphics Credit: National Institute on Drug Abuse