the first nibble
Before smileys, glow sticks and Mitsubishis, before raves and techno, Ecstasy had a lengthy, respected, and legal career as a psychotherapeutic drug.
MDMA had been chanced upon by the German pharmaceutical company Merck in 1912 (they also extracted cocaine from coca leaves around the same time). It was patented but since it had no obvious use it soon disappeared off the radar. Contrary to rumors, it was not developed as a diet pill.
healing the mind
In 1965, the American biochemist Alexander Shulgin rediscovered Ecstasy while searching for psychotherapeutic drugs.
Uniquely, Shulgin had a special license from the Federal Drugs Administration to develop and synthesize psychedelic drugs. In his career (documented in his book Phikal), he created over 300 substances, including 2-CT-7 and 2CB.
After a dramatic experience with mescaline, he was personally convinced that drugs could heal the mind, and was determined to prove it.
After creating a batch of MDMA, he took a nibble.
"I made it in my lab and nibbled. It gave me a pleasant lightness of spirit. That's all. No psychedelic effects whatsoever. Just a distinct lightness of mood. And an indication to get busy and do things that needed doing."
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In the early 1980s, Ecstasy (known then as 'Empathy' or 'Adam') was legal and available in bars across America, replacing cocaine as the middle class drug of choice. It was also widely and legally used by a network of over 4,000 psychotherapists in the US, proving itself particularly effective for couples therapy.
The public and unashamed use of such an obviously powerful drug, however, could only go on for so long.
Ecstasy was banned in America on July 1, 1985, but the publicity raised by the crackdown helped spread illegal ecstasy coast to coast, and it was well on its way to becoming to the biggest dance drug of the century.
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