How Pure Is X?

By Dirk Hanson 06/03/11

Dutch study of street MDMA shows main adulterant is caffeine. But other baddies turn up, too.

Is it safe?
Photo via straitstimes>straitstimes

From 1993 to 2008, the Drugs Information Monitoring System (DIMS) in The Netherlands 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 Dutch study 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. In the mid to late 1990s, researchers saw an increase in samples contaminated with ephedra and methamphetamine, 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.

However, starting in 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. Specifically missing in action most years has been the baddy known as PMA, or para-methoxy-amphetamine, a form of near-beer meth that has been implicated in many of the alleged Ecstasy deaths by overheating--a condition known as hyperthermia.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]

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