"Big Fun for Disco Divas and Ravers!"

After a decade of wholesale abuse by the so-called "chemical generation", the much-vaunted decline of Ecstasy culture probably has more to do with the poor quality of the street drug nowadays than with any post-club ennui. Seasoned clubbers will tell you that "pills were so much better in '89". They're probably getting bored with the music, too.

Meanwhile, ecstasy is retreating to its natural home, the house party, where cognosenti can enjoy the experience in the company of friends, without any interference from unsavory characters, such as DJ's, bouncers and undercover policemen.

If you're lucky... within forty to sixty minutes, you're feeling on top of the world, consumed with love for all of creation, and you just have to reach out and touch whoever's sitting next to you, your face is aching because you just can't smile hard enough to express what you're feeling...

... and all of the next day, you feel terrific, bursting with love and happiness and energy...

If you're unlucky... you take a pill, and it just doesn't feel like the real thing anymore, then you wake up two days later feeling like your head's been kicked in, and what's the point of living anyway, because you've been taking too much ecstasy, and your brain just ran out of seratonin...

... the pill you just took is not ecstasy at all, but something far more dangerous and boring, like amphetamine, ketamine or horse-tranquilizer...

... the temperature rises, and just keeps on rising, you drink too much water, or maybe not enough, and you wind up bloated and sick with excess fluid, or dried up and fainting with dehydration...

Easy to manufacture and remarkable in its effects, MDMA, aka Ecstasy, has spawned what was arguably the most important cultural phenomenon of the last twenty years. Swallowed by the handful by armies of clean-cut kids, who didn't consider it a "drug" (then what exactly was it, asks Ephidrina?), for a few glorious years it brought us all together in a huge party of love, happiness, and repetitive rhythms.

The history of the drug is a curious one. Incorrectly dubbed a "designer drug", the MDMA molecule was patented as long ago as 1914, and then all but ignored until it was rediscovered by Alexander Shulgin in the late 1960's. Before changes in the law rendered it illegal, the psychiatric community were cautiously welcoming the new drug as a possible therapeutic tool. The profound mental effects of MDMA can help in the treatment of stress and depression, as well as extreme emotional dysfunction. In fact, it's rather similar in its action to the legal drug Prozac.

Throughout the eighties the drug gathered popularity, fuelling an enormous British scene which, although it grew out of the entrepreneurial spirit of Thatcherism, ultimately challenged that culture's selfish preoccupation with individuality in the "caring" 1990's. A large number of British users would argue that its impact on our national culture and identity has only been positive. But nowadays in the UK, it's almost impossible to buy unadulterated pills, and the hysteria generated by a tiny number of tragic deaths has gone a long way to sour the scene. The inevitable backlash is also detracting from emerging medical evidence that prolonged, heavy use may cause brain damage.

Today's spliff-smoking teenagers are disdainful, so it's hard to say whether Ecstasy will survive into the new century. Its Stateside Schedule I status means that it's been effectively lost to medical science for the foreseable future, but its position in Shulgin's fun-packed pharmacopoeia, PIHKAL, should ensure it a place in the hearts of zealots and home chemists everywhere, for a while to come.



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