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ARCHIVE:  May 1, 2002

Making MDMA (II): "Ecstasy", MDMA, & Safrole

Dear Dr. Shulgin:

What is Ecstasy made out of?

-- Mike


Dear Mike:

Before I get to answering your question, let me rephrase it just a little bit. As I had mentioned in a couple of previous writings, the term "Ecstasy" has a host of synonyms. It is a euphemism for any drug that is sold at a rave. It may be MDMA, but is is more likely to be some other drug such as DXM, PMA, MDA, PMMA, GHB, speed, or heaven knows what. It may be "Ecstacy" (I have heard that this incorrect spelling has been copyrighted) which would suggest that it might be ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, ephedra, Ma Huang, or heaven knows what. Or it may actually be MDMA. So let me reword your question: What is MDMA made out of?  

So, where does safrole come from? Two of the major sources are botanically distinct sassafras oils. There is the North American sassafras oil made from the root bark of the East Coast tree Sassafras albidum that grows in the wild from Maine to Florida, and as far West as the Mississippi. And there is the Brazilian sassafras oil made from the above-ground woody parts of the tree Ocotea pretiosa which is found in the forests of central Brazil and as far West as Colombia. There are some reports of safrole being sizable components of Star Anise Oil (Illicium verum, I. parviflorum) but the major compound in these Oils is Anethol, not Safrole. And if Anise Oil were to be used in error as a presumed source of Safrole, this material would give rise to PMA, which has been shown to be very toxic. PMA has been seen as an "Ecstasy" substitute, and I wonder if the uninformed use of Anise Oil as a presumed Safrole source, could have been the origin of PMA in the Ecstasy rave scene. One additional source of safrole is Camphor Oil. It has been converted to "synthetic Sassafras Oil" by freezing and subsequent distillation, and has the alternate name of "yellow camphor oil." It is a poor, but theoretically available, safrole source.

But if your question is as to the botanical origins of MDMA, let me impose several warnings. First and foremost, the synthesis of MDMA is an illegal act and will, if documented in court, put you in prison for many years. And even the innocent search for some of these botanical sources can be just as nasty. There is a listing of chemicals that are used in the manufacture of controlled substances, (called List 1 by the DEA), that make the possession of any of these chemicals a reason to ask if you have the intent to manufacture MDMA. On that list there are explicitly named piperonal, 3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone (this is a synonym for piperonylacetone), isosafrole, and safrole. These are the exact compounds named above that are implicated in the synthesis of MDMA.

The law enforcement weapons that can be used in this area are quite strong and extremely well defined. Do not even think about setting up a lab in your basement to make this stuff. You could be badly hurt.

-- Dr. Shulgin

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