How MDMA Is Made: Common Procedures Explained

This article was originally published on Reality Sandwich, and appears here with permission.

MDMA is known as a semisynthetic drug. To make MDMA involves a natural precursor known as safrole, an oil found in sassafras plants. This article will walk you through the process to understand how MDMA is made.

In the illicit manufacturing of MDMA, safrole or its isomer isosafrole is used to create a ketone intermediate called MDP2P, which is then reductively aminated to create MDMA. Many of the chemicals used to make MDMA are closely watched by the DEA. In addition, common synthesis routes involve hazardous chemicals such as formaldehyde, ammonium chloride, and mercury.

WHO FIRST MANUFACTURED MDMA?

German chemist Anton Köllisch, an employee at Merck Pharmaceuticals, first synthesized MDMA in 1912. At the time, Merck was systematically developing new medications to stop bleeding. MDMA, originally called “methylsafrylaminc,” was discovered as an intermediate step in the synthesis of a drug named methylhydrastinine. Originally, Merck synthesized MDMA by adding hydrobromic acid to safrole and then subsequently reacting the brominated product (bromosafrole) with methylamine. MDMA was thus merely a precursor and didn’t arouse much interest initially. Merck patented it in 1914, but pharmacological studies on it began only in 1927.

For several decades MDMA fell into obscurity, but its toxicity was briefly studied by the U.S. Army in the 1950s alongside other phenethylamines like mescaline. The first scientific paper published on MDMA appeared in 1960, when two Polish chemists reported a synthesis route. Later, Alexander Shulgin synthesized MDMA in 1965 and embarked on a series of self-experimentations. His positive experiences led him to popularize the drug within the psychotherapeutic community. By the 1970s, underground labs were manufacturing it, partly as a legal alternative to close relative MDA, that was scheduled in 1970. MDMA gained popularity in the 1980s, particularly within the rave scene. This eventually led to its federal scheduling in 1985.

CHEMICAL STRUCTURE EXPLAINED

MDMA, or 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine, is a semisynthetic entactogen with stimulating and euphoric properties. Similar to mescaline and 2C-B, it belongs to the family of substituted phenethylamines. All substituted phenethylamine drugs build upon the …

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