There's an interesting piece on Ecstasy in Mixmag that addresses something that is a side issue of the MDMA overdose issue that I've talked about on the blog. These issues bubble up to our conscious consideration every time there is a mysterious Ecstasy-related cluster of adverse events such as at Wesleyan University. Until there is confirmation of the drug(s) involved from toxicological testing we can only speculate as to the cause of the events.
Even though we know that MDMA itself is always a top suspect, PMA, (para-Methoxyamphetamine), is a fine Usual Suspect of a non-MDMA substance sold to users as "Ecstasy" but resulting in adverse consequences.
The Mixmag piece reminds us of the MDMA drought in the UK that launched mephedrone into the recreational pharmacopeia.
One of the easiest ways to make MDMA is to use an essential oil called safrole, which occurs naturally in the roots and bark of the yellow camphor tree, found in Cambodian rainforests and elsewhere. The UN has targeted the trade repeatedly in the last decade, with the noble aims of protecting the rainforest, which is being chopped down by the gangs that steam-distil the oil out of the bark in giant, bubbling cauldrons in jungle labs. The UN burned 33 tonnes of it in 2008, which caused a worldwide drought of MDMA and the emergence of mephedrone as both gangsters and clubbers looked for alternatives. In September 2010, 50 tonnes were burned in Thailand.
Yep, we recall.
However, this previous preferred-method for synthesizing MDMA leads on to the reason why PMA is sometimes pushed out on the market for consumers to use, unsuspectingly in many cases. Mixmag proposes this hypothesis:
PMA is made from an oil called anethole, which is legal, cheap, and easy to get hold of.
Professor David Nutt agrees that the likely scenario is that clandestine chemists use anethole in a trial run, to test new lab set-ups, and then sell the resulting PMA to unscrupulous pill pressers. Making PMA involves an identical set of chemical reactions to making MDMA – only the precursor is different. Think about it: if you had a limited amount of very expensive safrole or PMK, and you had a new lab, or a new chemist, you’d want to test your kit out. A trial run making PMA from anethole would help you practice the technique and avoid losing valuable precursors – and you’d make some money back.
They then ask any chemists reading to confirm so one must take this as speculation rather than journalistically confirmed with clandestine labs.