Why PMA if dealers don't want to kill their clients?

Mar 13 2015 Published by under MDMA

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.

14 responses so far

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Yeah, exactly. Make MDMA legal and available in pure form and known doses, and all this wack shittio killing people because they don't even know what they're ingesting and in what dose will disappear.

  • SidVic says:

    Well.. Oxycontin is made available in pure form and people are still O.D.ing on it. How about harsh penalties for competent drug chemists and the death penalty for incompetent drug chemist that put out bad product.

  • drugmonkey says:

    People also OD on alcohol, despite full disclosure of contents of various preparations.

  • toto says:

    But DM, alcohol is officially Generally Regarded As Safe !

    (At 3000 ppm, according to the celebrated purveyors of scientific enlightenment known as Frito-Lay, Inc.)


  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Yes, people will still OD, but it won't be because they don't know what, or how much of it, they are ingesting. So that subset of ODs will go away. Also, if you make safer shittio available, many people (yes, not all) will not go down the road of more dangerous shittio. For example, if morphine has a less risk of OD than oxycontin, and you make morphine easily available, then fewer people will be fucking around with oxy. No idea whether morphine is or isn't safer than oxycontin, or not, but this is the kind of analysis to engage. The current case-by-case drug policy of flat-out banning everything that makes people feel good so they want to use it is clearly not working. It creates both illicit markets in known banned shittio with defined danger profiles, but of unknown purity and dose, and strongly incentivizes mad chemists to brew up new shittio with God-only-knows what danger profiles, and *also* unknown purity and dose. Most people are reasonably risk averse, and if they can get MDMA with a well-defined risk-reward profile of known purity and dose, they're gonna choose that over Jimmy McChemist's methyloxyomyjabrony home brew gibberish. And if few enough people are still jonesing for super-duper shittio, the risk-reward ratio for Jimmy McChemist to attempt to brew up such shittio also shifts in a positive direction policy wise.

  • drugmonkey says:

    People are more likely to consume drugs that are in your known -identity, -quantity fantasy future. Official regulation gives a stamp of safety to some potential consumers. See rates of ADHD med non-medical use and Rx Opioid meds versus street alternatives, for example.

    More people using = more adverse events. It is inevitable. Your plan may accord with personal liberty goals but there is no way it decreases adverse events.

  • Grumble says:

    "More people using = more adverse events" OK, but the question is, what is the frequency and severity of adverse events resulting from people not knowing what exactly they are consuming and what exact dose they are getting, vs the frequency and severity of adverse events that result when people know the content and dose?

    It's possible that the net harm caused by certain kinds of "shittio" is lower when said shittio is legal and regulated than when it isn't.

  • Your plan may accord with personal liberty goals but there is no way it decreases adverse events.

    You have no more empirical support for this contention, than I do for its opposite. But it's clear that what we've been doing for decades isn't working, so why not try a different tack, one explicitly based on harm reduction, rather than "drugs are bad, m'kay?"?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Of course I have empirical support for my position, dumasse. The increase in nonmedical use of prescription opioid medications is a perfect case study. Broader use, driven in part* by perception of safety relative to street opioid preparations leading to a huge increase in OD deaths. Also leading to use of street heroin as people now addicted to prescription opioid medications turn to streets because the high is more affordable.

    *also driven by *availability* of the drugs, which sounds like something you are also advocating for MDMA with your personal liberties agenda.

    cigarettes are another example, albeit moving in the opposite direction. Known, highly regulated product with very little use of unofficially adulterated drug supply. Public campaigns that reduced the use greatly reduced the harms as indexed by addicted smokers and people with smoking-related major health conditions. This was not due to any change in the regulation of the content of those cigarettes. The public health campaign part of this was most certainly driven by a "cigarettes are baaad, m'kay?" agenda.

    Sadly, your best case scenario would be post-prohibition alcohol, unfortunately you don't have the population level use data to make your argument, only halfbaked scare stories about people consuming methanol. Still, alcohol has pretty high penetration in our population now and it is clear that it produces tremendous harms. Again, a highly regulated, content-labeled and entirely licit product.

    By what rationale should we consider MDMA (or pot) to be a special flower to which other examples of popular psychoactive drugs can't possibly apply?

  • Maybe the methanol-scare stories are a bit anecdotal, I don't think the abusers of "Jamaica ginger extract" (or "jake") who suffered neurological damage from the plasticizer are. The only reason these people were drinking it was because of prohibition.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That says nothing about how common it was

  • Namesaste_Ish says:

    Thanks for the recipes. I thought CPP had the only cooking blogge out there, but this is helpful.
    Also, I'm pretty sure that everyone who was a coke head with end up with PD and all the X users will have intractable depression later in life.
    The ones who smoke pot....those are the smart ones, amirite or amirite?

  • drugmonkey says:


  • Grumble says:

    "By what rationale should we consider MDMA (or pot) to be a special flower to which other examples of popular psychoactive drugs can't possibly apply?"

    Opiates = highly addictive (OK, in DM-speak, a high conditional probability of addiction) and OD can kill you.

    Marijuana = not so addictive and OD is almost unknown.

    MDMA = not so addictive (as far as I know) and OD is rare; deaths and other complications from MDMA use tend to be from the sort of thing identified in your post - what's in E is often not (or not just) MDMA but other harmful stuff.

    This suggests that MJ and MDMA legalization+regulation would not greatly increase the number of overdose cases, but in the case of MDMA, a regulated source might actually decrease the number of deaths from people using what they think is MDMA.

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