From the Newsletter of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
MAPS - Volume 6 Number 3 Summer 1996 - pp 11-13

  • A Nov. 1, 2000 JAMA letter reports on the DanceSafe/MAPS pill testing program (the letter says people paid for their own testing but that was a mistake. MAPS paid for most of the testing of these pills).
  • For current pill analysis of Ecstasy see DanceSafe's pill-testing page
  • Please visit MAPS' MDMA Research Page

    MAPS MDMA Analysis Project

    Rick Doblin

    In February and March of 1996, people from around the United States and England sent MDMA for analysis to a licensed testing facility. The purpose of the study was to gather information about the quality of the MDMA being sold on the underground market in the United States and England. Information about the quality of MDMA is necessary in order to estimate the dangers faced by users of illicitly manufactured and distributed MDMA and to place reports of adverse effects in some context.

    A total of 33 samples were tested, 22 from the United States, 10 from England and 1 from South Africa. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted on all the samples. The total cost of the study was $3,520. Nicholas Saunders, author of E for Ecstasy, Ecstasy and the Dance Culture and the forthcoming Dance, Trance and Transformation, donated $1,650 to MAPS for the study. An additional $1,100 was donated to MAPS for the study from High Times Magazine. A total of $660 came from MAPS' general fund and the remaining $110 was paid directly by a private individual.

    Technological Limitations

    The testing was conducted with a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC/MS). The gas chromatograph separates the different components of the sample. The mass spectrometer identifies the atomic composition of each of the components. This data is then compared by a computer to a data base of hundreds of known drugs and other compounds to see if there are any matches. In this way, many of the ingredients in the samples can be identified.

    There are some limitations to the GC/MS technology. Certain inorganic and some organic compounds may not volatilize and/or chromatograph and therefore would not be detected. These compounds include baking soda, baby powder and certain sugars that are sometimes used to dilute cocaine and other drugs in powder form such as MDMA. There also may be many compounds that can be detected by the GC/MS technology but are not contained in the computer data base and therefore cannot be identified.

    United States Samples

    We were fortunate to obtain a rather good geographic distribution of the 22 samples from the United States. Five samples came from New York State, of those 3 came from New York City and 2 from other parts of the state. Three samples came from near Chicago, Illinois. One sample was from Minneapolis, 1 from Eunice, Louisiana (near Baton Rouge), 1 from Charlotte, North Carolina and 1 from Sarasota, Florida. Ten samples came from California, of those 3 were from San Francisco and 7 were from the Santa Barbara/Los Angeles area. Despite the fact that the samples were from around the country, there is no way to determine if they comprise a representative sample of the MDMA being sold in the United States. Therefore, the results from this study can be used only to draw inferences and not conclusions about the content of the pills and capsules being sold as MDMA in the United States. Furthermore, according to Nicholas Saunders, "you cannot be sure that any pill that looks similar to the ones illustrated will have similar contents. When a pill earns a good reputation, it is frequently exploited by dud lookalikes after a few weeks, and the same press may be used for completely different ingredients." Of the 22 samples from the United States, 17 were tablets and 5 were capsules. Eight out of the 22 samples had no MDMA at all. Interestingly, all the capsules contained MDMA while only about half of the tablets did so. Of those samples that did contain MDMA, the highest dose was 119 mg. The lowest was 45 mg. Of the 14 samples that contained MDMA, the average dose was 79 mg. This average is significantly lower than the standard dose sold before the criminalization of MDMA which was in the range of 100-125 mg. Doses lower than 100 mg. are generally considered to be below the level at which many people will feel the full effects of MDMA.

    Of the 14 samples that contained MDMA, only 1 also contained another psychoactive compound identified by the GC/MS. That sample was a tablet from New York State that contained MDMA and caffeine. In the remaining 13 samples, MDMA was 100% of only three of those samples, all capsules from San Francisco. The other samples contained a range of percentages of other ingredients that were not measured by the GC/MS technology. For example, the capsule of MDMA from Santa Barbara was only 59% MDMA, the capsule from Sarasota was 85% MDMA and the tablet from New York City was 25% MDMA. While these unidentified ingredients could have been another psychoactive ingredient or a byproduct of manufacturing, they were not cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, benzodiazapines, tranquilizers, hypnotics, ketamine, methamphetamine, amphetamine or any of several hundred other compounds. Some of these unidentified ingredients were fillers or binding agents used in the manufacture of the tablets. Whether these unidentified ingredients are toxic cannot be determined. The common rumor that MDMA is frequently cut with heroin was not substantiated.

    Of the 8 samples that contained no MDMA, 2 contained the psychoactive drug MDE (3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine), a chemical cousin of MDMA that generates an emotional reaction that is not quite as profound as that of MDMA, and 1 contained an unidentified compound. The remaining 5 contained various combinations of ingredients found in over-the-counter preparations including dextromethorphan (an ingredient found in cough suppressants that has an alcohol-like psychoactive effect especially in higher doses), ephedrine / pseudoephedrine (a stimulant found in many plants, over-the-counter medicines and Herbal Ecstacy and other similar pseudo-MDMA products), phenylpropanolamine (a decongestant and mild stimulant found in cold medicines), and glyceryl guaiacolate (a compound that dries sinuses and is an expectorant). The ingredients in the samples that did not contain MDMA raise some degree of concern since the interaction of genuine MDMA and ephedrine / pseudoephedrine could provoke a significant elevation in blood pressure. Such interactions could occur if someone were to take two different samples at a time, one containing genuine MDMA and the other containing ephedrine / pseudoephedrine. In one case, a person who had taken 20 mg. of pseudoephedrine in the morning and MDMA later in the day reported having transitory severe anginal chest pain.

    England and South Africa Samples

    Just like the samples from the United States, the 10 samples from England and the 1 sample from South Africa are not necessarily representative of the MDMA being sold in those countries. Of the 10 samples from England, five contained MDMA. Three of these 5 samples contained only MDMA, 1 contained a small amount of caffeine in addition to the MDMA and 1 contained some MDE in addition to the MDMA. The average dose of MDMA in these five samples was 128 mg., substantially larger than the average dose of the samples from the United States. The only psychoactive compound detected in 3 samples was MDE. In 2 samples the only psychoactive compound detected was caffeine. Thus, 8 out of 10 samples contained some MDMA or MDE, two drugs with a somewhat similar subjective effect. The 1 sample from South Africa contained only one psychoactive ingredient, MDMA, and a very substantial dose of 138 mg.


    All the capsules from the United States contained MDMA while only about half the tablets did so. The samples with MDMA were likely to be weak, averaging only 79 mg., well below the standard dose generally considered to be in the range of 100-125 mg. The one capsule from England contained caffeine and only half the tablets contained MDMA, averaging 128 mg. per tablet. It seems that the doses of MDMA in the United States are lower than those in England, perhaps a contributing factor in the virtual absence of MDMA-related deaths in the United States. Four out of 10 samples from England contained MDE while only 2 samples out of 22 in the United States contained MDE. Perhaps there are differential penalties between MDMA and MDE in some countries in Europe, in the United States both MDMA and MDE carry the same penalty. While there were no toxic additives found in any of the samples, there were unidentified ingredients in virtually all the samples. It is possible that all of these compounds were benign fillers or binders of some sort used in the manufacturing of the tablets or benign "cuts" used to expand the amounts of the powder. However, the safety of MDMA tablets and capsules cannot be determined with certainty. Nevertheless, the claims that MDMA is frequently mixed with crushed glass, rat poison, heroin and other dangerous substances has not been substantiated.

    Location Form Markings MDMA How Much? % MDMA What Else?
    Chicago Tab white Yes est. 45 mg 19% unidentified
    Chicago Tab white, scored, .7 cm Yes 67 mg 59% unidentified
    Chicago Tab bluish, 1 cm Yes 73 mg 21% unidentified
    New York Tab yellow, .8 cm Yes 46 mg 16% caf & unidentified
    New York City Cap blue & clear Yes 72 mg 79% unidentified
    New York City Tab white, scored, .8 cm No 0 mg 0% MDE & unidentified
    New York City Tab white, scored, .8 cm No 0 mg 0% MDE & unidentified
    New York City Tab Rolex crown, .6 cm Yes 65 mg 25% unidentified
    Sarasota Cap clear Yes 92 mg 85% unidentified
    Eunice, LA Tab white, scored, 1 cm No 0 mg 0% dex and phenyl
    Minneapolis Tab white, scored, .9 cm No 0 mg 0% phenyl, eph, glyc
    Charlotte Tab white, no markings, 1 cm No 0 mg 0% unidentified
    San Francisco Cap clear Yes est. 72 mg 100% nothing else
    San Francisco Cap clear Yes 112 mg 100% nothing else
    San Francisco Cap clear Yes 119 mg 100% unidentified
    San Francisco Cap clear Yes 73 mg 59% unidentified
    Santa Barbara Tab green, 1 cm Yes 102 mg 29% unidentified
    Santa Barbara Tab white, scored, 1 cm No 0 mg 0% phenyl, eph, dex, glyc
    Santa Barbara Tab yellow, speckled, scored, 1.3 cm No 0 mg 0% dex, eph, unidentified
    Santa Barbara Tab solid yellow, 1.3 cm No 0 mg 0% dex, eph, unidentified
    Santa Barbara Tab white, scored, .7 cm Yes 92 mg 71% unidentified
    Santa Barbara Tab yellow, speckled, 1 cm Yes 72 mg 18% unidentified
    England Tab pink, scored, .9 cm No 0 mg 0% caf, unidentified
    England Tab white, Dove, .9 cm Yes 111 mg 38% unidentified
    England Tab white, Dove, .9 cm Yes 134 mg 41% unidentified
    England Tab white, Playboy, scored, .9 cm Yes 159 mg 56% MDE, unidentified
    England Tab white, Playboy, scored, .9 cm Yes 28 mg 11% MDE, unidentified
    England Tab white, Playboy, scored, .9 cm No 0 mg 0% MDE, unidentified
    England Tab white, Playboy, scored, .9 cm Yes 14 mg 5% MDE, unidentified
    England Tab yellow, Chicken, .9 cm Yes 106 mg 35% unidentified
    England Tab white, Apple with a bite Yes 131 mg 44% caf, unidentified
    England Tab clear, "Warm Speed" No 0 mg 0% caf
    South Africa Tab yellow, scored, 1.2 cm Yes 138 mg 23% unidentified

    What Else?

    • dex = dextromethorphan
    • caf = caffeine
    • MDE = 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine
    • phenyl = phenylpropanolamine
    • eph = ephedrine / pseudoephedrine
    • glyc = glyceryl guiaicolate

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