The Influence of Government Intervention and Electronic Music in the Supply and Demand of Ecstasy
3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, commonly known as MDMA or ecstasy, is easy to take. Users can ingest it in powder or pill form and quickly feel its effects; the heartbeat quickens, happiness reigns and a deep feeling of unity takes root. Sounds and colors are more intense.1 Users often spend their ‘high’ at raves or dance clubs, enjoying the genial ambiance, electronic music, and laser lights.2 Prior to the moment ecstasy is ingested, it travels through a complex supply chain of ingredient acquisition, production, and distribution, often involving powerful crime syndicates. The complexity of this process leaves it vulnerable to government interventions, the varying degree and efficacy of which have prompted huge fluctuations in global usage over the last thirty years. This is especially apparent in Western Europe and the United States, where MDMA became incredibly popular during the 1990s and early 2000s, suddenly fell from frequent usage, and just recently reemerged as a major illicit trade quite different than it was during the first ecstasy boom. Mirroring the periodic and geographical fluctuations of the global ecstasy market to a significant degree is electronic dance music, (EDM) the primary genre played at the raves and clubs often associated with ecstasy use. Legislation imposed to limit MDMA usage between the 1980s and the present has massively impacted the supply and demand of MDMA, prompted innovation in the synthetic smuggling industry, and had far-reaching cultural implications as seemingly unrelated as trends in popular music.
The MDMA compound was discovered accidentally in 1912 by a German scientist trying to create a marketable appetite suppressant.3 Although it was patented two years later and entirely legal to consume, MDMA was not often used in America until the 1970s, when a number of psychologists began to publicize its efficacy as a tool for mental treatment.4 Psychologist Dr. Ralph Metzner explained that an MDMA dosage allowed patients to gain perspective on traumatic incidents “that are normally just too anxiety-provoking to look at,” like rape.5 He and others in his field felt that ecstasy could help certain people become more mentally healthy without causing enough danger to offset its benefits. Its recreational use gained significant popularity in Dallas, Texas in the early 1980s, when “everyone from housewives to urban cowboys” across multiple generations enjoyed its effects in dance clubs.5 Although there were “virtually no social problems caused by MDMA” at the time, the lack of scientific knowledge about its effects made legislators fearful of a potential threat to public safety.5 MDMA was hence classified as a Schedule I drug with no pharmacological benefit and outlawed in 1985.4
Recreational and medicinal use of ecstasy ended abruptly after it was deemed illegal; an annual survey conducted by the University of Michigan examining drug availability to twelfth graders did not even inquire about MDMA until 1990,6 reflecting the assertion in ABC’s documentary “Ecstasy Rising” that the drug had “all but disappeared” in the United States prior to the early 1990s.5 The survey found th...