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The History of MDMA: An Overview
Torsten Passie M.D., Ph.D.
Saturday, April 22, 2017 • 9:00 AM - 9:30 AM • Grand Ballroom
Continuing Education (CE)


torsten passie

The author has conducted studies on the history of MDMA since more than 10 years and will provide an overview on its history. MDMA wasn't discovered by the German nobel prize winner and gas war chemist Fritz Haber, as some claims go, but Haber came quite near to MDMA in one of his synthesis projects. The German pharmaceutical company MERCK synthesized and patented MDMA in 1912 as an intermediate in the synthesis of a haemostatic substance. MERCK has re-synthesized and tested MDMA several times during the following decennia.

Since the 1930s, the U.S. military searched for a "truth drug" to be used in interrogations. They tested mescaline and found it of limited value because of its "unpredictable" hallucinatory and ego-disorganizing effects. Consequently, derivatives of mescaline with more specific effects were synthesized and tested, including MDA, MDE and MDMA. During the 1950s, tests in animals an humans were performed, but the death of an experimental subject and toxicicological concerns hindered further research. The focus on LSD since the mid 1950s minimized research with the "methylendioxy compounds" (as MDMA), but some interest remained.

When the sought-after drug MDA became a controlled substance in 1970, underground chemists searched for "legal alternatives", and produced MDMA. First street samples were detected in 1970 with a insignificant distribution until the mid-1970s. Its popularization by psychotherapist Leo Zeff Ph.D. and chemist Alexander Shulgin Ph.D. since 1977 furthered its distribution. MDMA experienced an expanding use in psychotherapy since the late 1970s. Its broader distribution as a "party drug" since 1983 lead to its scheduling in 1985. During the 1990s, MDMA made a global career as a "dance drug". Marathon efforts of Rick Doblin and MAPS lead to the first controlled studies of MDMA in psychotherapy and a hopeful future as a prescription drug.

Torsten Passie M.D., Ph.D., is Professor of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Hannover Medical School (Germany) and currently Visiting Scientist at Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main (Germany). He studied philosophy, sociology (MA) at Leibniz-University, Hannover and medicine at Hannover Medical School. He worked at the Psychiatric University Clinic in Zürich (Switzerland) and with Professor Hanscarl Leuner (Göttingen), the leading European authority on hallucinogenic drugs. From 1998 to 2010 he was a scientist and psychiatrist at Hannover Medical school (Germany) where he researched the addictions and the psychophysiology of altered states of consciousness and their healing potential, including clinical research with hallucinogenic drugs (cannabis, ketamine, nitrous oxide, psilocybin). In 2012-2015 he was Visiting Professor at Harvard Medical School (Boston, USA).

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