What's Actually in the Ecstasy Sold in Your Country

January 7th 2016

Reports of drug-related deaths at U.S. music festivals have raised serious concerns about the safety of recreational substances such as ecstasy and Molly, both of which are supposed to contain an active ingredient known as MDMA, a chemical that produces feelings of energy, alertness, and well, ecstasy. But a new report reveals that your ecstasy probably contains a lot of other drugs, too. 

RELATED: The Surprising History of MDMA

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Since the drug is illegal and unregulated, it can be difficult to determine the quality of a pill you purchase on the black market. Unlike prescription pharmaceuticals — which undergo rigorous testing and are always labeled — ecstasy and Molly come in hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors.

In an effort to inform users about the dangers of pills that appear to be ecstasy or Molly but really aren't, Project Know analyzed the contents of more than 27,000 pills from two websites that have been tracking the issue in five different countries over 10 years.

Here's what they found.

The chart shows that, in all likelihood, your ecstasy contains less than 50 percent MDMA. The rest of the pill might have anything from methamphetamine to ketamine in it, and the contents of ecstasy appears to vary by country. While these ingredients might mimic the effects of ecstasy, they can also put you at greater risk of fatal overdose, as Noisey reported

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A country-by-country look at ecstasy contents

The Netherlands appears to have the best and purest ecstasy (about 71 percent MDMA on average). Canada has the worst: less than 21 percent MDMA on average. Compared to its neighbor up north, the United States fares well: Ecstasy in the states has almost 35 percent MDMA on average.

Still, that's low enough to raise a question about what you're really consuming. Amphetamines and synthetic compounds that are designed to mimic the effects of MDMA are fairly common in ecstasy pills in the U.S., and they're even more common in Canada and Australia. Almost 1 percent of pills in Australia contain PMA, which is reportedly responsible for a number of recent deaths in the country.

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"Most ecstasy pills do contain the substance that gives ecstasy its name: MDMA, or a substance similar enough in structure that it might as well be MDMA," Project Know reported. "But pills also frequently contain speed, which doesn’t mimic MDMA’s empathogenic quality and carries with it its own health risks, especially when consumed alongside other active ingredients."

RELATED: Why MDMA Has the Potential to be Much More Than a Club Drug

The report concluded:

"Betting on the purity of any illicit street drug is ultimately a losing proposition. Furthermore, subjectively testing out the composition of any illicit pill on oneself can be a very dangerous game, with potentially risky health consequences. It’s unrealistic, if not impossible, to envision a scenario involving substance use and abuse if one’s long-term goal is to be happy and healthy."

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