Ecstasy’s Birth: Not an Appetite Suppressant
Posted by Childress on August 19, 2006
Popular Web-mythology about Ecstasy is that its was created by the drug giant Merck in 1912 as an appetite suppressant that might make the German Army more efficient when battling hunger and Germany’s enemies, but the drug was set aside when experiments on lab animals revealed bizarre reactions.
The story is bogus, according to Merck, which spent a couple years poring over dusty old records to see if the company really was involved in so strange a program. According to The Guardian (UK), Ecstasy had a much more noble beginning:
The company did develop the drug in 1912, but the appetite suppressant story is an urban myth, passed on from source to source through “uncritical copy-paste procedures”. Instead, documents from the time show that ecstasy emerged during the company’s efforts to develop a potentially life-saving medicine that would help blood to clot.
The best available blood clot medicine at the time, hydrastinin, was patented by Merck’s local rival Bayer. Merck chemists believed that a similar compound called methylhydrastinin would be equally effective and set about trying to make it from scratch in a way not covered by the Bayer patent. Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, was first produced during these experiments, but attracted little attention.
Merck’s recent search found just a passing reference to the drug: in a patent the company filed in 1912 to protect its new blood clot agent, which had been tested on patients in a Berlin hospital. Patent 274350 did not refer to MDMA by name, but described its properties among a list of other new intermediates: “colourless oil, boiling point 155C at 20mm pressure, its salt forms white crystals”.
Tellingly, there were no references to any experiments to test the biological effects of ecstasy, then known as methylsafrylamin. As the official report of Merck’s historical detectives puts it: “In clear contrast to what is usually claimed by the ‘ecstasy’ literature, MDMA was neither studied in animals nor humans at Merck around 1912.”
There it is; presented for your knowledge and edification.