Difference between Ecstasy and MDMA

In society there is a discrepancy that has developed in what the public understands about
what Ecstasy is, in relation to the term ‘MDMA’. MDMA, the abbreviation for 3, 4-
methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is the chemical constituent that has most commonly been
associated with the street drug known as Ecstasy. Though the use of Ecstasy was reportedly
on the decrease, a new product has emerged known as crystal or MDMA powder. This is
alongside new competing compounds entering the market, most notably Mephedrone.
The research examined explores the changing perception around what the terms Ecstasy and
MDMA represent, comparing their popularity and prevalence with that of Mephedrone. This
was investigated using an interdisciplinary approach, utilizing methods drawn from social
sciences and analytical chemistry. Two online social research surveys were employed to
establish what the public knew and understood about the terms, Ecstasy and MDMA and the
drug Mephedrone. The surveys included both quantitative questions regarding specific drug
knowledge and qualitative questions which asked participants about their reasons behind
selecting to use a substance. The surveys provided a social context and highlighted specific
perceptions that were held about these drugs. The results from the surveys were compared to
seizure data collected from the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, which provided a timeline of the
emergence and prevalence of the types of Ecstasy/MDMA and Mephedrone being seized.
The perceptions were also compared to a qualitative chemical analysis of seized samples
using Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS).
In the findings from this research there is a definite gap between what the public know and
perceive about the terms Ecstasy, MDMA and Mephedrone. A key finding from this research
is what is reportedly known about Ecstasy has not translated into what is known about MDMA.
There is an observed disassociation between these two terms. Mephedrone, on the other
hand appears to have fallen into obscurity post its media high of 2010. The responses to the
social surveys indicate a clear preference for MDMA over ‘Ecstasy’ or Mephedrone, as the
former is seen as being of better ‘quality’. The user preference was supported by the findings
from the seizers recorded in Cambridge, with the new crystal form being the most dominant
type seized post 2012 and Mephedrone seizures declining after its control in 2010. In
reporting the purity of street samples, the public perception was again supported as the crystal
materials contained a higher percentage of the chemical MDMA. This is the first reported
study of the relative purity of the alternate forms of MDMA.

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