It's no secret that Europe has a rich history with ecstasy. As one of the epicenters for dance music culture and home to a known hub of ecstasy production in the Netherlands, it has had an undeniable connection to the club drug. But since the dawn of the new millennium, levels of MDMA in pressed pills sold within the continent were actually decreasing.
But as of 2010, MDMA purity is on the upswing within the continent, according to a new report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). Compared to an average of 50-80 mg of MDMA contained in pressed pills throughout the dawn of the 90s raving scene, the current average dose in a pressed pill of ecstasy has increased to double that potency at 125 mg.
These so-called "super pills" are proliferating in Europe—some containing a ridiculous 270 to 340 mg of MDMA. "Some recently produced batches of MDMA tablets contained discernible crystals, apparently as a strategy to increase user trust," the report states. These sometimes contain marks, indicating that someone popping it might only need to take half or less to roll face.
Scott, an ecstasy collector in Scotland, has seen the emergence of super pills firsthand.
"Over the past five years, pills have had a dramatic increase in MDMA content, whereas between the era of around 2005-2010 pills were filled with crap," Scott told VICE. "Nowadays, pills have skyrocketed—for example, the latest pills I have, orange 'Burger Kings,' have a lab testing of 250 mg. All my pills I have in my collection are easily around 180 mg and above."
Scott said some other super-strength pressed pills that he's encountered look like Lego bricks and orange "WiFis." He says the price he pays is usually £10 [about $14.50 USD] per pill.
Though E has a history of production based in Europe, the report points out that "with regard to trafficking, the vast majority of European production is destined for internal markets."
This waning and waxing of MDMA purity is due in part to who controls the trade. According to Nick*, who was formerly part of a major ecstasy ring in the 90s that got its product from Europe, the move to aggressively increase potency in ecstasy pills could be an attempt at better branding or to get away from the "molly" powder that is so frequently tainted with other substances. "This has been a decision among the European drug overseers to really brand their ecstasy," he said, "and that's going to be in the form of higher-dose pills that the public has never seen before."
Traffickers have found new ways of pushing their product, too, with the advant of the darknet, providing hundreds of options to people who previously would not be able to get their hands on illicit drugs.
According to a 2015 study referenced in the EMCDDA report that analyzed 16 darknet marketplaces, it was estimated that ecstasy accounts for 25 percent of drug demand within this market. Another study referenced ranks MDMA as the third most common drug sold on the darknet.
Nick said that he recently got ahold of several different kinds of "super" ecstasy pills from Europe and were sold on the darkweb, including those bearing the corporate logos of Instagram, Tesla, and Warner Brothers. The price on the darkweb for the Teslas he got were $3.50 USD per pill.
Nick also said that the unexpected change in potency could have a serious impact on consumers. "Some of these are three doses, so if you're uneducated and you've taken pills before and were able to take four of them at a time, suddenly, it doesn't take that amount anymore," he said. "What you're having is kids taking that and getting to that MDMA intoxication point really frequently now."
According to the EMCDDA report, health issues seem to be "relatively uncommon" with MDMA on its own, though it states there is not enough data to substantiate this claim.
Nick says it's just a matter of time before these ecstasy pills from Europe make it into the North American market. The price of an MDMA capsule in North American markets is currently hovering around $10 to $15 per pill, but this switch in product is likely to push up the price of ecstasy to over $20 due to demand.
"If you're a drug dealer on the street level, for me it was always about having the best product… the person who has the best shit will always outsell the person with the weaker shit," Nick said. "It might not happen immediately, but as it becomes known, it will… we're already starting to see the switch in the US."
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.
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