It's no secret that Europe has a rich history with ecstasy. As one of the epicentres for dance music culture and home to a known hub of ecstasy production, 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, a new report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) says. Compared to an average of 50-80 mg of MDMA contained in pressed pills throughout the dawn of raving in the 90s and 2000s, the current average dose in a pressed pill of ecstasy has increased to double that potency: 125 mg.
"Super pills" are also proliferating in Europe—some containing a ridiculous 270-340 mg. "Some recently produced batches of MDMA tablets contained discernible crystals, apparently as a strategy to increase user trust," the report states. These sometimes contain score marks, signalling 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 as 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 pressies that he's encountered have been Lego bricks and orange WiFis. He says the price he pays is usually £10 (~$11.50 US) per pill.
This waning and waxing of MDMA purity is due in part to who controls the trade. Nick* was part of a major (now-defunct) ecstasy ring in the 90s whose product came from Europe. "As we moved into the new millennium, we had the Chinese chemists who saw ways to get around laws, that's when you started to see the influx of designer substances [similar to MDMA]," he told VICE. "When the Chinese came and took this huge market for ecstasy, I really think the European drug gangs saw a decrease in sales, and over time, that amounted to millions and millions of dollars [lost]."
According to Nick, the move to aggressively increase potency in ecstasy pills could be an attempt at branding and 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 name their ecstasy, and that's going to be in the form of higher-dose pills that the public has never seen before."
Though E has a history of production based in Europe—so much so that there's no evidence that any ecstasy is imported into the continent—the report points out that, "With regard to trafficking, the vast majority of European production is destined for internal markets."
With the increased airport security seen after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, drug trafficking became more difficult. But with the advent of darknet marketplaces that provide hundreds of options to people who previously would not be able to get ahold of illicit drugs, the market for many substances has become more nuanced. 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 pill ecstasy that derived 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 US per pill.
According to Nick, the super pill ecstasy that Europe is currently producing is likely to get into the North American market in a bigger way in the near future.
"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," he said. "It might not happen immediately, but as it becomes known, it will... we're already starting to see the switch in the US."
Though the price of an MDMA capsule in North American markets is currently hovering around $10-15 per pill, this switch in product is likely to push up the price of ecstasy to $20 and higher due to demand. And according to Nick, an unexpected change in potency could have more serious impact: "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.
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.
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