Information and harm reduction advice, especially for people who use ecstasy (MDMA). Please share it with people who might benefit!

The ecstasy pills that a user wants would contain just one active ingredient; – MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine).

But because banned drugs are unregulated, they are never reliable and can contain all sorts of other drugs, and sometimes no MDMA at all.

At the moment there seems to be some particularly dodgy pills around, containing the drug PMA instead of, or as well as MDMA. Several deaths linked to PMA have occurred recently. PMA is a more potent (effects at lower doses) and much less ‘forgiving’ drug than MDMA. Technically speaking it has a steeper dose-response curve, so the amount that could send your temperature, heart-rate and blood pressure soaring dangerously is not much more than the amount you need to feel it at all. People have reported very unpleasant or dangerous reactions after just a single pill or even less.

How does this compare to MDMA? Pills are always risky to some degree, but people who recklessly or accidentally take a bit too much MDMA usually don’t die (although the more you take, the higher the risks of death or damage). This is because it has a gentler dose-response curve.

PMA takes longer to kick in than MDMA. So after an hour you might be thinking “This one is no good; I’d better take another one or two.” Overdosing this way is really easy, and even if you survive without lasting damage, the symptoms of PMA toxicity can be horrendous even for a drug overdose, with the possibility of rocketing body temperature, becoming agitated and delirious, and suffering seizures. If you or someone else is reacting badly after taking what they thought was ecstasy, call an ambulance immediately as the chance of lasting damage and death increases fast. You can be honest; paramedics are committed to help you, not to get you in trouble.

What can you do to avoid the dangers of PMA? The obvious and safest answer is to avoid ecstasy pills or MDMA crystals where you’re not 100% sure of their contents. That’s all of them. Judging by the colours and logos of pills or choosing crystals instead is of limited value, as good products get copied and new bad ones appear. Pill-testing kits cannot be relied upon, they can be hard to interpret, a pill that tests positive for containing MDMA could still be mostly PMA, they might give a false sense of security.

Realistically though, some people are still going to decide to take the risk, just as people decide to participate in cheese-rolling. So to minimise the risks, be especially cautious. Consider starting with LESS than half the pill or equivalent quantity of powder you would take, and wait MORE than an hour before considering taking no more than this again, followed by another hour’s wait. This is always a good strategy with ecstasy, but now in particular. For more harm reduction information on ecstasy see our main article. There’s loads you can do to reduce the risks of drug taking, but if anyone tells you a simple and reliable way of taking ecstasy safely, they’re talking nonsense.

Finally, it’s unclear if anyone actually enjoys PMA much at any dose. Media articles say that it’s really ‘strong’ compared to MDMA, but ‘strong’ isn’t the right word for ‘toxic’. MDMA probably gives more highly desired effects in every way as being so much less risky, so there’s no reason to deliberately take PMA looking for an amazingly ‘strong’ high.

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