Ecstasy, marijuana (including synthetic cannabinoids sold as ‘Spice’ and ‘Incense’) and various psychoactive ‘legal highs’ have surged in popularity and Canada has become a major criminal hub for ecstasy. 

Recent deaths have been linked to paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMMA) in ecstasy pills and with Canadian producing most of the ecstasy in the North American market, a timely paper in Drug Science Policy and Law looks at trends in ecstasy adulteration and the facts around PMA/PMMA-linked deaths. 

In America, social authoritarians are ban-happy but the Canadian authors also argue for an alternative to a new ban.

The review finds: 

  • In 2007, according to the Health Canada Drug Analysis Service, only 3% of seized ecstasy tablets contained pure MDMA compared to 69% in 2001.
  • 4 teenage girls died after taking 3-6 ecstasy pills.
  • Almost 40 years ago, there was a spate of deaths in Canada linked to PMA (Cimbura, 1974).
  • The notorious 'face-eating zombie' case from Florida in 2012 was found to have no link to 'bath salts', specifically MDPV, despite initial reports.

The authors assert that legislation does not deter drug use and call for improved education rather than criminalization. The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, who host the journal, have provided harm reduction advice for anyone that might come into contact with PMA/PMMA.

Lead author Alan Hudson commented, "It is clear that not only is PMA/PMMA a real danger for those that take ecstasy, there is an urgent need for more education on how to reduce harms and recognition that constant criminalization is not effective. We must make sure young people are informed of PMMA's real risks and join up efforts across specialisms and across national lines to ensure such tragedies do not happen again."

Citation: Alan L Hudson, Maggie D Lalies, Glen B Baker, Kristopher Wells, and Katherine J Aitchison , 'Ecstasy, legal highs and designer drug use: A Canadian perspective', Drug Science, Policy and Law January 2013 - December 2014 1: 2050324513509190, February 10, 2014 doi:10.1177/2050324513509190