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Ecstacy's unlikely trip from lab to dance floor

More than two decades after the dance drug ecstasy burst on to the scene, chemists have finally pieced together the true story of the origins of one the most influential and controversial substances ever to come from a test tube.

According to popular history the drug, first discovered in 1912, was developed by the German pharmaceutical giant Merck as a lucrative way to suppress the appetites of soldiers in the German army - a plot foiled by reports of bizarre side effects among the first human guinea pigs. Merck, the story goes, was forced to withdraw the compound and consigned it to the pharmaceutical scrap heap, where it lay until resurrected by 1970s drug guru Alexander Shulgin.

This version of events appears regularly in medical reports, newspaper articles, textbooks and even on the official website of the US drug enforcement administration. But Merck has decided to set the record straight.

In an unusual step, the company got experts from its corporate history department and a local doctor to trawl through thousands of original documents in its archive at its headquarters in Darmstad.

For more than a year, they searched for references to ecstasy in laboratory journals, annual reports, patents, letters, interview records, memoirs and the other historical detritus thrown up by six decades of scientific research from 1900 to 1960.

Their verdict? The company did develop the drug in 1912, but the appetite suppressant story is an urban myth, passed on from source to source through "uncritical copy-paste procedures". Instead, documents from the time show that ecstasy emerged during the company's efforts to develop a potentially life-saving medicine that would help blood to clot.

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Tags : ecstasy mdma Merck
Posted on: 2006-08-18 16:26:10