MDMA, also know as Ecstasy, is a entactogenic drug known for inducing a sense of euphoria in the user. It enhances sound and makes people very friendly and loving, which is why it's the number one drug of choice for annoying candy ravers.
MDMA is a drug that makes its users fall in love with the world and dance all night to electronic music. Like LSD, it's had a history of being invented for a completely different purpose, going unused for a long time and then finally finding its purpose as a recreational drug. Originally invented in 1912 by a chemist at Merck, it was meant to be a knockoff of a drug used to treat abnormal bleeding made by Bayer. Not being particularly successful at staunching the flow of blood and decades away from Daft Punk, it was shelved by Merck and mostly forgotten.
Alexander and Ann Shulgin: Further proof that MDMA ruins your ability to dress like a normal person.
Forgotten until the 1960s when Alexander Shulgin, a chemistry instructor at the University of California known for his own recreational explorations in chemistry, was introduced to it by one of his students. A former chemist for Dow, Shulgin originally developed a new pesticide for them in the 1950s and was rewarded with a lab of his own and carte blanche to develop new ways to kill bugs.
Around this time he tried mescaline and had his mind blown, quickly turning into that guy from college who'd do just about anything to get high. He transformed his Dow lab into a candy factory and began creating all sorts of new drugs. When Dow found out that they'd been funding a designer drug super lab instead of inventing new pesticides, they quickly pink slipped Shulgin.
Shulgin then set up his own lab and continued experimenting with psychoactive substances and wandered into academia. It was in 1967 that he was turned onto MDMA by one of the grad students he advised. Shulgin wholeheartedly embraced the new drug, calling it his "low calorie martini".
He developed a new synthesis process for MDMA and turned on his friend, psychologist Leo Zeff to the drug. Zeff used low dose MDMA to aid in his talk therapy and evangelized the drug's use in the psychiatric community, eventually hundreds of therapists experimented with it, mostly the weird hippie types who dealt in quasi-legit things like regression and primal scream therapy. One even claimed that a 5 hour MDMA experience was equal to 5 months of traditional talking cure therapy.
Up until 1986 MDMA was as legal as sea salt, much like LSD before it. You could literally order it from ads in the back of girlie magazines. Which didn't really matter because for a long time no one knew what it was. The only people really using it in the seventies were hippie therapists who'd often throw elaborate group therapy sessions that bordered on being a straight up hug orgy where everyone took "Adam" as MDMA was being called at the time and worked out their issues. It was very mellow.
Starting in the early eighties in Dallas, MDMA caught on in the dance clubs under the name "Ecstasy". Legal at the time, you could even buy it from the bartender with your credit card, leading to it briefly replacing cocaine as the Yuppy drug du jour. Ecstasy had a unique effect as a club drug, it crossed over completely between the gay and straight bar scenes and its lovey dovey effects turned many a macho 80s straight male into a cuddly hugmonster who just loved to disco.
As quickly as it had caught on, it was quickly banned by the FDA and placed on Schedule 1. This ended any legitimate medical use of MDMA, along with the over aboveground club drug usage. However, an ocean away in England, a rising music scene combined with a down economy, a "lad" culture of bored youth and liquor laws that closed pubs at 11pm provided the basis for the last major youth culture movement of the 20th century and MDMA was the fuel.
In Europe, there never was the large anti-disco backlash (which was really a codified backlash against blacks and gays, but that's a whole other article there) so the club scene was still going strong and dance music was still being made and enjoyed outside of gay bars.
In America, there was the rise of two distinct dance music scenes: Detroit Techno and Chicago House which would come to greatly influence rave in Europe. Detroit Techno started out as a very heavily Kraftwerk and Euro synthpop influenced sound made by middle class black teenagers whose parents worked for GM. Techno was known for its icy sound, scifi themed music and refined Euro style. Surprisingly drug use in the Techno scene was very low, owing mainly to the middle class black teenagers wanting to distance themselves from their lower class counterparts.
Chicago House was heavily disco influenced and came out of the gay club scene. It was named after a club called the Warehouse, which was (unsurprisingly) a converted warehouse. It (in)famous for its 4/4 time relentless disco beat, which in the early days involved DJs playing a drum machine over regular disco records. Drug use in the House scene however was epic. The hedonism was ridiculous. The typical gay drugs of choice, Poppers and Cocaine were in abundance, but other newer drugs including MDMA began to surface as well.
Neither of these genres of music really caught on in the United States outside of gay bars, but in Europe it was another story. Disco and dance music in general were still huge and the import of acid house only fanned the flames further. England in particular was a perfect breeding ground for rave culture: it had a down economy with thousands of young people on the dole, pubs closed at 11pm, their society was a highly stratified class system that encouraged restraint in emotions aka "the stiff upper lip" and the weather completely sucked.
Acid House parties started off in small, unlicensed clubs that were spread by word of mouth. They ran late into the night and were highly popular because there was nothing else to do. MDMA broke down the users inhibitions and made them feel like they loved everyone, which in stodgy old England was an amazing thing. The parties exploded in attendance numbers climbing quickly from 50 people a night to some warehouse parties hosting over 20,000 people.
Raving quickly became a common weekend activity in England, crossing over through all ranks of youth society, even coopting the football hooligan subculture. It soon spread across Europe and back to America.
Typical Ravers at Play
MDMA basically turns you into a golden retriever: you love everyone and everything in the whole world, all you care about is being petted and loved by everyone. It's the drug that makes even the toughest man sensitive and friendly. In England, rave culture took off in the soccer hooligan community briefly and produced the "Love Thug", football goons who spent their weekends dancing and hugging everyone, all caught in the joyous chemical rapture of MDMA.
MDMA makes music sound a lot better than it actually does, which is why Trance wasn't invented until after MDMA. Before Ecstasy, you had to actually listen to music that consisted of more than a 140 bpm drum loop and two synchesizer chords in order to enjoy it. Not so with MDMA, even car alarms become music to you:
It does have a good beat and I can dance to it...
MDMA also depletes your serotin levels, leading to depression during the comedown phase and if it's done too often can permanently damage them, this is where the term "e-tard" comes from. Also, MDMA makes it next to impossible for men to perform sexually, but usually you don't care because you're lying at the bottom of a cuddle puddle:
Don't act like you don't want in on this.