1985 saw the first mention of ecstasy in the UK press. It came in the November edition of a style magazine called The Face. The magazine dubbed ecstasy as ‘the yuppie way of knowledge’, showing that back then, the drug was regarded as a vehicle for introspection among the Hampstead dinner party set.
Flash forward to 1988 and ecstasy had become the fuel for a new all-night dance culture called Acid House and the whole rave scene took off. But ecstasy was more than the latest drug on the block. The rise in drug use since 1945 has not been a smooth curve; there have been tipping points which have caused step changes in history. The drug scene of the 1980s was dominated by heroin and solvents, substances associated with deprivation and poverty. At £25 a pill, associated with the aspirational club/rave scene and the belief that the drug was relatively safe, ecstasy sparked a more accepting period of drug use among young use and encouraged experimentation with other drugs including ketamine and cannabis. The mid-90s was the era of ‘Cool Britannia’.
But it came at a price; the first official ecstasy death was recorded in Manchester in 1986 and the numbers kept rising over the years. While attempts at harm reduction in this area were initially publicly vilified, soon drug agencies, the medical profession and the government all responded with a new stream of harm reduction initiatives aimed at reducing the death toll. Sadly, it is a problem which is not only still with us, but which appears to be on the rise again – most likely as a result of the particular ecstasy currently in circulation, some of which is very strong, while other types have been mixed with the more toxic PMA.
The following articles and news items capture the early history of MDMA in the UK.