Think you've got an ecstasy pill? Think again. Often pills claiming to have MDMA in them have little or none. We explain the risks of not knowing exactly what you’re taking.

Hand holding lots of different pills

It's hard to tell which pills genuinely contain MDMA

What is ecstasy?

Ecstasy is another name for the stimulant drug MDMA or 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (try saying that when you’re high). Ecstasy is the name used for pills with MDMA in them, while MDMA is used for the ‘purer’ powder. You can find out more about the effects and risks of MDMA here.

Ecstasy pills are mostly coloured with an image printed on top – the problem is that sometimes they don’t contain actual MDMA, so you can’t be sure what you’re taking. Confused yet? You’re not the only one.

If it’s not ecstasy, what else could it be?

Technically anything; caffeine, amphetamines or, increasingly often, PMA.

PMA or PMMA has similar effects to MDMA, although it doesn’t have the same euphoric high and can cause hallucinations.

What are the dangers of PMA?

The biggest danger is that people can die from taking it. It’s more dangerous than MDMA because:

  • It’s a lot more toxic, so it’s much easier to overdose.
  • It takes longer than MDMA to work, so people often think they need to take more.
  • You’re at risk of seriously overheating – the most common reason for death – which leads to dehydration. HOWEVER there’s also a risk of drinking too much water, which can also be fatal, so it’s a dangerous balancing act.
  • It can make you paranoid and depressed.
  • It can cause muscle spasms and make you feel sick.

How can I make sure ecstasy is pure?

There’s no real way of knowing, unless you’re a master chemist, as PMA often looks exactly like an ecstasy tablet.

Even using a dealer you trust or taking pills that look similar to ones you’ve had before isn’t necessarily a guarantee it’s MDMA not PMA. However, it’s worth watching the news for drugs that definitely contain PMA, e.g. in 2013, green tablets with imprints of Rolex logos were found to contain PMA.

How can I reduce the risks of taking pills that may contain PMA?

  • If a pill takes longer than 45 minutes to work, it’s probably PMA, so don’t take any more.
  • Call an ambulance if you get overheated.
  • If you’re feeling really hot, don’t suddenly march outside into the night as quick changes in temperature can be dangerous.
  • Sip small amounts of water regularly to prevent dehydration.
  • Stay with your friends and decide on somewhere to meet in case you get separated.

Photo of pills by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • FRANK offers friendly, confidential advice on all things drugs-related. Call now on 0300 123 6600
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


drugs a-z


Updated on 29-Sep-2015