There have been reports in the past fortnight of the return of PMA in Australian ecstasy. It is important to remember that no ecstasy tablet is without risk. Even if it contains pure MDMA (the substance that users are actually after when they take the drug), there are no guarantees that things will go to plan.

PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine) is an amphetamine-type drug with both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. It has no medical use. Its effects are similar to those of MDA, although PMA is much more potent and far more toxic. It first appeared as a recreational drug in North America in the early 1970s, usually sold as MDA, and became associated with fatalities soon after it entered into street use. In Ontario, for example, the deaths of nine young people were confirmed to be caused by PMA between March and August 1973.

The toxicity of PMA is related to excessive central nervous system stimulation. Users may experience hallucinations, delirium, restlessness, agitation, muscle contractions, thrashing around, rigidity, sweating, high fever, seizures, coma and death. It has been estimated that PMA’s effects may be seen by taking approximately 50mg. An ecstasy tablet can weigh anything from 150mg to 200mg and can contain up to 50 percent of active material, so it would not take many pills to cause a problem. The first sign of something going wrong may include increased body temperature, profuse sweating and shaking.

PMA has been linked to a number of Australian deaths over the years. Six people died in South Australia between September 1995 and January 1996 after taking PMA, either alone or combined with MDMA. Since then we have had deaths in Sydney and Perth also. All indications are that the users believed they were taking MDMA alone and did not realise that PMA was present in the tablet they used.

This time the substance was found by users who had tested their pills with the EZ testing kits and then they posted their findings onto a national website. Of course, these kits are not foolproof and they do not tell us how much of the substance is actually contained in the pill. Authorities are currently carrying out more comprehensive testing on the pills so that we have more accurate information about these potentially lethal tablets.

The two types of pills that have been identified are beige peace signs and pink crocodiles/alligators. If you have these in your possession or know someone who has, do not use them and ensure that they are destroyed.

PMA is almost unheard of anywhere else in the world. Some experts believe this is due to the pill testing programs that exist in some countries, particularly in Europe, which have caused manufacturers to lift their game. As a result some of the more toxic substances have been virtually eliminated from ecstasy. Unfortunately, we do not have these early warning networks in Australia.

Ecstasy is not a harmless drug. One of the greatest risks is that you never know what is actually in the pill you are taking. When we are fortunate enough to have a warning such as this, take heed -“ it could save a life.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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