Ecstasy and Amphetamines
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, an amphetamine derivative) and amphetamine are synthetic drugs.
MDMA comes in different forms: tablets (ecstasy), crystals and powder. This product is historically associated with the techno scene: its distribution in France has followed the rise of this type of party scene. MDMA is used to experience feelings of euphoria and well-being, empathogenic and entactogenic effects and resistance to fatigue. In high doses, it is a hallucinogen that can cause changes in sensory perception. MDMA in the form of crystals or powder is swallowed, sometimes diluted in a drink or consumed by “parachuting” (the product is rolled up in a sheet of cigarette paper) but also snorted, more rarely smoked or injected.
Amphetamine (N,α-methylphenethylamine) is classified in the family of phenethylamines, which includes different substances; stimulants, entactogens or hallucinogens. Amphetamine has mainly stimulant and anorectic properties. Used therapeutically in the past, amphetamine is now only prescribed for hyperactivity syndrome in children (Ritalin®) and for narcolepsy in adults, only by hospital specialists. It is most often in the form of a powder to be sniffed or, more marginally, injected. It is very present in the alternative party scene where its lower price compared to cocaine, for relatively similar effects, ensures its popularity.
Synthetic drugs (MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamines) consumed in France mainly come from the Netherlands, the leading production area in Western Europe. France is also a transit country for traffickers who target the United Kingdom and Spain in particular.
In 2021, 1 454 085 ecstasy tablets were seized in France, an increase of 18% compared to 2020. Quantities can vary greatly from one year to the next due to the random nature of seizures and interceptions, as part of the traffic only transits through French territory. Seizures of amphetamine and methamphetamine amounted to 226 kg, a decrease of 68% compared to 2020.
Prices and content
Whether in crystal/powder form or in tablet form (ecstasy), MDMA levels have increased considerably over the last decade. In the seized crystal/powder samples, the average concentrations have fluctuated significantly over the last ten years. Between 2011 and 2017, they increased from 57.8% to 73% and then returned in 2020 to a level close to that of 2011, i.e. 59.2% according to the scientific police department (SNPS)
Ecstasy also shows a steady increase in content. While the average content was 44 mg of MDMA in a tablet in 2009, it reached 127 mg in 2017 and 145 mg in 2020, i.e. well above the toxicity threshold set at 120 mg. This increase in content is linked to the new forms of ecstasy that appeared in 2011: larger tablets, with brighter colours and 3D shapes representing the logos of well-known brands.
In 2020, according to the French Anti-Narcotics Office (OFAST), the going price for an ecstasy tablet was €10, a price that had been stable since 2015. However, this retail price does not fully reflect the reality of the market, since users tend to buy batches of several dozen tablets in order to reduce the unit price. Such purchases can bring the price of the tablet down to €2.50.
Amphetamine is available in several forms: powder (most common form), paste and tablet. It can also exist in liquid form, but this form is very rarely seen in France. In 2020, the going price per gram of powder was €12.50, down from €15 in 2020.
The most frequently detected cutting agent in the amphetamines collected by the SINTES monitoring scheme (National detection system of drugs and toxic substances) was caffeine (in this case the product is called ‘speed’), with amphetamine levels ranging from 11% to 30% and caffeine levels from 8% to 78%. In 2020, according to the SNPS, the average active ingredient content of amphetamine was 29%.
- Detrez V. Le Point SINTES no. 7. Paris, OFDT, 2021, 16 p.
- Gérome C., Cadet-Taïrou A., Gandilhon M., Milhet M., Martinez M., Néfau T. Psychoactive substances, users and markets: recent trends (2017-2018). Tendances, OFDT, 2018, no. 129, 8 p.
Rather low use among the French population
In 2017, 5.0% of 18-64-year-olds had used MDMA/Ecstasy before, i.e. about 1.9 million people, while use in the past year concerned only 1.0% of this population (i.e. 400 000 users). The age groups most involved in lifetime MDMA/ecstasy use were 26-34-year-olds (9.5% lifetime users) and 18-25-year-olds (6.9%).
Among 17-year-olds, lifetime use in 2017 was 3.4% (3.9% of boys and 2.8% of girls), down from 3.8% in 2014. This lifetime use concerned 2.7% of high school students in 2018 (3.0% of boys, 2.3% of girls, non-significant difference). The decrease compared to 2015 (3.5%) was also not significant.
Lifetime amphetamine use affects 2.2% of 18-64-year-olds and reaches its highest levels among 26-34-year-olds and 35-44-year-olds, with 4.0% and 2.4% respectively, compared to 1.9% of 18-24-year-olds. Amphetamine use remains rare: 0.3% of the French population aged 18-64 used it in the past year.
Among 17-year-olds, lifetime use has been decreasing and in 2017 concerned 2.3% of them (1.8% of girls and 2.9% of boys), vs 2.8% in 2014. Lifetime use among high school students follows a similar trend, from 2.6% in 2015 to 2.0% in 2018, as does use at least once in the past year from 1.4% to 1.2% (non-significant differences).
- Spilka S., Le Nézet O., Janssen E., Brissot A., Philippon A., Shah J., Chyderiotis S. Drug use in 17-year-olds: analysis of the 2017 ESCAPAD survey. Tendances, OFDT, 2018, no. 123, 8 p.
- Spilka S., Richard J.-B., Le Nézet O., Janssen E., Brissot A., Philippon A., Shah J., Chyderiotis S., Andler R., Cogordan C. Levels of illicit drug use in France in 2017. Tendances, OFDT, 2018, no. 128, 6 p.
Clinical approach: the effects of ecstasy and amphetamine use
Amphetamine derivatives are psycho-stimulants that relieve feelings of fatigue and hunger, provide a sense of euphoria and hyper-concentration, boost self-confidence, and facilitate contact and communication. Some of them are present in several drugs known as amphetamines, the indications for which are very limited in France. These are sometimes diverted and used as doping products or appetite suppressants. Although amphetamine derivatives are known to be mildly addictive, they can cause dependency.
Acute use of amphetamines may cause neuropsychiatric disorders (anxiety attacks, confusion, temporal-spatial disorientation, hallucinations). The “down” phase, characterised by a feeling of exhaustion and depression, may be prolonged for several weeks by symptoms of depression, anxiety or confusion, or sleep disorders. Amphetamines can also cause digestive, neurological and cardiovascular disorders.
Somatically, the intake is associated with hypertonia (muscle contractions). Hyperthermia or cardiovascular disorders may occur, which may be fatal or have serious pathological consequences (muscles, liver, kidneys, heart, brain, etc.).
In 2019, the percentage of deaths related to drug and substance abuse revealing the involvement of amphetamines or MDMA was 6% (i.e. 29 deaths), a relatively stable proportion since 2012 (2019 DRAMES Survey data, CEIP-A Grenoble-ANSM).
Ecstasy use emerged in France in the mid-1980s and underwent a phase of significant growth until about 2002. After years of decline, the use of tablets has made a marked comeback in the party scene, whether in the commercial sector (clubs, discos) or in the alternative sector (free parties, teknivals, etc.). This return has been accompanied by a real marketing strategy on the part of producers, with larger, higher-dose, three-dimensional tablets.
Despite very high average doses, the tablet has a reassuring dimension in the eyes of users, unlike MDMA “parachuting”, because it can be broken up into smaller doses.
Amphetamine, on the other hand, has a good image among users and has also benefited from the decline of the ecstasy tablet. It also competes in powder form with cocaine at a much lower price per gram.
- Cadet-Taïrou A., Gandilhon M., Gérome C., Martinez M., Milhet M., Detrez V., Adès J.-E. 1999-2019: changes in drug use and supply in France through the experience of the OFDT's TREND scheme. Summary. Paris, OFDT, Théma TREND, 2020, 9 p.
- Gérome C., Gandilhon M. Psychoactive substances, users and markets - Recent trends (2019-2020). Tendances, OFDT, 2020, no. 141, 8 p.
Legal framework and recent public policies
MDMA/ecstasy and amphetamine (or speed) are classified as narcotics and their use is prohibited. Buying, using, possessing, giving away, dealing, producing, transporting or driving after using are all offences against the law and are subject to criminal penalties, regardless of the amount of product involved (law of 31 December 1970).
Last update: September 2022
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