In Recent Months Superman Pill Deaths Have Been
In recent months, there have been several deaths in the UK due to a recreational drug known as the Superman pill. Authorities suspect that users mistakenly believed they were taking ecstasy (MDMA) when, in reality, they ingested PMA (phenoxymethylamphetamine), which is far more toxic. What is behind the seemingly sudden emergence of this dangerous substance?
Surprisingly, PMA has been around since the 1950s, when its mood-elevating effects were tested and found to be lacking. It, and many other pharmaceuticals, were eventually banned by UN conventions. PMA and PMMA, its close cousin, have made a resurgence in recent years, thanks to a well-meaning policy that made making and selling ecstasy more difficult. Specifically, a 1988 UN edict banned a chemical called safrole, which is a vital ingredient in MDMA. When that was no longer available, chemists substituted aniseed oil, which is similar to safrole. Unfortunately, using aniseed oil yields PMA and PMMA, which are both far more toxic than MDMA ever was.
How do these new drugs affect hapless users? First, they are up to ten times more potent than the ecstasy people believe they are taking. As a result, the dose they take is far higher than they intended. Furthermore, PMA does not work as fast as ecstasy, leading users to believe that they have gotten a bad batch and increasing the likelihood that they will take another dose. Finally, PMA and PMMA are far more toxic, making the brain unable to compensate for the effects of the serotonin rush these drugs create.
The Superman pill deaths are just the latest example of the disastrous results that can come from the best of intentions. Almost a century ago, for instance, the United States prohibited the sale of alcohol, which directly led to the clandestine production and distribution of home-distilled hard liquors that were far stronger and more dangerous. Banning the smoking of opium directly led to increased use of heroin, which is a far more dangerous opioid.
How can we arrest the trend of Superman pill deaths? The public could be given access to testing facilities, with no questions asked, in order to know exactly what they have bought before they use it. A more controversial solution would be to make safe doses of MDMA available by prescription to registered users. At the very least, information about PMA and PMMA could be disseminated far and wide to alert the public to the potential dangers of the pills they plan to purchase. In this case, knowledge is power. It would help to reverse the unintended effects of governmental good intentions.