Business born on dancefloor

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Ecstasy is big business, not just for drug dealers, but also authors, T-shirt manufacturers, record producers and night-club owners, writes Jason Bennetto.

The culture that has sprung up around the drug since it hit the British dance scene in the late 1980s has been skilfully mastered to become a multi-million pound industry.

Witness the success of the new novel Ecstasy by Irvine Welsh, author of the cult book Trainspotting, latterly a film.

Despite poor reviews, it is in the number-one spot in the paperback fiction best- sellers list after selling 15,000 copies in its first week.

There has also been a rash of books about ecstasy which include tips on how to get the best out of your drugs. Added to that are the numerous records aimed at the ecstasy rave and dance market.

MDMA was invented in 1912 by Merck, a German company, but no medical or commercial uses were found for it, although in 1953 the US Army tested it to see whether it could be used to disorientate enemy troops.

In the mid-Sixties its psychedelic effects were recognised and Adam, as it was then called, became popular with students as a "love drug".

Once it became popular among the general population it was banned in the USA in 1985. British dance clubs adopted it in 1988, spawning the world-wide rave culture, which involved trance dancing at mass outdoor events.

Despite the decline in the popularity of raves, prompted by laws to outlaw mass gatherings, taking ecstasy has become an established part of life for thousands of people in Britain.

Its influence is particularly acute in the music, clothes and lifestyle of young club-goers.

There is also an important, less visible market of drug-takers who are looking for cheap, readily available and relatively safe narcotics to take at home with friends. With falling prices and more reliable quality, this is likely to be a boom area, something which dealers are exploiting.