Concerns grow over 'PMA', a drug compound similar to ecstasy which has been implicated in 17 deaths in 2012 alone

 

Its effects are unpredictable and potentially lethal. Yet no one knows exactly how many of the estimated 30 million ecstasy pills consumed each year in Britain contain it.

Growing concerns over the use of para-Methoxyamphetamin – better known simply as PMA - were highlighted again yesterday when a judge jailed a man for supplying his girlfriend with pills laced with the illegal chemical.

Nicole Tomlinson, 19, was among nearly 20 people to die in 2012 after taking the substance. The teenager had believed she was swallowing ecstasy purchased by James Meaney, 22, the father of her two-year-old son. He had bought them at a party in Darlington, Co Durham, but like many who take the drug unwittingly, Ms Tomlinson thought they were not working at first and took three to boost the effect.

Sentencing Meaney to seven months in jail at Teesside Crown Court after he pleaded guilty to supplying class A drugs, Judge Tony Briggs admitted he had never heard of PMA. “The absolutely lethal effects of it ought to be more widely known,” he said. "The danger needing to be emphasised is people think it's not working and take more, and the dose is doubled or trebled,” he added.

Many regular ecstasy users, believed to number around 500,000 in the UK, are blithely unaware of the fatal gamble posed by a substance that has been around for as long as MDMA – the active ingredient in the notorious dance drug which itself resulted in the deaths of around 35 people a year between 2006-10.

But for many the arrival of PMA is not just another media drugs scare story, rather a clear and present danger to recreational drug takers. According to the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths the growing prevalence of PMA in pills being sold as ecstasy is a matter of “particular concern” set against a background of declining drug use and a fall in heroin deaths.

In 2012 PMA was found in the postmortem toxicology tests of 19 people who died from suspected drug poisoning. In 17 cases it was considered the cause of death – up from zero in 2010.  

There have been a number of well-reported clusters centring on the North West of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland where reports have blamed pills with exotic street names such as Pink Ecstasy, Green Rolex, Dr Death and Mortal Kombat.

But the reality is that they were purchased simply as ecstasy for as little as £5 each.

Mike Power, author of Drugs 2.0, who has spent the last three years researching the substance, said pills containing PMA are being passed off by unscrupulous suppliers looking to boost their profits. Its prevalence is not known.

“In an unregulated market that is controlled by gangsters there is no quality control – which is an argument for a more regulated market,” he said.

The steep dose-response curve of PMA and its sister substance PMMA means that whilst it can produce the desired euphoric effects at relatively low dosages, taking more than one pill can dramatically increase the physiological impact especially when it is taken – as it nearly always is - in conjunction with MDMA. The slow onset of the high makes it particularly dangerous convincing users into taking more than one pill at a time.

“The key message is that it is a very unpredictable substance. Many of those who have died in recent years likely had prior experience with MDMA – and survived. But when mixed with PMA by unscrupulous gangsters and sold as fake Es, they died,” said Mr Power.

PMA cause heart rate and body temperature to rise as a result of increases in serotonin levels. Users can simply boil to death.  

“The drug PMA was first synthesised in 1967 by the psychedelic chemist Alexander Shulgin [the so-called godfather of MDMA, who rediscovered the active ingredient in Ecstasy in the 1960s] and he advised people to stay away from this compound. In other words the world's most prolific drug experimenter said: 'Don't take it',” explained Mr Power.

Charities such as DrugScope have warned that in contrast to the early 1990s, when rave culture and ecstasy use were at their height, the public knowledge that could prevent deaths has been lost.

Chief executive Marcus Roberts said: “The current generation of clubbers are probably unaware of many of these protective measures – for instance, not increasing dosage and not allowing the body to get over heated. It’s important that we find ways of reminding young people of this type of information, not only with regards to Ecstasy, but also to the many other new drugs now on the UK scene.”

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released the first teaser trailer a week early after it leaked online

Extras
indybest
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Health & Social CareTeacher - Full time and Part time

£90 - £140 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Sixth for...

History Teacher

£95 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Plymouth i...

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer -...

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer ...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?