PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine, p-methoxyamphetamine or 4-methoxyamphetamine) is a synthetic phenethylamine drug, psychostimulant and hallucinogen. It is sometimes known by the street names of "death" or "Dr Death". It has, however, been more commonly encountered when it has been sold as "ecstasy", even though PMA and MDMA, the principal ingredient of ecstasy, are distinctly different chemicals. Both dealers and users are likely to be unaware that a particular batch of pills contains PMA rather than MDMA. Notable batches of pills containing PMA have included Mitsubishi Turbo or Red/Blue Mitsubishi and Yellow Euro pills. PMA is often synthesized from anethole, the flavor compound of anise and fennel, mainly because the starting material for MDMA, safrole, has become less available due to law enforcement action, causing illicit drug manufacturers to use anethole as an alternative. Once thought to be a human invention, recent research suggests PMA occurs as a trace alkaloid in plants including certain Acacia species. It is classified as a Schedule I hallucinogen under the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. Internationally, PMA is a Schedule I drug under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
PMA has been associated with numerous adverse reactions including death. Effects of PMA ingestion include many effects of the hallucinogenic amphetamines including accelerated and irregular heartbeat, blurred vision, and a strong feeling of intoxication which is often unpleasant. While PMA can reportedly be euphoric at low doses, the dose-response curve is much steeper than that of MDMA, and at higher doses unpleasant effects such as nausea and vomiting, severe hyperthermia and hallucinations quickly overpower any pleasurable effects. The effects of PMA also seem to be much more unpredictable and variable between individuals than those of MDMA, and sensitive individuals may die from a dose of PMA that a less susceptible person might only be mildly affected by. There are approximately twice as many deaths caused by PMA as by MDMA, even though the actual proportion of PMA on the market is only a fraction of that of MDMA. While PMA alone may cause significant toxicity, the combination of PMA with MDMA has a synergistic effect which seems to be particularly hazardous. Since PMA has a slow onset of effects, several deaths have occurred where individuals have taken a pill containing PMA, followed by a pill containing MDMA some time afterwards due to thinking that the first pill was not active.
It appears that PMA elevates body temperatures dramatically; the cause of this property is suspected to be related to its ability to inhibit monoamine oxidase A and at the same time releasing large amounts of serotonin, effectively causing serotonin syndrome. Amphetamines, especially serotonergic analogues such as MDMA, are strongly contraindicated to take with MAOIs. Many amphetamines and adrenergic compounds raise body temperatures; whereas some tend to produce more euphoric activity, or peripheral vasoconstriction, or tend to favor one effect over another, it appears that PMA activates the hypothalamus much more strongly than MDMA and other drugs like ephedrine, thereby causing rapid increases in body temperature (which is the major cause of death in PMA mortalities). Many people taking PMA try to get rid of the heat by taking off their clothes, taking cold showers or wrapping themselves in wet towels, and even sometimes by shaving off their hair.
Because PMA is given out through the same venues and distribution channels that "ecstasy" tablets are, the risk of being severely injured, hospitalized or even killed from use of ecstasy increases significantly when a batch of "ecstasy" pills containing PMA starts to be sold in a particular area. PMA pills could be a variety of colours or logos, and there is no way of knowing just from the appearance of a pill what drugs it might contain. However, it is possible to test any "ecstasy" pill that is bought with a pill testing kit before it is consumed to determine its content, and to monitor reported results from police or government drug testing laboratories and avoid any pills that are reported to contain PMA.
It is believed that PMA first came into circulation in the early 1970s, where it was retrospectively implicated in a number of deaths in the United States and Canada. Between 1974 and the early 1990s, there appear to have been no known fatalities from PMA. Several deaths reported as MDMA-induced in Australia in the early 1990s are now considered to have been caused by PMA, the users unaware that what they were ingesting was not MDMA but in fact PMA. There have been a number of PMA-induced deaths around the world since then.
Four analogues of PMA have been reported to be sold on the black market: PMMA, PMEA , 4-ETA and 4-MTA. These are the N-methyl, N-ethyl, 4-ethoxy and 4-methylthio analogues of PMA, respectively. PMMA and PMEA are reportedly weaker, more "ecstasy-like" and somewhat less dangerous than PMA itself, but can still produce nausea and hyperthermia similar to that produced by PMA, albeit at slightly higher doses. 4-ETA was briefly sold in Canada in the 1970s but little is known about it. 4-MTA however is more dangerous even than PMA and produces strong stimulant effects and intense hyperthermia, but with little euphoria, and was implicated in several deaths in the late 1990s.