Methylone: an MDMA analogue

Analogue art

An analogue is a substance that’s very similar in structure to another substance, but just slightly different. In pharmacy the development of analogues is an art. When a new drug is developed the inventor applies for a patent. This prevents another company from imitating the substance, in which case the developer wouldn’t be able to regain the high research investments.

It’s prohibited to copy patented materials. However, a company can try to create a substance that is very similar in structure to the respective drug, but slightly different. In some cases the effect will be almost the same. As pharmaceutical companies often apply for patents on potential analogues as well, the challenge is to imitate a substance in such a way that the effects are the same, but the structure is different enough to not be covered by the patent. If successful, the result will be considered a new substance. In this way the rules of a patent can be circumvented.

The development of analogues within pharmacy, where structures are consciously copied, is big business. Some pharmaceutical companies even run entirely on the adaptation of existing formulas. It’s clear the motives of these companies are not always pure. Often they aren’t so much interested in improving a medicine, but only aim for profit by copying someone else's product.

In this way a lot of "new" drugs are developed. In the most favourable cases, analogues proved to work better than the original drug. Analogues are also seriously developed within the pharmaceutical industry in order to increase the effectiveness and reduce possible side-effects of a drug.

Psychedelic analogues

If we look at the development of psychedelics we see a movement comparable to pharmacy. Analogues are developed regularly, for instance of MDMA and amphetamine. The main motive is to circumvent the law. If you develop a new formula that isn’t prohibited but that seems to work, you can get away with producing a lot and earning good money on it.

People who work like this not always have the best intentions. Meaning that often new substances are developed that are mediocre in effect and for which safety is far from guaranteed. These substances are made into pills and sold as, for example, XTC, while this is not the case at all. There are all sorts of dubious pills in circulation. Especially the long-term effects of these substances are totally unknown. This situation calls for legalisation: in this case at least some control would take place.

Chemical heroes

Luckily, heroes like Alexander Shulgin also exist. Purely out of curiosity they look for new variants of existing substances. In their case money plays a minor role. In 1994 Alexander Shulgin and his colleague Peyton Jacob III developed an analogue of MDMA. This new drug was called methylone.

Frequently analogues of mind-altering substances are already banned before they’ve been developed; comparable to a pharmaceutical company that doesn’t only apply for a patent of a new drug but also for its closely related analogues. Although methylone is structurally very similar to MDMA, it was not yet forbidden. The methylone molecule is structurally identical to MDMA with the exception of one additional oxygen atom.

The effect seems very similar to MDMA. The main difference being that methylone releases less serotonin in the brain, so it doesn’t produce the overly amorous feeling that MDMA is known for. Furthermore, it only works for two hours instead of four. Nevertheless, the effects are pretty severe. Undoubtedly, methylone is a strong stimulant.


Because methylone was not listed in the Opium Act, it could be sold in Dutch shops. In 2004 smartshops began to sell the drug under the name 'Explosion'. However, methylone wasn’t sold as a stimulant, but as a so-called "air-freshener", in a solution combined with a fragrance. In this way, smartshop owners hoped methylone could be sold legally for a longer period of time.

Obviously, selling a relatively strong stimulant over the counter, under the guise of being an air freshener is asking for trouble. Within a few months a new law was introduced which strangely enough didn’t list methylone on the Opium Act, but on the Medicines Act. At the same time it was not on the Medicines List, which means a doctor cannot prescribe this drug. Consequently, methylone disappeared from the smartshops and entered the illegal circuit where it’s still available today.

If you want to know more about methylone, read the new chapter on methylone in the Azarius Encyclopedia.

Written by: Sofie