Ecstasy could be redesigned as potent cancer treatment


August 23, 2011

A modified form of MDMA (pictured here in powder form) has potential as a potent cancer treatment

A modified form of MDMA (pictured here in powder form) has potential as a potent cancer treatment

Six years ago, researchers at the University of Birmingham discovered that more than half of the cancers of white blood cells they looked at responded in the test tube to the growth-suppressing properties of psychotropic drugs, including amphetamine derivatives such as ecstasy and weight-loss pills, and antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac). Building on this previous work, the researchers have now discovered a modified form of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, they claim has 100 times more cancer-busting properties than the designer drug itself.

Although the scientists discovered the cancer-fighting properties of MDMA six years ago, the team realized that producing a usable clinical compound would present serious problems; largely because the dose of MDMA required to treat a cancerous tumor would also kill the patient. They therefore set about breaking down the actions of the drug to isolate its cancer-killing properties from its general toxicity.

Working in collaboration with researchers from Western Australia who produced the new compounds for them, the University of Birmingham scientists found specially modified forms of ecstasy that had their ability to attack and destroy cancerous cells boosted by a factor of 100. More importantly, they believe they now understand the mechanism behind this.

"Together, we were looking at structures of compounds that were more effective. They started to look more lipophilic, that is, they were attracted to the lipids that make up cell walls," explains Professor John Gordon, from the University of Birmingham's School of Immunology and Infection. "This would make them more 'soapy' so they would end up getting into the cancer cells more easily and possibly even start dissolving them. By knowing this we can theoretically make even more potent analogues of MDMA and eventually reach a point where we will have in our drug cabinet the most potent form we could."

Although the researchers don't want to give people false hope, they believe their research has the potential to in the future provide an improvement in cancer treatments for cancers like lymphoma, many types of which remain hard to treat. The team is now looking to develop pre-clinical studies.

The University of Birmingham team's research results were published on August 18 in the journal Investigational New Drugs.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Finally - A chemotherapy that makes you feel good at the same time.


Even if the drug can cure cancer, I don\' know if that will be allowed by the government if it it makes you feel good! This is a dangerous side effect.

Hamid Kaber

How much sooner would this, and untold other discoveries, have been made if we had not been \"under the influence\" of the drug war fraud!?

Randolph Lee

Drugs that make you feel good are not illegal. Drugs that reduce/eliminate inhibitions and/or impairment of judgement and/or provide significant danger to the individual\'s health are are declared illegal.

While I do not see anything wrong with social drinking or usage of drugs such as cannabinol (I do former and know many that do latter), the problem occurs when a person gets behind the wheel of a car, operates machinery, on in high doses has depressed inhibitions and acts in ways that are dangerous to themselves and others.

As far as I am concerned if someone wants to engage in turning their personal biosystem into a roller coaster they can, but if they harm others, including unintentionally they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Preferably on chain gangs building infrastructure for their country, state, province, department, ...

I strongly suspect that if Congressmen would gladly be purchasing stock in the company that can produce a chemotherapy that makes the patient feel good but under control while providing no other psychotropic effect.


If cancer researchers need a drug that is 100 times more potent than MDMA to cure these blood cell cancers, did they think about taking MDMA 100 times in the shortest possible time instead? I think if I had one of the types of cancer they said it helped cure, I would get myself 100 Ecstacy pills and take one every day or every other day or every third day... until I had taken all 100 of them, just to see if it cured me. Couldn\'t hurt. I\'d probably lose weight too. How many more people will have to die from these kinds of cancer, until someone is able to do this kind research? How many would volunteer?

Thomas Aquino
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