Every illegal substance contains the mystery of its origin: The hazy path it traveled to the user’s possession is rarely clear. Beyond the most recent dealer of a pill or powder, the larger patterns of supply are typically unknown to buyers – and to law enforcement as well. If you’ve ever wondered how various strains of substances proliferate across the country, so have we.
In this project, we set out to study the national distribution of one substance: ecstasy, or MDMA, compressed into a pill, often with other chemicals. To do so, we analyzed thousands of crowdsourced reports submitted to PillReports.net and EcstasyData.org, forums in which users describe the appearance and effects of the ecstasy they’ve purchased. We studied only reports of specific ecstasy pills with recognizable characteristics, excluding generic varieties that are indistinguishable from each other. By tracking such reports by location, we’ve uncovered the prevalence of popular varieties of ecstasy in various regions across the nation.
Our findings reveal the particular kinds of pills available for sale in American cities, and which strains of the party drug dominate major markets. If you’d like to know which pills may be most likely to be sold in the streets of your city, keep reading to find out.
Ecstasy Around the World
Before we consider the prevalence of various ecstasy tablets in the U.S. specifically, we should first understand the most popular varieties globally. MDMA in its various forms is one of the most popular recreational drugs around the world, and the American market for this drug is one segment of this international trade. On a global scale, a blue pill stamped with a dolphin emblem was the most prevalent ecstasy tablet according to our data. It’s popularity likely inspired a spinoff tablet featuring the same image in yellow, also featured on this list.
White pills featuring the Mercedes emblem were the second most common tablets worldwide, with 52 distinct reports. The tradition of emblazoning ecstasy with luxury car brands is well-established – Tesla-inspired pills were a recent craze as well. But the appropriation of high-end logos doesn’t stop with automotive brands: Rolex and Cartier emblems also appeared on some of the most popular varieties worldwide. Powerful heroes were also commonly employed, including Superman and Transformer images on the fourth and fifth most common pills globally.
American Ecstasy Geography
When we tracked appearances of the world’s most common pills in America, a notable absence emerged. Our U.S. data did not include any confirmed sightings of the aforementioned Mercedes ecstasy – an interesting insight into the geographical limitations of even the most popular pills. But other varieties were primarily reported in the U.S., including the blue Transformer pill, of which more than three-quarters of reports were domestic. The majority of reports for the blue Superman pill were also by American users.
Interesting differences in geographical reach could also be observed within the U.S. Just 17 percent of blue Dolphin pill reports, for instance, were in America – but it appeared in places as widespread as the Pacific Northwest and Deep South. Meanwhile, blue Transformer pills seemed to have a particular foothold in the Southwest, and green Apple pills appeared in the Midwest with some frequency. Below, we’ll explore the geographical distribution of each variety more closely over time.
Tracking the Transformer
According to our data, the blue Transformer ecstasy pill was first reported in New Mexico in November 2008 before moving on to Arizona and California by the end of that year. In 2009, the pill began to appear in the Midwest as well, first in Illinois and then in Colorado. Michigan also saw an appearance of the Transformer tablet that year, and 2010 brought new reports in Arizona, Wisconsin, California, and Massachusetts.
For the next seven years, Transformer pills were not reported in America at all. Then they emerged again in July 2017, appearing in Texas. If not for a federal sting operation, these tablets might have been sighted in Nevada the month before. That’s when federal agents seized approximately 5,000 Transformer-shaped pills in a Las Vegas drug bust.
Ecstasy bearing the emblem of the Man of Steel was first reported even earlier than the Transformer variety, showing up in Florida in 2004. Although it appeared in Georgia the following year, Superman pill activity had shifted west by 2008, when appearances were reported in Portland and three California cities. It made two other California appearances in 2011, but not before popping up in Arizona and Minnesota.
Although the trail of this particular ecstasy brand in America seems to end in 2011, it has been revived (or copied) elsewhere in the world more recently. In fact, blue Superman pills were blamed for 11 overdoses in Australia in 2017. All victims recovered, but authorities were unable to determine if the pills contained a particularly potent dose of MDMA or another drug altogether. In 2016, Superman pills resulted in the deaths of four in the U.K. and widespread concern in the Netherlands.
Encounters With the Apple
Dissimilar to other varieties studied, the first appearance of the green Apple pill was in the Midwest, showing up in Detroit in 2004. The following year, it appeared in Rhode Island and then Indiana. In subsequent years, sightings moved south, with the pill appearing in Texas, California, and Baton Rouge between 2006 and 2010. After another report in California in 2011, the pill again showed up in 2012 in the region where it first appeared, only this time it was reported in Ohio.
But the pill featuring the Apple logo gained much greater notoriety in the U.K. after media reports about bad batches emerged in 2013. The next year, two people in Ireland died after ingesting green Apple and green Rolex pills among other substances. Several others were hospitalized as well, prompting authorities to issue a public health warning.
Dealing the Dolphin
Blue dolphin pills had the most extensive history of stateside sightings, beginning on the West Coast in 2002. Moving quickly from Seattle to Pasadena, California, the tablets were reported in five additional California cities by 2004, including two reports from San Francisco. By 2007, it was sighted in Washington again and then moved on to Los Angeles and Boise, Idaho.
Over this very same period, however, the pill also appeared in major metropolitan areas in the South. Dolphin tablets appeared in four Texas cities between 2002 and 2009 (two reports were out of Houston) and were also reported twice in Atlanta. In that city, ravers encountered dangerous blue dolphins as recently as 2017, leading to public concern at a local music festival. Miami, Memphis, and Charlotte saw the pill as well, and it even traveled as far north as Indianapolis.
The California Connection?
To take a closer look at how drugs move on a regional scale, we considered appearances of blue dolphin pills in 2002. In July, pills were reported first in Seattle, Washington. By that fall, they had traveled south to Pasadena, California. Then, in December, the pill was reported in San Francisco and Oakland the same day – likely a sign of its arrival in that area rather than mere coincidence. Later that month, it appeared 50 miles south in San Jose.
This period coincided with a surge in ecstasy use nationwide. In 2002, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reported MDMA use had increased 71 percent from two years earlier. Perhaps the rapid spread of blue dolphin pills into and around California reflects this increased appetite, with local connections and word of mouth powering its path across the state.
Your Drugs’ Journey – and Your Own
Our findings uncover the vast and varied travels of ecstasy pills across the country. But widespread availability is not an assurance of safety: The content of even the most common pills may vary dramatically by batch. As such, every ecstasy encounter entails risk, which even occasional users would do well to consider. There’s simply no way to know where a given pill comes from – or what it can lead to.
If the risks of your own drug use are threatening your well-being, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Addiction Now offers the latest news and information related to substance misuse and recovery, so you can learn more about your options for choosing change. From inspirational stories of sobriety to reputable treatment resources, we’re here to help you and the ones you love.
How’d we do this?
We collected data from PillReports.net and EcstasyData.org, two websites presenting user-submitted reports about ecstasy available in their local area. Our data included more than 8,000 such reports. We excluded reports of generic ecstasy varieties that were indistinguishable from one another by their appearance.
The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include but are not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.
No statistical testing was performed. As such, this content is purely exploratory, and future research should approach this topic more rigorously.
Fair Use Statement
Want to share our research with your own audience? We welcome you to do so for noncommercial purposes. We simply ask that your credit us for our work with a link to this page. Just as with drugs, people should know where their content is coming from.