​1985: CBS News discovers Ecstasy

This feature, The Way It Was, resurfaces and explores past stories from the CBS News archives. If there's a topic you'd like to see, leave a suggestion in the comments section or send us a tweet at @CBSEveningNews.


Just 30 years ago there was a new, unregulated drug spreading quickly across America's streets. Young and old, poor and affluent, the drug's appeal had no boundaries and was even prescribed. The substance's sudden surge in popularity prompted a report by the "CBS Evening News" in April of 1985.

Chemists called the drug MDMA. Users had another word for it: Ecstasy. In his report former CBS News correspondent Steve Young heard from the drug's biggest supporters and its biggest opponent - the Drug Enforcement Agency.

"Earl and Marge Deacon are doing something they've never done before, taking a psychedelic drug that may be the LSD of the 80s," reported Young.

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MDMA, aka Ecstasy, in powder form
CBS News

The Deacons, an elderly couple, endorsed the drug to CBS News.

"It brings me to a state of being absolutely in touch with the inside of Earl Deacon," said Earl.

His wife added: "It gets the ego aside and you are able to see clearly what we're here for."

The Drug Enforcement Administration didn't quite it see it that way. They wanted it controlled like heroin.

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DEA agent Ronald Buzzeo, 1985
CBS News

"We have enough cocaine and heroin and marijuana out there and LSD and PCP and abuse of legitimate drugs, we don't need another drug out there, we don't need this to mushroom and become another problem," said DEA agent Ronald Buzzeo.

The drug was not only legal, it was handed out by doctors. In 1985 a few dozen psychiatrists across the country were experimenting with the unregulated drug, giving it to their patients as therapy.

"If you're dealing with couples or groups who have emotional bonds, this is a way of deepening," said Boston psychiatrist Dr. Rick Ingrasci. "It creates a state of what I call high empathy."

Ingrasci's opinion of the drug was not unique. Three Ecstasy users told CBS News it was a miracle drug that produced no hallucinations.

"I felt wonderful, I felt, I mean it's great to be without fear blocks," said Marie Littlehale of Newton, Massachusetts.

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CBS News

A woman in San Francisco who went by "Kathy" said: "All the things that I wanted when I was craving cocaine, I had that complete experience of peace and well-being and I didn't have an addiction to it."

And Michael McDaniel, an artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico said Ecstasy made him more creative.

"I'm more abstract," said McDaniel. "My work has more impact, my work is better."

Advocates even went as far as to call Ecstasy the drug LSD was supposed to be, without the bad trips. It was an assertion quickly rejected by the DEA who pointed out that the same had been said about cocaine and LSD.

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Artist Michael McDaniel shows one of the pieces he created under the influence of Ecstasy in 1985
CBS News

At the time of the 1985 report it was estimated that a million doses of Ecstasy had been used, with the number expected to grow as it spread to the streets and campuses. The DEA didn't wait long to make its move.

The agency had been granted emergency power to ban a drug under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. On July 1, 1985 the DEA used its new authority and classified MDMA/Ecstasy as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. That meant the drug was now officially illegal and users would be prosecuted.

And that's the way it was on Wednesday, April 17, 1985.