How do the drugs PMA and PMMA affect the human body?

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Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Official Drug Names:

PMA Paramethoxyamphetamine, para-Methoxyamphetamine (PAH-ruh-meth-AHK-see-am-FETT-uh-meen) p-methoxyamphetamine, 4-methoxyamphetamine 

PMMA Paramethoxymethamphetamine, para-Methoxy-N-methylamphetamine (PAH-ruh-meth-AHK-see-METH-am-fett-uh-meen)

Also Known As: Chicken powder, chicken yellow, death, double-stacked, killer, mitsubishi, mitsubishi double-stack, red death, red mitsubishi, white mitsubishi

Drug Classifications: Schedule I, hallucinogen

PMA and PMMA are often designed to look like ecstasy [MDMA]. The difference is that it is much easier to overdose on PMA and PMMA. Teens have taken the drug, thinking it was ecstasy, with deadly results. ("PMA and PMMA." Encyclopedia of Drugs and Addictive Substances on Gale Cengage)

The effects of PMA and PMMA on the human body can be death. PMA is para-Methoxyamphetamine. PMMA is para-Methoxy-N-methylamphetamine. Since PMA and PMMA are so close in chemical structure, as indicated by their clinical names, many discussions of the two drugs treat them as one entity for ease of discussion. This will follow the same method: when PMA is mentioned, it means both PMA and PMMA. Both are synthetic hallucenogens that are serotonergic drugs of the amphetamine-class.

Hallucinogenic drugs--borrowed from the Latin hallūcinātus, which is the past participle of allūcināri meaning "to wander in the mind" (Random House Dictionary)--are mind-altering drugs that affect humans so that they "alter the user's perception of reality, thought, or emotion, and can result in alternate states of consciousness" or mystical experiences ("PMA and PMMA"). "Synthetic" means produced in a chemistry laboratory often without having a counterpart in nature (some drugs, like aspirin, are produced synthetically in laboratories yet do have counterparts in nature, like the template for synthetic aspirin, the rainforest willow tree). PMA (covering both drugs) had a resurgence of usage among teens and young adults in the United States and Canada in the 1990s though it had been used in the 1970s until it fell out of favor, chiefly because of the deaths associated with its use.

Willful Misrepresentation as Ecstasy

Manufacturers of illegal drugs often produce the cheaper to make PMA and intentionally disguise it to deceive users into thinking it is the less deadly, though nonetheless dangerous, drug called ecstasy (MDMA, 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, of the phenethylamine and amphetamine classes), an empathogenic drug, which means having an emotion inducing effect. MDMA is different from PMA because it is not a mind-altering hallucinogenic drug. MDMA is also different because it is quick acting while PMA is slower acting. This difference--acting time--causes deceived users who believe they are taking the empathogenic drug MDMA to think they have gotten weak MDMA. Thinking this, they take another dose. This deception, the passing off of PMA as MDMA, affects humans by causing tragic deaths.   

Other affects on the human body are that combining PMA with caffeine, alcohol or other drugs, as at a party, can increase the likelihood of an overdose. An overdose of PMA will likely affect users by resulting in death especially when the user has been deceived into believing they are taking MDMA because they will be unprepared for the general affects of the drug. General effects of PMA are reported as being: "breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, and increased blood pressure and [body] temperature." Overdose effects of PMA are extremely high body temperature (hyperthermia) that results in "convulsions, coma, and a complete shutdown of the organs of the body" ("PMA and PMMA").

Manifestations of PMA toxicity – similar to those of MDMA – include tachycardia, hyptertension, hyperthermia, nystagmus, and hallucinations, as well as severe hyperthermia (up to 109oF), renal failure, and death. PMMA and PMA are more potent and longer-lasting than MDMA. Because onset of drugs effect is delayed, it is easy for a user to ingest large amounts and develop severe toxicity. (The Poison Review)

Manifestations of PMA toxicity – similar to those of MDMA – include tachycardia, hyptertension, hyperthermia, nystagmus, and hallucinations, as well as severe hyperthermia (up to 109oF), renal failure, and death. PMMA and PMA are more potent and longer-lasting than MDMA. Because onset of drugs effect is delayed, it is easy for a user to ingest large amounts and develop severe toxicity. - See more at:

Overview of the Record of Deaths from PMA

In 1973, the year that PMA was first manufactured in Canada, there were twelve deaths in Canada and the United States combined. Afterward, PMA essentially vanished from the illegal drug market until the 1990s when six people in Australia died from PMA after being deceived into thinking that they were taking what they believed to be MDMA, or ecstasy. Autopsies showed these six had ingested PMA with various combinations of MDMA, alcohol, other drugs, all of which catalyzed overdose. In the early 2000s, PMA was again found in Canada and the U.S. as well as found in European countries. In 2011, the UK, for example, had one PMA-MDMA related death in which the individual thought they were taking the empathogenic drug MDMA, with the number rising to twenty PMA-MDMA deaths in 2012. Israel recorded twenty-four PMA-MDMA deaths in 2007. In 2005, there were twenty-five international PMA-MDMA related deaths in which PMA was mistaken for MDMA.

General Uncomplicated Effects on the Human Body

When taking fewer than 50 milligrams of PMA, when the dose is not complicated by drugs, alcohol, caffeine, or MDMA, there is an effect on the human body that is similar to that of MDMA, or ecstasy.

  • heightened visual stimulation
  • rapid and irregular eye movements
  • increase in heart rate and blood pressure
  • motion sickness
  • muscle spasms
  • difficulty breathing
  • increase in body temperature ("PMA and PMMA")

An additional effect of an uncomplicated mild dose of fewer than 50 milligrams of PMA relates to serotonin blocking. Since PMA may act by inhibiting the release of the neurotransmitting action of serotonin in brain neurons, a mild, uncomplicated dose may also elevate energy levels, by suppressing sleep sensations, and generate a general feeling of well-being, by inhibiting regulation of authentic mood. Serotonin is known to act in regulating sleep, pain, and mood.

Though not a deadly hallucinogen in and of itself, PMA becomes a lethal hallucinogen when it is knowingly or unknowingly, especially through deceptive misrepresentation as MDMA, mixed with caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs, particularly with MDMA.

High doses may cause vomiting, heart failure, kidney failure, brain seizures, hallucinations, sudden collapse, and an extreme rise in body temperature, up to 115°F (46°C). This ... results in convulsions, coma, and a complete shutdown of the organs of the body leading to death. ("PMA and PMMA")

The greatest danger from and effect of PMA is hyperthermia, or extreme and sudden dramatic rise in body temperature. Ecstasy users may counteract the effects of hyperthermia with the use of MDMA by taking cold showers and drinking water, but there are no counteracting measures that can be taken against the hyperthermia caused by PMA. Other ways PMA affects the human body and that may continue to occur long after taking the drug are:

  • recurring paranoia, or abnormal feelings of suspicion and fear
  • hallucinations and flashbacks, or re-experience of a drug's effect long after taking it
  • psychotic behavior, or dangerous loss of connection to reality that may lead to violence
  • neuron damage through inhibition of serotonin may induce the mood disorder depression, anxiety, memory loss, learning disabilities, absence of self-control, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found in 2001 that MDMA damages brain neurons, or nerve cells, which use serotonin neurotransmitters to communicate with other neurons ("PMA and PMMA")

There are no treatments established for PMA users though the depression PMA engenders creates a craving for more of the drug to relieve the unbearable mood disorder. Social failures due to mood disorders, sleep deprivation, paranoia, flashbacks and violent psychosis create educational and financial pressures that compel users and past users to react in socially and culturally unacceptable and legally impermissible ways, such as violence and theft. PMA is regulated under the Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, which requires stern sentencing for those who manufacture, sell, or distribute PMA in the U.S. PMA is a controlled substance (illegal without a prescription) Schedule I Drug because of its restricted medical use and its high potential for abuse and dependency.

Source: "PMA and PMMA." Encyclopedia of Drugs and Addictive Substances. Ed. Barbara C. Bigelow. Vol. 5. Gale Cengage, 2006.

jerichorayel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine) and PMMA (paramethoxymethamphetamine) are structurally related psychedelic drugs that affect the nervous system because they can alter the human cognition and perception. 

PMA is specifically a serotonergic drug that acts as an antidepressant usually included in the ecstasy tablets and cocaine. It is colloquially termed as "Dr. Death" since it has adverse effects on human at significantly high amounts. Effects of PMA in humans include hallucinations, hypertension, hyperthermia, irregular heartbeat, unstable or blurred vision, hypoglycaemia and hyperkalaemia. Complications can lead to severe damage of the brain due to hemorrhage that can eventually lead to death. 

PMMA is an analog of methamphetamine and is under experimentation since it doesn't have a definite toxicity effect on humans though there are reports of casualties of over dosage. Ecstasy tablets may also contain PMMA. Generally, the effect of PMMA includes the alteration of human perception that can cause hallucinations.