A survey of European clubbers’ mouths would reveal candy-colored pills, shaped like tiny diamonds, Pac-Men, and Superman crests. American molly, on the other tongue, rarely looks as fun. The pale, crumbling tablets sold as MDMA on U.S. streets don’t exactly scream “Good times ahead!” They mostly look like they might land you in the ER.

So why have European drug crews, the majority of which operate out of the Netherlands, perfected the art of pill pressing while American producers have made so little effort?

For prominent drug crews like the Dutch Partyflock or Q-dance crew, who are thought to be responsible for some of the strongest pills in Europe, producing the distinctive, high-quality pills is key to staying on brand. Their Ferraris, Androids, Heinekens, and very popular UPSs aren’t just intricate and eye-catching, they’re also hard to fake, helping to uphold the crew’s reputation for purity and prevent other producers from hijacking their market.

Fake pills aren’t just annoying to users looking for a reliable roll; they can also be dangerous. Reddit is rife with European users warning against copycats using MDMA adulterants such as piperazines, PMA, caffeine, and bath salts like methylone, which can have very different — and dangerous — effects. By changing up their pill presses every few weeks, major producers stay ahead of the fakes, counting on dealers to keep their users up to date with the newest pills.

The American MDMA market doesn’t operate the same way. The history of ecstasy use in the U.S. is brief by European standards, so pill production stateside hasn’t had the time to catch up. The harsher legal climate surrounding drugs in the U.S. doesn’t help, either. The benefit of a recognizable product doesn’t outweigh the risk posed to dealers by traceable drugs.

Missi Wooldridge of DanceSafe, a San Francisco-based organization promoting safe drug use in the electronic music community, told Inverse that U.S. manufacturers probably have less access to MDMA precursors, such as the chemicals safrole and piperonal, than their European counterparts. Ditto for industrial-scale presses, leaving American manufacturers little choice but to use the less precise hand-held versions. “This may be a contributing factor as to why we see more powders or inconsistently shaped pills,” she explains.

Uncomplicated pills are, naturally, easier to copy and adulterate. MDMA safety resources like PillReports or EcstasyData.org, where users look up the quality and contents of the pills, are a lot less helpful for American users. Occasionally, pills like Chicago’s highly rated White Dominos will flood the U.S. market, but these blockbusters are few and far between.

“Also,” adds Wooldridge, “If people will buy the powder or crystal here, then why go through the extra hassle of pressing it into a pill?” When it comes to psychoactive substances, demand outweighs supply, she says, and it’s a lot easier to get your hands on new substances that might mimic some of MDMA’s effects.

Reliability, not color, remains the biggest perk of getting your hands on European MDMA. Not that pills from across the pond are, by default, safe — no illicit drug can ever guarantee that — but they’re a lot easier to research online. Still, whether you’re popping little pink Dutch grenades or taking a chance on the sketchy “T-Powder,” it’s always best to run a quick test before getting your roll on.

Photos via http://www.mdmateam.com/post/130891204596/germanxtc-update-20-germanxtc-collection