Unmasking ecstasy culture

Behind closed doors a movement is taking place. There are neon lights, glow sticks, fog machines, loud music and hundreds of young adults. The floor is shaking to the continuous beat of the bass and the crowd is hypnotized by one man in charge of the rhythm. Everyone is dancing.

This is a typical DJ show, more commonly known as a rave.

Raves are not a new phenomenon. Raves have been a part of underground youth culture since the 1960s. Closely associated with club drugs, most notably methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA, raves are stomping grounds for illegal activity.

Historically these raves have been held in warehouses, large barns and other venues far from the city and out of the public eye.

Recently, however, raves have begun to spring up in the middle of busy cities, with events promoted heavily though mainstream social media sites.

“It’s gotten big within the past 6 months to a year — it’s really taken off,” noted fourth-year Laurier student Chris Patterson.

Essentially, continuing to call raves “underground” is inaccurate.

“A lot of these DJs have been around for a while, like Tiesto’s been around for years and I find that he’s the biggest now,” Patterson observed.

It’s through these mainstream clubs such as Uptown Waterloo’s Beta that these DJs have gone from underground to household names among youth. “They come out with a big song, or a remix and everybody kind of jumps on board,” Patterson observed.

The rapid rise to celebrity status of these DJs has allowed them to charge large sums of money to play for a night. According to Patterson, “Each one of these DJs costs like $15 – $20,000 for a set and they’re coming for two to three hour sets. Two of those DJs a night is like $40,000 worth of music. They’re expensive.”

Beyond the fast-paced excitement of these shows, there is a troubling trend: the accompanying use of party drug MDMA.

MDMA, sometimes referred to as simply “M,” is the active ingredient of ecstasy in its purest form. It induces feelings of euphoria, diminishes anxiety and allows for increased intimacy with others.

Across Canada, a large number of the students going to these shows are on it.

“It seemed like the mindset of most students was to put alcohol on the back burner and to test out this new drug called MDMA,” said Brett Knox, a dance music fan and fourth year science student at Dalhousie University.

“It’s like a prerequisite needed to experience the full effects of the music.”

When asked of the effects, Knox said, “It’s euphoric, increases awareness of my senses — touch, taste, smell.” He added, “You experience feelings unable to achieve without the drug.”

Personal testimonies like Knox’s present the drug to seem even more enticing, which prompts many students to try the drug with little thought or research.

What is often not brought to light is the dark side of MDMA.

The drug is known to have an unpredictable effect. Public affairs coordinator for the Waterloo Regional Police, Olaf Heinzal, offered perspective on the erratic side of an MDMA high.

“Because of the nature of MDMA and how it’s produced, there are really no regulations that control the quality of the substance and what may be in it,” Heinzal explained. “There could be foreign substances
in it with unpredictable impact on a person’s physiology.”

Recalling a very recent incident, Heinzal told The Cord, “Two females got very ill after attending a nightclub in Waterloo allegedly after taking a substance they believe to be ecstasy. There were serious side effects.”

Despite the euphoric and uninhibited feelings which result from MDMA consumption, negative effects on the body — and even on an individual’s emotions — can occur even days after consumption.

Typically, “come down” from an MDMA high can result in a crashing of emotions, mood swings or even depression, and a notable increased

Patterson recounted an experience where he took too much. “It was overwhelming,” he said. “I was trying to calm myself down but I came up so quick and everything was just really, really intense. I was panicking. I was scaring myself and not enjoying the show.”

Heinzal stated that the Waterloo Regional Police has not been ignorant to the increased use of the drug in the past year.

“We are aware of significant quantities of the drug being either produced or distributed [in the Waterloo Region],” he told The Cord. “If [dance music has] become more fashionable in recent years then clearly there would be an increase in usage.”

Carol Perkins, a public health nurse for Waterloo Region, stated that the public health department is also well aware of the growing culture. “We know students are using ecstasy,” she said matter-of-factly. “We’re finding people passed out in bushes.”

Some doctors have noted that amid all its controversy, ecstasy can serve medicinal uses, particularly for patients suffering from chronic pain, depression and other psychiatric disorders.

It was prescribed as medication until it was made illegal in 1977. Since then, due to the legal status of the drug, users resort to obtaining the drug off the street.

Health and law officials agree that this is a huge risk, as Perkins explained.

“People cut E with all kinds of stuff,” she said. “They’re cutting heroin, they’re cutting meth… because it’s not a prescription there’s no quality control.

“The next time you take a full tab, it could be quite a different reaction than you had last time.”

Some of Perkins’ other major concerns included mixing ecstasy with alcohol or other drugs. “The mixing of medications with illicit substances and alcohol can be really, really harmful,” she said.

According to Perkins, one of the biggest risks of consuming MDMA in a bar is the possibility of dehydration.

“A lot of places don’t allow you to take water bottles in and they charge a fortune for them when you’re in there,” she said.

Conversely, hyponatremia can occur for those attempting to over-hydrate by consuming too much water under the influence. Hyponatremia occurs when sodium levels in blood are too low and can result in death.

There is no doubt that the recent dance music phenomenon has facilitated a drug movement in universities all over Canada.

The popularity of trance, techno, and dubstep are still currently on the rise, and students, true to their nature, are using the opportunity to experiment.