Drugs Part 5: Ecstasy

In 1997, I was exposed to Daft Punk’s Around the World and it changed my life. I absorbed as much electronic music and electronic music culture over the years as I could. I would always be seen in quintessential rave attire that consisted of brightly-coloured shirts and the baggiest of pants. I purchased turntables and vinyl records from eBay and taught myself to DJ. I purchased EDM compilation CDs from Wal-Mart and merrily downloaded every possible electronic music MP3 I could find on Napster. I was for many years the classic stereotype of a 90’s raver kid, but without actually attending a single rave.

News broadcasts started doing reports about this new “rave” fad and the dangerous drug “ecstasy” that was synonymous with it. The talking heads on television sounded the same alarm bells they used for all drugs. Loudly and proudly proclaiming how harmful ecstasy was. There was even this hour-long ABC news special about the drug:

At this point in my life, late 2000, early 2001, I’d already tried alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes to no ill consequences. I was convinced ecstasy was likewise harmless and news specials like Ecstasy Rising had the exact opposite effect me. As someone who grew up sheltered from the world by an unfeeling single parent, the prospect of taking a drug that could make me feel a euphoric sense of love and belonging was fascinating. The fact it was directly related to this raving lifestyle I’d adopted was all too perfect. I had to try ecstasy.

Unfortunately, the closest I could get to a rave (or ecstasy) from sleepy Tonopah, Nevada was whatever rave-themed TV shows and movies managed to come my way. That’s My Bush did an episode where (then) President Bush accidentally takes ecstasy and has a pretty great time. Movies like Groove and Go showed what parties were like and how fun ecstasy appeared. Even the news reports warning of the dangers of ecstasy, when they showed actually ravers on the drug, those raves looked like they were having an amazing experience. There was no “I robbed someone to pay for ecstasy pills” or “I lost everything because of ecstasy.” In fact, users when interviewed often said things like “Ecstasy changed my life for the better.” Ecstasy sounded amazing and perfect for me.

When I visited raver friends in Las Vegas in the mid-2001 (where I tried meth for the first time), I purchased some tablets of ecstasy. 4 tiny red pressed pills with a crescent moon stamped on one side. They said I should try it with them, but I was honestly scared to. Part of the reason I afraid was because I had a great difficulty swallowing pills. Any prescriptions or over-the-counter pills I consumed had to be chewed up. I had such a high aversion to choking that I simply could not swallow pills whole. The other reason was because I was afraid to feel happy.

My childhood was such an awful one that misery and depression were what I was most comfortable with feeling (and fearing my own father). The notion that all that would slip away and I could feel joy and love terrified and thrilled me. I was not scared of trying any drug before ecstasy or after, but ecstasy itself… I wasn’t ready. I ended up trying meth and going back to Tonopah, uneaten pills in hand.

In July of 2001 I moved to Las Vegas and stayed with my tweaker/raver friends. My first night there, I took ecstasy… kind of. Still scared of the experience, I nibbled a little bit off the pill. A pathetically tiny amount that had zero effect on me. I nibbled a bigger piece 30 minutes later, then more 15 minutes after that, and so on until the pill was fully consumed. I kept this secret from my friends in fear of embarrassment. They thought the pill was simply weak because I felt almost nothing, but to their credit they did what they could to make the “first time rolling” experience as good as it could be.

The next night I attended my very first rave. I chewed up half of a red moon pill and have the other half to B, with whom I was living (and would later fall in love with). During the night, he acquired a tablet he said was a “Green Goblin” and split that with me. This time I simply felt good. Nothing near euphoria, but pretty good nonetheless. I ended up spending most of the night laying on the dirt with my head in B’s lap, merely talking most of the night. At one point, a DJ playing a remix of Daft Punk’s Around the World and I leapt to my feet and danced to the serendipity of the moment. It was a sign I’d finally found a home and friends I’d longed to have. The one song that set me on this particular path played at the very first rave I ever attended.

It wasn’t until the third time I took ecstasy that I truly “rolled” on the drug. I’d split another red moon with B (we came to learn that the red moons had a very low dose of MDMA in them, which is the active ingredient in ecstasy) at another rave in August of 2001. B got me out of my shell a bit and we danced (he said dancing would help the pill kick in). When the pill never did, he vanished for a little while. B returned and said he got some white Ferraris and before I could utter a syllable, he shoved a full pill into my mouth. Unlike the red moon I had to chew up, this Ferrari dissolved in my mouth pretty quickly. After I washed it all down with water, I’d asked him if the tablet dissolving like that was normal. He smiled and said it was.

We danced a bit more and I started to feel good. The same level of good I felt at my first rave the month prior, but I also felt a little heavier. My head was a little light. There was a room with couches and I was directed there, while B went to dance some more. I could feel warmth in the back of my skull in strange, tingling waves. This was much more intense than anything else I’d ever felt. I could feel my heartbeat fiercely beating against my ribcage. Warmth was around my belly and I felt nauseous. Then a glowing heat radiated from my lungs with every breath I took. It became more intense with each expansion until my head fell back.

I was rolling. I was euphoric. I felt unbridled joy like I’d never felt before. I don’t remember too many specifics once I was properly feeling the full effects of the drugs, but I recall snippets: trying menthol cigarettes for the first time, my first kiss with a woman, my first kiss with a man, and spending the entirety of the night laying on that couch (oftentimes with head rested again on B’s lap). At one point, B tried to get me up to dance. But once I got to my feet and saw myself in a mirror on the wall opposite the couch, I fell back to being horizontal. I remember telling my newfound friends something to the effect of “I know it’s the drugs talking, but I love you guys” and similar such sentimental nonsense. When we decided to leave the rave, all my friends were convinced I wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep. But I crawled into B’s bed with him (he and K had one of their many breakups at that time and asked me to sleep next to him) and I slept better than I’d ever slept before.

From that moment forward, I knew ecstasy was my drug. Meth, cannabis, alcohol, and cigarettes couldn’t hold a candle to ecstasy. Cigarettes didn’t really affect me. Alcohol and cannabis were rarities that were simply “okay.” Meth was just something everyone in the group did and (at the time I thought) it didn’t have any affect on me. But ecstasy was everything I’d imagined and so much more. I completely understood all those interviewees recalling how this magical little pill changed their lives.

I was feeling a plethora of emotions I’d been denied (and denied myself) for a long time. Not only was I opened up emotionally, but physically. Ecstasy affected all senses. Lights were more vibrant and glowing. Smells were more intense. Flavours (in the form of candy or menthol cigarettes) were extraordinary. And my sense of touch was so enhanced the act of physical contact was profound. Every facet enhanced for the better and lasting for days after consuming pills. Most people would refer to the ecstasy comedown that strikes three days later as the “Tuesday Blues.” I never really encountered those “Blues” (although on occasion I would have wild mood swings a week after rolling).

My initial ecstasy use was intertwined with my meth use (detailed in part 4) and a lot of pills were comprised of more than simply MDMA, so perhaps that led to an atypical comedown. Back in the early 2000’s, ecstasy was available in two forms: pure MDMA in crystalline form in capsules we’d call “Molly” (which was the top-of-the-line stuff if you were lucky enough to find it) and pressed pills. Pressed pills were readily available and often mixed with non-MDMA ingredients. Pills back then were also weaker and, when coupled with extra-MDMA components, allowed you to consume multiple pills in a single setting. The quality has shifted from what it was 15, 20 years ago. Nowadays, it’s “pure” Molly that’s adulterated (and with worse drugs/chemicals than what we were exposed to) and it’s pressed pills that are nearly pure (and with a dose of MDMA 2 or 3 times higher than necessary, providing higher overdose risk than we were exposed to).

Pure MDMDA/ecstasy/Molly hits you in about 60-90 minutes, then you’re rolling and flying high for a couple of hours, then you gently return to normal with little in the way of feeling “cracked out” or being unable to sleep. Pressed pills were a crapshoot. Sometimes they’d contain no MDMA whatsoever and you’d get nothing for your money. Sometimes they’d be tainted with meth or other stimulants (which meant you were tweaking more than you were rolling). Sometimes pills contained trace hallucinogens or research chemicals that managed to enhance and beautify an already beautiful experience. Sometimes there would be haunted whispers of pills being cut with heroin, despite no evidence ever confirming that suspicion. After consuming an adulterated pill, once the MDMA component wore off, you could be still be up for hours hallucinating or tweaking or just generally restless.

The main danger of ecstasy stems from adulterated/dirty pills. Ecstasy can be relatively harmless otherwise. Unless you’re one of the rare few who have an allergic reaction to MDMA, your biggest danger is overheating. Drinking enough water (and not over-hydrating) is the simple solution. The other danger is if you consume too much MDMA or too often. The golden rule we adhered to was that we’d wait two or three weeks between rolls. Unlike meth or marijuana, you cannot continuously eat more pills when the effects start wearing off in order to feel more. Think of your brain as a sponge filled with serotonin: ecstasy squeezes that sponge, flooding your brain and emptying the sponge. You can take a couple more pills and squeeze that sponge a little harder, but you won’t get much out of it until that sponge refills and it takes a couple of weeks for it to properly refill. Continue squeezing that empty sponge and you start doing real damage.

There was a very brief period where I, along with a partner friend of mine, sold ecstasy. It was extremely low-level activity where our friends were pretty much our only customers. Our entire enterprise was engineered in such a way that allowed us to consume ecstasy for free. We’d sell enough pills to purchase our next batch, then instead of selling the rest for profit, we simply ate some of those and gave the rest away. With every new batch of pills we acquired, we’d each eat one before we sold or gave any way. This was our way of knowing what exactly was contained in the pills we redistributed. Our “business model” obviously wasn’t sustainable in the long run.

Ecstasy was the one drug that seemed to have no stigma attached to it when brought up in any social setting. If meth or coke were mentioned, people would recoil. Mention alcohol or marijuana and they’d either likewise be user or had some story as to why they didn’t use anymore. But ecstasy almost always elicited one of two very specific reactions: “I love ecstasy” or “I’ve never tried it, but I’d like to.”

My experiences with and on ecstasy were for the most part tremendously positive. Sure there was the occasional bad time but overall the good ones far outweighed any negative one. It, along with the occasional drink of alcohol and the occasional joint, is something I don’t mind using to this day. Over the last 18 years, I’ve consumed more ecstasy than any other drug and I can honestly say that my life is the better for it. I can’t quite chow down pills every couple of weekends like I used to in my partying heyday (nor would I want to), but it’s still a wonderful experience whenever it comes around.