Reviews > Culture

The hug drug

Culture | Ecstasy is the drug of choice for young people, but after the high wears off, life is anything but ecstatic

Issue: "Mounting a defense," May 25, 2002

Parents, have your teenagers changed from being sullen and morose? Have they started sharing their feelings in long, babbling monologues, and giving you emotional hugs?

Are they asking if they can stay out all night at dances billed as "alcohol-free"?

Have they given up body piercing, and dug up their old teddy bears? Instead of dressing in black and painting their room black, are they draping themselves with fluorescent glow sticks? Have they abandoned their death metal T-shirts in favor of wearing baby pacifiers around their necks?

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If so, don't be too happy. They may be on drugs.

The latest drug of choice for the 13- to 25-year-old set is called Ecstasy. The mood-altering chemical makes people feel not only really good but really nice. People on Ecstasy are social, communal, and happy with the world. They revert to child-like emotions. They get talkative, opening up to anyone and everyone. Ecstasy is often called "the hug drug."

But the reason the teenager wears that pacifier is not because he is being adorably childish. It is because Ecstasy makes you grind your teeth. Sucking on a pacifier keeps that from happening.

People who are "rolling"-the slang term for tripping on Ecstasy-are easily recognized by the way the pupils in their eyes dilate, becoming huge, taking up nearly the whole eye. Users, their optic nerves strangely stimulated, can stare for hours at glow sticks and swirling lights.

Ecstasy suppresses the need to eat, drink, and sleep, enabling them to party all night long, and beyond. Sometimes the parties last two or even three days.

Afterwards, when the drug wears off, users crash, experiencing anxiety, paranoia, and depression. "Over time," according to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporters Jessica McBride and Nahal Toosi, "the synthetic stimulant burns out the body's store of serotonin-the chemical that regulates memory and mood-causing depression so severe that even a mother lode of anti-depressants is ineffective."

The drug damages the neurons that transmit serotonins, throwing off other functions, such as emotions, the ability to sleep, and learning. The drug can cause permanent brain damage, including memory loss, depression, and other neuropsychotic disorders.

Ecstasy is a product of the Netherlands-home of Calvinism, Kuyper, and, more recently legalized drugs, prostitution, and euthanasia-and is smuggled and sold in the United States by Israeli mobsters.

Integral to the Ecstasy drug culture is the "rave." Unlike heroin and LSD, which offer a private, individual experience, the hug drug works best with other people. Raves are like dances, but they may involve literally thousands of young people, swaying to nonstop ear-deafening techno music, to swirling lights and Ecstasy.

Raves used to be clandestine happenings. Someone would hire a warehouse, then put out the word on the Internet. Thousands of teenagers and young adults from miles around would show up, party all night, then disappear, before the cops knew what was happening.

Today, raves have come out into the open. They are often held in armories, coliseums, or taxpayer-owned convention centers. Promoters advertise them, charge big admission fees, and pay lip service to local ordinances. They will bill the raves as being for anyone over 16 and as being "alcohol free," which they are, but not drug free, even though the promoters will put up anti-drug signs, hire security, and even ban pacifiers.

Ms. McBride and Mr. Toosi, in their story on Ecstasy, attended a rave at the publicly owned Dane County Coliseum in Madison, Wis. Despite the "no drugs" signs, perfunctory searches by untrained 19-year-olds working "security," and the pacifier bans, nearly every one of the 3,000 ravers in attendance had the dilated pupils and spaced-out mannerisms of children on a roll.

Since Ecstasy users are startlingly talkative and "open," nearly everyone the reporters talked to admitted being on Ecstasy. "When it comes down to it, raves are all about Ecstasy," said a raver who introduced himself as Mike. "Raves wouldn't go on without the Ecstasy."

Fashionable rave attire includes cardboard Burger King crowns, bathrobes, and cellophane butterfly wings. Teddy bears and other childish accoutrements are popular accessories. So are lollipops-like pacifiers, they keep the teeth from grinding. The ravers give each other massages, since the drug enhances the sensation from touch, and wave lights in each other's faces.

In the coliseum parking lot, Ecstasy sells for $20 a hit. The adults who staged the event and are selling the drugs are making a killing.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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