Will club culture and the international drug trade forever go hand in hand? Ecstasy and the other club drugs remain as omnipresent as turntables, and zero tolerance seems to have done little to change that.
In fact, some government officials are looking for ways to accommodate drug use safely, rather than go on unsuccessfully trying to put an end to it. In May, nearly a decade after the British government passed the infamous Criminal Justice Act, which declared raving illegal in the U.K., a House of Commons committee released a report suggesting a significant relaxation of the penalties for Ecstasy and marijuana use. This follows the release of Safer Clubbing, a government-produced guide distributed to club owners urging them to provide free water and chill-out rooms for the benefit of patrons.
In the United States, however, the House of Representatives is currently considering a bill that would specifically outlaw the actions Safer Clubbing recommends. A section of California Republican Rep. Doug Ose’s Clean, Learn, Educate, Abolish, Neutralize and Undermine Production (CLEAN-UP) of Methamphetamines Act of 2002 threatens “promoters of drug-oriented entertainment” with hefty fines and prison sentences of up to nine years. The bill follows the government’s failed attempt last year to apply an existing statute, the so-called crackhouse law, to promoters of raves and clubs. Federal prosecutors in New Orleans brought charges against rave promoter “Disco” Donnie Estopinal and two managers of the State Palace Theater but failed to get a conviction.
In the meantime, Ecstasy has continued to spread in America; according to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study, its use has nearly doubled among high school seniors in the last four years, to twelve percent. A loose network of harm-reduction organizations such as DanseSafe has sprung up to provide information about the risks of taking Ecstasy and other drugs. They also sell home pill-testing kits, which allow users to check whether pills contain actual MDMA. Web sites (ravesafe.com, pillreports.com) post lab-test results on pills submitted from around the country in the hopes that users will check the database before popping potentially harmful hits. Unscrupulous dealers often sell much more dangerous drugs — including DXM and speed — disguised as Ecstasy.
The harmful effects of real Ecstasy are still a matter of debate. The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “Your Brain on Ecstasy” awareness campaign, which featured the image scan of a brain scarred black by Ecstasy use, was debunked in an April New Scientist story, which said the studies that produced the scans were flawed. In November, the Food and Drug Administration approved protocols for the clinical study of MDMA therapy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder — the first such study approved by the U.S. government.
The latest craze in club drugs is a cocktail of Ecstasy and Viagra called Sextasy, which was featured as a cover story in Ministry, a British club-culture magazine, headlined “Why Clubland’s Banging Again!” According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the combination is also known in the U.S. as “hammerheading” and “X’s and O’s.” Other popular drug cocktails include “candy flipping” (Ecstasy and LSD), “Zanzybar” (Ecstasy and Xanex) and “hippie flipping” (Ecstasy and mushrooms).
Meanwhile, the case against some other drugs associated with the club scene, such as ketamine and GHB, grows ever stronger. Emergency-room admissions based on use of these drugs have steadily increased, according to the NIDA. But the Monitoring the Future study says that use remains under two percent and is currently declining.