Meet the People Who Want to Make It Safer to Take Drugs at Festivals
Despite these questions, information on the environmental factors that contribute to the majority of MDMA-related deaths is readily available. Mitchell Gomez, DanceSafe’s national outreach director, cites risks of heat stroke and dehydration: “When there is not enough shade and not enough water and places to sit down, that is where we see the largest chunk of problems.”
Highlighting the environmental component of MDMA deaths is the Phase-II FDA clinical trial on MDMA-assisted therapy for people suffering from treatment-resistant PTSD. Of the more than 1,000 patients who participated in studies for this and other trials, there were no deaths and no cases of hyperthermia. In fact, temperature increases were so insignificant that MAPS – the group running the current PTSD study – is seeking approval to stop monitoring body temperatures.
“The risk profiles of MDMA or any psychedelics taken in a therapeutic setting are fundamentally different than the risk profile when these drugs are taken in a recreational setting,” Doblin tells Rolling Stone. Outside of the lab, users may be in dangerously hot environments, using other substances in addition to MDMA, engaging in rigorous physical activity or not consuming enough electrolytes. DanceSafe warns against mixing other drugs with MDMA, particularly stimulants that cause similar physical reactions, as well as alcohol, which can increase dehydration. (From a recreational point of view, alcohol can also interfere with the high of MDMA.)
Most controversial in psychedelic harm reduction is DanceSafe’s establishment of drug checking kits on-site when allowed – a harm reduction strategy they compare to syringe exchange for intravenous drug users. While DanceSafe’s reagent tests cannot check for potency or purity, they can detect the primary composition of a drug, and thus provide the user with the information to decide whether to take it, and to understand the health risks if they make that choice.
“MDMA is not what Molly means anymore,” says Gomez – adding that DanceSafe often finds doses that don’t merely cut MDMA with other substances, but replace it entirely with cathinones or other drugs. “They’re selling a totally different substance as MDMA, and that’s the nature of our market right now,” Gomez says. “It’s not cut substances, it’s misrepresented substances.”
User experiences on MDMA and cathinones can be similar, and so are the risk profiles. For people who have limited or no experience with MDMA, it can be hard to tell the difference. “Most drugs misrepresented as MDMA would probably trick you at least enough that you wouldn’t immediately go back to the dealer and demand your money back,” Gomez says.
According to Gomez, Molly samples have tested positive for a variety of known drugs, as well as new substances DanceSafe had not catalogued before. Misrepresented substances include “shotgunned combinations of stimulants” of varying proportions that “look like somebody took whatever stimulants they had lying around that day in whatever proportion they had them lying around and pressed them into a pill.” Sometimes, DanceSafe sends samples back to a more elaborate lab to identify new substances. Gomez says DanceSafe is essentially playing the same catch-up game as police – it’s next to impossible to stay ahead of rogue chemists who are constantly creating new substances.