Demand for ecstasy is on the rise

by Richard Lazarus | 5/23/01 5:00am

No one knows exactly how extensively ecstasy might be used around campus, but The Dartmouth talked with at least one person who knew how easy it was to sell. One of the first things he said was, "there's basically infinite business, and it's not just ecstasy. Around campus I'd say it's pretty safe to say that if you bring it, it sells pretty fast."

Not everyone knows how dangerous ecstasy might be, but Coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug Education Margaret Smith wants students to find out. Smith is comfortable talking about drugs, but ecstasy was something that worried her. She explained, "Research has shown -- when you talk about a drug, increase goes up. That's why I'm worried. [ecstasy] is one drug I just don't want to increase."

Ecstasy (real name 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or just MDMA) is a "club drug" that has become increasingly popular on campus and in the country in general. Club drugs, also known as "dance drugs," are called so because they are used by some people while dancing -- ecstasy can make music more enjoyable and give users more energy.

"Since I've been here it's been something that's talked more about. When I first got here you hardly heard the word ecstasy," said Margaret Smith.

According to dancesafe.org -- a web site recommended by several dealers which offers free testing of pills -- "MDMA is a mood elevator that produces a relaxed, euphoric state. Sensations are enhanced and the user experiences heightened feelings of empathy, emotional warmth, and self-acceptance." Or, as a different dealer put it, "everything is okay."

MDMA was proven by one National Institute of Drug Addiction/Johns Hopkins study to cause damage to human brains. It damages serotonin transporters which reabsorb serotonin, a chemical that affects mood, memory and other functions, after it is used. The long term results are unclear, but it does impair at least memory functions in regular users, and baboons have shown damage seven years after drug use stopped.

Not anywhere near the majority, but hundreds of students on campus use the drug, according to the dealer. Some are aware of the dangers and the lack of research into its effects, and most seem happy with what they do.

"It's not just the stereotypical ravers, there's a lot of people who go to class and, on the weekends, use it," one dealer said. When asked if he generally sold to regulars, the dealer said "most sold to are one time party goers," around a hundred pills in an average party night.

According to Erin Artigiani, coordinator of Maryland Early Warning System, ecstasy tends to be used by people of slightly higher socio-economic status, because it is more expensive than some other common drugs. At Dartmouth the average pill costs about $20.

"It's a fun drug. It's really hard to have a bad time on ecstasy," one dealer said. Most MDMA users don't feel out of control. In fact, the dealer gave the impression that an ecstasy trip was a very pleasant experience.

"There's been a case within the past year in which a student had to resign from the college because there was creditable information to suggest he intended to traffic in ecstasy," said Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Advisor Marcia Kelly.

The dealer first mentioned had been worried about getting caught, but he said there were around a dozen dealers -- dealers who generally also trafficked in other drugs like marijuana -- and there were "always" people who weren't in it for the money: people who had connections to people with MDMA, wanted to supply three or five hundred pills for a party or a network of friends and had the time to go get the drugs in Boston, New York or Burlington.

Often these dealers do not feel they're in danger of being caught. "They're not interested in me," said one dealer. He went on, "I'm sure that the administration knows that raves are where it happens. The cops certainly know it."

There are probably only a few heavy users of the drug at Dartmouth -- most addiction is likely an attempt to self-medicate depression -- but many seem willing to try the drug at least once, despite there being very little formal study in to the drug's long term effects.

What worries Smith more than people believing MDMA could be dangerous is their not taking the time to find out. "If people are going to experiment I urge them to read the research first."

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