The Ecstasy Generation

  The Ecstasy Generation

Posted by FoM on February 14, 2001 at 11:17:41 PT
By Tamara Straus, AlterNet 
Source: AlterNet 

On Saturday, February 3, a 24-year-old Dane by the name of Andy Ramon Jacobs swallowed 84 condoms, containing 3,500 Ecstasy pills, and boarded a plane for the United States. Beyond the deleterious coils of his bowels, Andy's Ecstasy was headed into the mouths and brains of all sorts of Americans: high school students, seeking a four-hour high free of self-loathing and alienation; club-goers, intent on finding euphoric bon āme with thousands of techno-entranced strangers; middle-aged professionals, wishing to connect to their partners in a theraputic experience flooded with chemically-enhanced joy. 
Andy's Ecstasy never made it past US Customs, but as a teenager to whom I showed the article of Andy's bust commented: "There are still plenty of happy pills to be found in this promised land." Slowly but surely, Ecstasy is becoming the drug of choice for the millennial era. Unlike the dreamy, scatter-braining affect of marijuana, which gave '60s middle-class youth rebel credentials, or cocaine, which suited the self-centered, driven individualism of the '80s, Ecstasy, known variously as "a year of Prozac in one pill" and "penicillin for the soul," is being popped by a wide cross-section of Americans -- anywhere from 2 to 7 percent of the population. "It appears the Ecstasy problem will eclipse the crack-cocaine problem we experienced in the late 1980s," a cop told the Richmond Times-Dispatch last summer. Why Now? Some say that Ecstasy is just the ultimate party drug, smoother than cocaine or LSD, less numbing than pot -- and that people have always used drugs to escape. Others, however, describe it in more startling terms. They say it is a postmodern cure in a pill; that it eases spiritual emptiness and rancorous individualism; that it is a chemical salve for everything from alienation and depression to the lack of spirituality and community. Most of all, it seems to give people an ability to feel inspired when otherwise they cannot. Thor, a 31-year-old computer freelancer and son of an international oil executive, is a typical example. He has often suffered from depression, a cloud of self-doubt and self-criticism he says has prevented him from pursuing goals his father disparaged. "I don't think I would be doing what I'm doing today [composing music] if it weren't for my experience on Ecstasy," Thor told me. "You see, it gives you a sense of absolute reality; in other words, you are able to see what is your reality, not the wider culture's." I ask Thor why he thinks E has become so popular among teens and college students, and he readily responds: "They are taking it because they need a space to get away from a society that is soaked with commercial chimeras: images that promise happiness but deliver, in the end, very little joy. Ecstasy is a reality drug for a generation that has very few bearings." Thor's testimony may be a somewhat extreme view of Ecstasy as a cure for negative social forces. But almost no one I spoke to, or whose drug tales I read, did not speak of Ecstasy in similarly exalted terms. A January 21 article in the New York Time magazine, for example, is so pro-Ecstasy it begs the question: how many people on the Times' editorial staff also have enjoyed an afternoon or two of E bliss? The story by Matthew Klam is not just a happy tale of Ecstasy use, it's a classic conversion narrative. Klam was an apathetic college student, a Sigma Beta frat boy who was "angry, sarcastic, lost." "I spent my time demanding squat thrusts and smearing mustard on the heads of blindfolded, scared freshman," Klam tells the reader. But when he started using Ecstasy, Klam found empathy for others, acceptance of himself and eventually interest in the world of ideas. "For me," he asserted. "there was life before Ecstasy, and life after Ecstasy." Putting down the piece, I wondered how many New York Times readers were now on the hunt for those little multicolored pills. Certainly not all of them, however, will be as transformed by a few hits as Thor and Klam. Most recreational Ecstasy users say they seek it as a fun psychological aid, a way to better understand what ails them without the time and expense of traditional therapy. Take Michael, a 56-year-old nonprofit executive. "I think it gets people in touch with more fundamental feelings of community, which are largely absent in American culture," he says. "It gives them insight into their relationships. I, personally, find myself less competitive, less paranoid, less aggressive after Ecstasy. And the feeling stays with me for weeks, sometimes months." Shelia, a 29-year-old activist who was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, told me during her first "session" on Ecstasy she was able to forgive her father, who became a heroin addict during the Vietnam War. "One of the things I came to understand was that he takes heroin not because he is addicted to the drug but because it is his way of avoiding intimate relationships. And I stopped blaming myself for our lack of closeness." Since 1990, Sheila has taken Ecstasy approximately twice a month at raves, primarily as a means "to communicate on a higher level of consciousness with my God." "There is basically a battle of good and evil on the dance floor, a kind of microcosm of the world," says Sheila. "And I am able to counter the negative energy there through a combination of trance and Christian prayers." "I am often blue," says Jennifer, a 14-year-old from Manhattan, who was reluctant to elaborate, "but I feel better on Ecstasy than I ever have in my life. I feel like I make lifelong friends when I take the drug." Happiness in a Pill: Ecstasy was not designed as a therapeutic drug. The German pharmaceutical company Merck patented in 1914 as an appetite suppressant, but never used it on humans. Then, in 1953, the US Army tried it out as a potential brainwashing chemical, also to no avail. And so its therapeutic potential remained buried until Alexander Shulgin, a Bay Area research chemist, re-synthesized it in his lab and used himself as a guinea pig. Shulgin's "redisovery" of MDMA may have occurred as early as 1965, but what it certain is that by the early '70s, a psychologist to whom Shulgin had given the drug began to use it with patients and, within a few years, had introduced it to thousands of psychologists and therapists across the country. This group found its effects to be extraordinary. It was said to bring down the defenses of the most guarded individuals. It helped the suicidal to re-embrace living, the terminally ill to accept dying. Many psychologists who used the drug with patients said it served to solve the sort of problems that would have taken years of therapy. Why this is so has everything to do with Ecstasy's chemical composition and the bits and pieces pharmacologists and neurobiologists have been able to understand about its impact on the brain. First off, Ecstasy, or 3-4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), as it is known in the medical world, is structurally similar to amphetamine, with its energetic rushes, and the hallucinogen, mescaline. Secondly, the drug causes a pinnacle of happiness because it forces cells in the brain to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, appetite, body temperature, but most importantly, mood. In this sense, Ecstasy is similar to antidepressants like Prozac. In fact, the two drugs are sister stimulants, though whereas Prozac releases serotonin in relatively small doses over a short period of time (and inhibits serotonin's reuptake), Ecstasy floods the brain with it -- to a degree, depending on how much is taken and how often, that may cause memory loss, serotonin imbalances and possibly brain damage. Since Ecstasy was made illegal in 1986, however, research on its dangers or potential has been limited by the FDA. John Hopkins neurotoxicologist George Ricaurte has found that serotonin levels are significantly lower in animals that has been given even small amounts of Ecstasy. But his work isn't conclusive. No one knows enough about how serotonin works in the brain to say anything definite about Ecstasy's long-term effects -- whether, for example, damaged serotonin cells can grow back or whether the therapeutic benefits of Ecstasy outweigh its potential neurotoxicity. That is the reason MDMA's use and abuse has run a gauntlet similar to LSD's. Like LSD, the drug hit the street at the very moment psychiatrists began to understand it. By the early '80s, illegal drug labs were thriving. It became Dallas's hottest yuppie drug. Then it became the pharmacological darling of the dance scene: at gay clubs, at straight clubs and eventually at all-night techno-driven rave parties, where thousands of young people say they have found PLUR: peace, love, unity and respect, the contemporary equivalent of flower power. In the past decade dozens of deaths have been connected to Ecstasy use. Some of those victims have simply expired on the dance floor from dehydration and overheating while on the drug. Others have been poisoned from pills sold as Ecstasy but containing MDMA substitutes such as PMA. But since deaths have been limited and dangers of MDMA are largely unknown its reputation as a wonder drug is growing. Flower Power Transformed: At a recent conference in San Francisco called The State of Ecstasy nothing was more obvious than this fact. Aside from heated debated about the drug's potential health risks, and reports that people are taking multiple hits "as if it were candy," testimonies of Ecstasy's benefits were in the overwhelming majority. One 80-year-old man rose from the crowd and announced he had taken Ecstasy over 120 times and there were no signs of brain damage on his recent PET scan. Sue Stevens, who took the drug with her husband while he was dying of cancer, wept as she described how it allowed them to live out his last days in relative happiness. But the drug's cultural significance was largely absent from the discussion. "I think it's popular because of the degree to which young people are alienated and struggling to come up with values. Through MDMA, they find community," said Charles Grob, a Harbor-UCLA Medical Center psychiatrist who has performed the only FDA-approved clinical trial on humans of the drug. Grob read me a passage from a 1986 interview he conducted with LSD "father" and Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman. "People need a deep spiritual foundation for their lives," Hoffman said. "In older times it was religion, their dogmas, which people believed in, but today those dogmas no longer work." Still Hoffman added, "Young people are looking for meaningful experiences ... Some are looking for a happiness and satisfaction which is of the spiritual, not the materialistic world ... And of course, one of the ways young people are finding that is with psychedelic drugs." No one -- not Grob or members of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research, which is leading an effort to legalize Ecstasy for medicinal purposes -- would dare say this directly, for fear of coming off like New Age druggies. That has been left to ravers who argue dancing on Ecstasy is their gateway to what the wider culture lacks. "In a society in which there is little connection and in which family connections have broken down, we're looking for connections!" trumpeted Dustianne North, a PhD candidate in social welfare at UCLA, who made a rousing case for the rave scene at the conference. North went on to compare the "tribal," "healing" atmosphere of her subculture to the "numbing consumerism" and competitiveness of the mainstream. The audience -- of drug reformers, researchers, ravers and social workers -- responded to North's words with a blast of applause. Certainly North and the millions of people who are experimenting with Ecstasy are just the latest example of a drug counterculture that has existed since the 1960s. But what is interesting is how many of them have integrated Ecstasy use into a rhetoric of self-healing. What is even stranger is that Ecstasy's popularity has run neck-in-neck with the rise of a new class of user-friendly antidepressants, the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which one out of 8 Americans has tried, according to a 2000 ABC news poll. Together, what these two drug phenomena, one illegal, the other legal, seem to indicate is that Americans are getting used to the idea of finding happiness in a pill. Dr. Peter Kramer, author of the bestselling Listening to Prozac, calls this "cosmetic pharmacology." But among social critics, there is heated discussion about whether Americans are sadder than they used to be or have just become intolerant to suffering. In his book Life the Movie, cultural critic Neal Gabler has argued that Americans are indeed more depressed now than 50 years ago because they are inundated with Hollywood and soap opera narratives and, in comparison, their lives seem empty and dull. Likewise, Harvard scholar Robert Putnam has argued that widespread malaise is a function of widespread community breakdown. In an e-mail exchange published by novelists Rick Moody and Mary Gaitskill concluded, simply, that it is "un-American to be sad." "This surely comes from the notion that capitalism can quench our thirst with the application of a product ... sadness is simply something to be treated with antidepressant meds and otherwise need not be spoken of," wrote Moody. In response, Gaitskill wrote: "[P]eople will always want to avoid pain, to avoid those who are in pain, and so will be vulnerable to anyone or anything that seems to promise permanent avoidance." Whether or not Americans have become sadder in the postwar era will remain disputed for generations to come. But what sociologists will certainly hone in on is how, 30-odd years after the launch of the personal growth movement, self-healing has shifted from shrinks and gurus to a variety of sorrow-eradication pills. Yet the use of Ecstasy will likely raise more eyebrows than the SSRIs, since the drug not only temporarily squashes sorrow but, for some, helps to get at its root causes. As Ann Shulgin, the wife and fellow guinea pig of Ecstasy's rediscover, put it: "MDMA gives you a change of perspective. What you tend to see through is the thing you take for granted. If it is a relationship, then that's what you see through. If it is the culture, then you might understand the degree to which you have been brainwashed." SideBar: Help Change America's Drug Policies! The hit movie Traffic -- nominated yesterday for the "Best Picture" Oscar award -- has millions of Americans talking and thinking differently about drug use, abuse, and victims of our country's destructive drug war. To capitalize on this national buzz, the Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation, a leading drug reform group, has created The flashy, slick site weaves images from Traffic into an interactive game where users can try to "win" the war on drugs by pursuing one of three strategies: lock 'em up, cut off the supply, or just say no! Surprising facts and figures are peppered throughout the site, along with sensible suggestions for drug policy reform. StopTheWar ultimately hopes that it will inspire people to get involved in the growing drug reform movement. A long, well-organized list of organizations on the "What You Can Do" page presents many opportunities to lend your support. And as a nice little perk for those who loved or haven't seen the film, you can enter a contest to win a Traffic video or DVD on the "Add Your Voice" page. The Lindesmith Center is hoping to spread the word far and wide about StopTheWar; webmasters who support the principles of drug reform, may want to consider adding a button or banner from StopTheWar to their sites. Writers and editors who may want to write a story about the site, or about the larger movement to end the drug war, should check out the site's press release.StopTheWar AlterNetAuthor: Tamara Straus, AlterNetPublished: February 13, 2001Copyright: 2001 Independent Media Institute. Contact: info Web Site:'s Guidelines: Board: Articles - Ecstasy

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Comment #10 posted by observer on February 15, 2001 at 19:35:39 PT

afraid that there is more to reality
 THEY ARE AFRAID OF WHAT THAT RESEARCH WILL DISCOVER.Yes, I think you're right."I believe, that with the advent of acid, we have discovered a new way to think, and it has to do with piecing together new thoughts from the mind. Why is it that people think it's so evil? What is it about it that scares people so deeply? Is it because they are afraid that there is more to reality than they have confronted. That there are doors, that they're afraid to go in, and they don't want us to go in there either, because if we go in, we might learn something that they don't know. And that makes us a little out of their control." Hallucinogen, Twisted CD (LSD) quoted on 
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Comment #9 posted by mungojelly on February 15, 2001 at 19:10:13 PT:

a very good conference
I listened to The State Of Ecstasy online at I cried several times. The tragedy of MDMA prohibition is perhaps even greater than that of marijuana prohibition -- marijuana has been around so many thousands of years, we have already learned much from it. MDMA was just beginning to be explored when it was so cruelly stolen by this shortsighted government. There was no reason to prohibit medical research with MDMA, except that THEY ARE AFRAID OF WHAT THAT RESEARCH WILL DISCOVER. Well, too bad for you Mr Big Bad Wolf. We have moved into a brick house. Studies on the use of MDMA in treating PTSD are underway in Spain. Try & stop that, I dare you! But of course they don't have to stop it: no matter how many studies are done, they will deny the results. MDMA will be available for medical use in every other nation of the world before DEAland will budge a single inch. 
The State of Ecstasy
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Comment #8 posted by observer on February 15, 2001 at 10:49:33 PT

beat crazy
Since 1990, Sheila has taken Ecstasy approximately twice a month at raves. . .Kids today - they're all the sameAll call themselves - some crazy names . . .All those drugs - they can't be saneAll that noise - affects their brain . . .sniffing pot, smoking glueWhatever terrible things they doSmoking LSD and suchIt must be the reason why they can't talk muchAnd it's such a crimeHow they waste their timeThey can't get nowhereThey've all gone beat crazy-- Joe Jackson, 1980
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on February 15, 2001 at 10:39:17 PT

I'll pass
Thanks Don'tArrestMe,I guess my saying in many cases except Ecstasy is, I've been there and done that and bud is just fine with me! I'll just sit in the corner and observe! LOL!
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Comment #6 posted by DontArrestMe on February 15, 2001 at 10:33:49 PT

Don't worry
FoM, I wouldn't worry about a heart attack. It is really a mild stimulant, compared to amphetamine, which is still not as powerful as cocaine. Also, In England, you are more likely to die from choking on a peanut than you are from ingesting ecstasy. You won't hear those statistics in any government propaganda. Of course, if you are already quite happy in life, perhaps you should just stick to bud. At least that way, you don't have to worry about the current controversy surrounding MDMA neurotoxcitity.
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on February 15, 2001 at 09:51:03 PT

Hi Dr. Ganj!
You don't have to worry about me running out to try Ecstasy. It would probably give me a heart attack. See you do grow out of doing drugs! LOL!Peace, FoM!PS: It's good to see you!
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Comment #4 posted by Dr. Ganj on February 15, 2001 at 09:34:10 PT

N-Methyl -3,4 Methlyenedioxyphenylisopropylamine 
What a great article!All the people who have taken pure XTC certainly know the truth. The truth that this compound delivers a fabulous lesson in Life 101. It's not a panacea, that's true. But, it is a wonderful tool to help us handle our complex lives, and all its inherent difficulties.Go ahead, travel up to the mountains in the summertime. Find a remote stream, look for a swimming hole surrounded by big trees, and spread out a multicolored blanket in which to relax, and ingest 125 milligrams of MDMA. I promise you'll feel blessed to be here on this magnificent planet. The flood of euphoria will be so intense you won't believe you could feel this good. An experience with MDMA is a gift, and should be treated as such. Don't run out and use this drug all the time. That's not its function. It's here to teach and to heal. It's not here to be abused, and gobbled down like Pez candy.As to its potential side effects, used wisely, and occasionally, you'll be just fine, and in fact, even better than you thought possible!Cheers,Dr. Ganj
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Comment #3 posted by curendero on February 15, 2001 at 06:56:31 PT:

 I was on paxil ( Actually off on off on as I encountered side effects and tried to abandon the drug). My biggest observations are that ssri's significantly mute the high of weed as well as block the effects of mushrooms, lsd, and san pedro extractions. I believe, that ssri's develop a tolerance factor, and molocules with similiar structures to serotonin and dopomine entering the brain (Primarily mescaline and mushrooms) have very little if any activity. Just some observations. Anyone else? And here is a paranoid thought. You and some friends score some LSD, kick back watch the walls melt, then this new friend that joe dude brought into the circle a few weeks back pulls out a badge and says "Your busted!" And you think, I know that that guy took the LSD too........ I am hammered why is he not affected?! Ahhhhh... thanks for the rant.
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on February 14, 2001 at 19:52:22 PT

I agree
Hello Prozac head,My opinion is because Cannabis is so mild that Prozac overrides it. Most harder legal or illegal mind altering drugs can overide Cannabis.
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Comment #1 posted by prozac head on February 14, 2001 at 14:28:43 PT:

ya ever wonder why?
Ever since I started taking prozac 40 mg a day I have noticed that cannabis does not affect me nearly as much. By this report wouldn't an ssri intensify cannabis if it too releases seratonin.
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