Ecstasy in the UK: recreational drug use and cultural change by Peter McDermott, Alan Matthews, ==================================================== "Whoever it was brought house music and Ecstasy together is a total genius and I want to shake that man's hand". Anonymous, The Face, Nov. 1991 Acknowledgements The authors would like to apologize unreservedly to S-Expressa, Bob Dylanb, E-Zee Possec, Diana Ross and the Supremesd and the Jimmy Castor Bunche for the cavalier misappropriation of their lyrics, and thank Michele Durkin and Jenny O'Connor for their invaluable work on the Chill Out information campaign, and for their staunch support during the media's ferocious attack upon Mersey Drug Training and Information Centre and it's director, Pat O'Hare. Introduction - 'You can be yourself' MDMA is a member of the phenylethylamine family of drugs, related chemically to both mescaline and amphetamine. Consequently, it is often described as a stimulant and/or an hallucinogenic, when in actual fact, it is neither. Subjective reports advise us that on an active dose of the drug there is no loss of control or contact with reality. The primary effect is on mood. The structural activity of this drug is so different from others that, it has been argued, the drug deserves a new category (Nichols,1986). Terms that have been suggested to describe this category include 'empathogen' (from the drug's capacity to evoke a sense of empathy) and 'entactogen' (from the Latin, meaning 'to touch within'). The first reference to MDMA to reach a broad audience in the UK, came in an article in a magazine called 'The Face'. This reported on the use of the drug by a small group of people working in the media, pop music and fashion industries, who were flying to the United States and importing small amounts of the drug for their personal consumption. (Nasmyth, 1985) Over the next two years, the MDMA scene grew slowly but steadily. Two London disc jockeys visited Ibiza in the summer of 1986 and returned with a new style of dance music - created by the DJ's themselves - which became known as 'Balearic Beat' (Kaplan, C. et al, 1989). The music consisted of a mixture of late seventies and early eighties disco, and the later mutations of that nightclub oriented sound from Chicago (House) New York (Garage) and Detroit (Techno). Using modern musical technology such as samplers, sequencers and synthesisers, DJ's began to create a new musical form that clubgoers found ideally suited the effects of the drug. The Ecstasy/nightclub combination began to spread slowly from the London fashion/music industry elite, until 1991, when the rave scene (as the subculture became known) was possibly the biggest youth subculture that Britain had ever seen. A subculture intimately bound up with the use of Ecstasy. The effects of the drug were to become closely bound up in the artefacts of the newly emerging subculture. For instance, one song that was widely played in the clubs in 1989 was called, 'Express Yourself' and gives some insight into the meaning of the experience for young people. The hook lyric proclaims "You can be yourself, yeah, yeah". Although this may seem trite to those who have not shared the experience, most of the people we interviewed felt that this capacity to drop one's inhibitions and allow yourself to be who you truly were without fear or embarrassment, was the drug's most rewarding quality. While other drugs like alcohol or LSD produced dramatic changes in the psyche, Ecstasy, in contrast, just allowed people to be themselves, to accept themselves and others. This curious sense of freedom arising from a collective of chemically liberated individuals made the club scene very appealing, not just to teenagers but to people of all ages. When the drug was taken in a club with 2,000 other people, it produces a sense of being emotionally synchronised with the crowd, a notion that is amplified by the DJ's use of the music and lighting effects. People would describe how they would make eye contact, and rather than looking away embarrassed, or being a catalyst for aggression ("Who the fuck d'you think you're looking at?") strangers would identify a communality, albeit one based upon chemistry. So, from 1987 onwards, nightclubs across the UK witnessed joyous outbursts of mass hugging and kissing. A popular record would be received by 2,000 pairs of arms shooting up into the air, as everybody would hold hands, sway blissfully and sing. Given the contrast with our everyday experience, it is not surprising that the experience of the drug and the scene was to become of central importance to the lives of many young people. Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is.... The first two authors became involved with this phenomenon at the end of 1988, when they gained access to a network of young people who were involved with the drug. They spent a great deal of time over the following two years studying this group and the rave scene, research which eventually led to the production of a television film "E is for Ecstasy" (Everyman, BBC 1, 1992) During the course of this research, they became aware of a growing number of problems associated with the drug. Having read most of the published literature available on the drug, it appeared to be fairly safe. However, the set and setting in which the drug was used in the USA, where most of the available research had been conducted, was very different from the way it was now being used in Britain. In America, the drug had come to the attention of a small group of people who were committed to the continuation of serious research into psychedelic drugs (Shulgin & Shulgin, 1992; Stephens, 1977). Because of MDMA's peculiar properties, this group had seen the drug as a useful adjunct to psychotherapy and for a long time it remained a well kept secret. Although the drug eventually made the transition from the therapists office and onto the street, the way it was used in the USA, and the groups that were using it, were very different to this new pattern of use that was emerging in the UK. (Rosenbaum, & Morgan, 1989; Beck, 1990; O'Rourke, 1985.) In 1989, the UK saw it's first Ecstasy-related death. Although the first was believed to be an idiosyncratic reaction, possibly allergic, as the numbers of people taking the drug grew, the numbers of adverse reactions also grew. This research combined with the growing number of telephone enquiries to MDTIC, pointed to a hunger for information on the effects and the hazards of Ecstasy and the other drugs associated with the dance scene. In September 1991, Mersey Regional Health Authority decided to commission an information campaign aimed at Ecstasy users (McDermott, P. et.al.,1992) At the time the campaign was conceived, there had been virtually no interest in the drug by the medical or drug treatment establishment in the UK, and no research of any substance had been funded or conducted. Apart from the American research, which was conducted under very different use conditions, all the experience of the effects and hazards of this drug lay with the hundreds of thousands of users who had been conducting individual and collective experiments with the drug. A series of government funded television 'drug scare' advertisements had been screened in 1989-1990 and most of the Ecstasy users we spoke to had seen them but they did not find them credible representations of the drug, the subculture, or the potential risks. Most of those interviewed did not believe that their drug use had caused them any serious problems, though they often felt that the lack of accurate information about the drug, and its illegal status, were problems in themselves (McDermott & Matthews, 1992). Furthermore, current drugs services had been preoccupied with their existing clients, opiate users, and most had totally failed to make any attempt to contact this group. In fact, many involved in the drugs field were virtually unaware of the problem. Drug services were for 'addicts', whereas this group was just using drugs recreationally, at weekends. What did a drugs agency have to offer them? The reality was, in fact, not very much. (Gilman,1992) Everything starts with an 'E' It was decided that the form that our response would take should be different from other such campaigns for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it was felt that the people who were most at risk, and therefore could benefit most from such a campaign were the many thousands of people who were currently using the drug. There is no evidence that drug prevention campaigns such as the government's TV adverts, delay or reduce initiation into drug use. However, information may play a role in slowing transitions to heavier or particularly hazardous modes of use. (Dorn & Murji, 1992). The new club-drug scene had a number of characteristics that make it a risk-laden situation. First, many of those involved are young and are new to drug taking, therefore they are likely to have little knowledge of the drugs that they use. Second, the dominant drug used on this scene, MDMA or Ecstasy, was a relatively new substance that most drugs workers had little knowledge of or experience of dealing with. Our perspective on the problem, and the strategy that we adopted in order to deal with it, owed a great deal to the work of Norman Zinberg and Jock Young. From Zinberg, we took the notion that we had to accept that these people were determined to use drugs, and as a consequence, we needed to assist them by facilitating the emergence of a culture of controlled drug use (Zinberg, 1984). In 'The Drugtakers' (Young, 1972), Young claims it is strongly dysfunctional to harass and undermine drug subcultures, instead we should facilitate the emergence of a system of values and norms within that subculture. He argues for 'positive propaganda' about drugs. Most drug horror stories fail to mesh with the experience of drug users, and so their message is rejected. It is only the subculture of drug taking, Young believes, that has the authority to control its members. As he so eloquently explains, "You cannot control an activity merely by shouting out that it is forbidden; you must base your measures on facts and these facts must come from sources that are valued by the people that you wish to influence. (...) Moreover, information aimed at controlling drug use must be phrased in terms of the values of the subculture, not in terms of the values of the outside world. (p.221)" Following Young and Zinberg then, we decided that the best method of affecting a positive influence upon this group of recreational or non-dependent drug users would be to seek to facilitate the emergence of a set of subcultural rituals and norms aimed at minimising the potential for drug-related harm. A combination of our field research and an extensive literature review led us to conclude that the potential problems associated with MDMA could be divided into three categories - drug specific, situational and social. Problems derived from the pharmacological properties of the drug include overdose, allergic or idiosyncratic reactions, anxiety or panic attacks and the possibility of long- term neurotoxicity. Situational problems ... those related to the user's mind set, and the setting in which the drug is taken, include dehydration, hyperthermia, exhaustion, panic, anxiety and problems arising from counterfeit drugs. To date there have been at least 14 deaths in the UK associated with Ecstasy and as many as 50 other severe reactions. One popular hypothesis is that these deaths are caused by heat-stroke due to a combination of Ecstasy, dancing energetically, not drinking enough water and the hot and humid temperature in clubs.(Henry et al., 1992) Finally, use of the drug can also give rise to a number of social problems that encompass relations with family, school or work, the law, and possible personality changes, but the extent to which these should be considered as 'drug problems', rather than normal adolescent rites of passage is arguable and often depends upon highly subjective criteria. As an information service, the problem we faced was how to make a positive intervention that would enable us to maximise contact in an appropriate manner, and to allocate scarce resources as efficiently as possible. As the government had recently run an enormous mass media campaign aimed at dissuading young people from using recreational drugs like Ecstasy, we decided to run an information campaign aimed specifically at those who were determined to continue to use these drugs. Reach out and touch somebody's hand.... Following intense press coverage of the issue after several Ecstasy-related deaths over a short space of time, many drug services began to argue that outreach work should be conducted with this group. We felt that this response was a mistake. Outreach work in the UK emerged in an attempt to contact injecting drug users at risk of HIV. It was an exceptional measure that was necessitated by the need to avert a public health crisis. Ravers are neither hard-to-reach, nor are they such a priority.(1) Outreach seemed to be unreasonably intrusive in the perceptions of the targeted group, just another form of social policing. If the rationale for such work is reducing drug-related harm or HIV prevention, then such efforts may be more profitably directed to the local pub, where both the extent and the severity of risks and problems will far outweigh those at any rave club. Few would argue that such a response to alcohol was either appropriate or desirable - why should we think it so for other drugs? One drugs agency manager in the Mersey region explained his understanding of this trend towards outreach work among recreational drug users: "For the last few years, the role of an outreach worker has been to go and sit in a grotty council flat and try to make contact with injectors. Compared to this, going to clubs at the weekend has got to be a high priority. And it's easier, too. In a club, you have access to up to two thousand drug users, all in the same place at the same time.(Dalton, 1991)" If the concept of outreach work is fraught with inconsistencies, the management of such work poses serious logistical problems. Counselling or information giving in a club where you can't hear yourself think, is inappropriate and virtually impossible. Dealing with collapse or overdose should be the responsibility of club management, who should have staff experienced in first aid and who are just as able to call an ambulance as any outreach worker. When dealing with anxiety or panic attacks (the bad trip syndrome), friends are more likely to be helpful than strangers. Most clubs already sell condoms. As drugs workers, our primary aim is to help prevent problems, not have workers waiting on the sidelines in the hope that one might develop. Our task is to demystify drugs and drug problems, to take power out of the hands of professionals and to empower the drug user, enabling him to make responsible and informed decisions. Outreach work is too often used as a method of perpetuating professional mystique and client dependency on drugs workers rather than transferring decision making skills to drug users who can best understand their own needs. ...make this world a better place... When determining the form and content of the campaign, we set ourselves a number of goals - 1. To provide basic information on the effects of the various drugs commonly used on the club scene. 2. To enable clubgoers to identify potential problems that might arise, and help them to deal with them effectively. 3. To alert them to hazards associated with the set and setting in which the drug may be used. 4. To establish standards for safer, more responsible drug use within the drug sub-culture. 5. To give drug users a contact point for further information from a source they can trust, should problems arise. In order to achieve these aims, we felt that the form in which the information took, and the routes through which it was transmitted, were equally as important as the content. The information should be pertinent to the lives and interests of the intended audience. It must also be accurate and honest, reflecting the positive aspects of drug use as well as the risks and harms that the drug might cause. Finally, the campaign needed to be non-judgmental about the ethical issues inherent in drug use in order to establish a relationship of trust between the information providers and the intended recipients. As the budget for the campaign was low, we needed to take a creative approach to maximising our audience. Once again, our in- depth knowledge of the subculture gained over the previous two years was invaluable. This was a subculture which was based around holding illegal parties that were not advertised but could attract over 10,000 people by word of mouth. We decided to attempt to utilise the methods and networks that the subculture itself uses to transmit information ... flyers, magazine articles and word of mouth. Flyers are hand-outs that advertise the opening of new clubs or one-off parties. They usually feature a graphic design style that is identifiable with the culture, similar to the graphics associated with the hippie/underground subculture of the 1960s. Flyers are distributed outside clubs, in record shops, clothes shops and other places where ravers congregate. They are often collected by ravers, who pin them on bedroom walls and in scrapbooks as memorabilia and mementos of events or clubs they attended. A local designer, noted for his creative work in this area, was employed to produce a leaflet that would utilise elements of this form. The leaflet, "Chill Out ... A Ravers Guide", contained basic information about the three main drugs that are used on the club scene, MDMA, LSD and amphetamine. It considers the risks involved in using those drugs, methods to try to minimise the risks, and how to deal with an emergency. Furthermore, the leaflet does not just focus upon the drugs, but also looks at the other issues involved - the need for sleep and good diet, avoiding dehydration, heat exhaustion etc. Finally, a phone number was available on the leaflet in case further help was required. As the nature of club culture mitigates against passing out such detailed information in a venue where people have gone to dance and to enjoy themselves, this method of distribution was rejected. If handed out willy-nilly during such an event, we felt that most would be likely to end up littering the floor, unread. Rather than leaving these behind the desk at drug services, places that are rarely attended by this group, we distributed them initially through specialist record and clothes shops, and through advertisements in fanzines, on radio and in bars, cafes and clubs. Our resources were limited to an initial print run of 10,000 copies of the leaflet, therefore we could only distribute them throughout the region. Yet the need for information on this matter was felt to be increasingly pressing, as the number of deaths and hospitalisations across the country mounted. As yet, no other service was providing the information that was needed. In an attempt to remedy this information shortage and contact a much larger audience, the second component of the ampaign was initiated. One of the authors approached the magazine that had carried the original article on MDMA in 1985, "The Face". This magazine is the most prestigious of the so-called ‘style magazines'. Aimed at a readership aged between 18 and 35, the magazine sells all over the world and has managed to successfully remain ahead of all the others because of it's ability to have the finger on the pulse of fashion and pop music. It's credibility with young people is probably unrivalled by any other magazine. Continued references to Ecstasy, both in features on "stars", in letters and in journalistic asides led us to believe that this would be an ideal conduit for a carefully targeted media information campaign. After negotiations, the magazine published an interview with one of the authors and a visiting Dutch colleague who had recently finished a book on the Dutch Ecstasy scene. The piece attempted to summarise the most recent scientific information that was available on the drug for a lay audience (James,1991). Confirmation that our choice of this magazine was correct was revealed by the response that the piece generated. The following month's issue gave the whole letters page over to the topic and noted that the article attracted the most mail that they had for some time (The Face, 1991a). Many readers letters noted the phenomenal rise in the incidence of Ecstasy use, others identified MDMA related problems that they or their friends were experiencing, problems hitherto not addressed by existing drug service provision. Over the following six months, virtually all of the British magazines aimed at this youth audience carried similar articles, often focusing on Chill Out and a similar information campaign run by Lifeline, a Manchester drugs agency that was based on a cartoon character, Peanut Pete. Given the volume of useful coverage of the issues, in the type of magazines that were read by our target audience, we felt that our initiative was far more successful than we could have ever anticipated. ....if you can! Over the past four years, British television and the quality newspapers have given a great deal of coverage to the 'new paradigm' in the drugs field. TV programmes like Granada's "Hooked' series and the BBC's Open Space programme, 'Taking Drugs Seriously' are just two examples among many. Most serious newspaper columnists and editorials are now critical of the War on Drugs mentality and often argue in favour of a more pragmatic, harm reduction approach. However, this tendency towards realism by the media still only applies to the quality broadsheets and television, and has failed to filter through to the British tabloids, who still cover drug stories in the traditional shock-horror fashion. In an article titled "The myth of drug takers in the mass media" (Young, 1973) Jock Young has pointed out that the media's portrayal of drug stories is consistently biased. This bias is not a function of random ignorance on the part of journalists(2), but is grounded in the media's assumption of a consensual ideology that governs the writing of newspaper articles. Most drug stories rely upon a number of myths, myths that were identified and shown to be untrue as early as 1940 by the American pioneer of Harm Reduction, sociologist Alfred Lindesmith (Lindesmith, 1940). These myths are rooted in moral indignation, and are aimed at bulwarking the hypothetical world of the normal citizen and blinkering the audience to deviant realities that exist outside this imaginary consensus. In order to understand why newspaper stories about drug issues are systematically skewed, Young argues that one must seek explanations at a structural level. The way in which certain sections of the media attacked 'Chill Out' provides a powerful validation of Young's thesis. The first author was contacted by a journalist on a local paper, the Liverpool Echo, who wanted to know where the information in the leaflet came from. In fact, the information was a summary of all the available literature on the subject, and had been read and approved by a number of leading experts both on MDMA and on drug education. Locally, it was read and approved by the Director of the Drug Dependency Unit, the Head of Merseyside Police drug squad and other interested professionals. The journalist did not appear to be impressed by this, and intimated that some people in the field were concerned by the content of the leaflet. We later discovered that the concern emanated from her editor who had been outraged by the leaflet and had ordered her to get a critical story. We were contacted by colleagues in the field who informed us that this journalist had been ringing around in an attempt to find somebody prepared to condemn the leaflet. Apparently, nobody working in the drugs field was prepared to do so but, fortunately for the reporter, there was a general election due in a few months time, and Merseyside happens to be a solid Labour stronghold. The newspaper eventually managed to generate a controversy by sending copies of the leaflet to two Conservative MP's, both in marginal seats and asking for their comments. The item ran as the main story on page one, under the headline, "Raving Mad: MP's fury over DIY drug brochure for teenagers." (Liverpool Echo, 28th January, 1992) "The Echo today highlights a glossy drugs leaflet that every Merseyside parent will view with outrage. It is a youngster's guide to taking drugs that looks and reads like part of a sales brochure." Linda Chalker, MP for Wallasey, attacked the leaflet for it's message. "Instead of hammering home the message that drugs are wrong and drugs kill, they are taking the soft option and telling these children how to take them safely." Her colleague, Ken Hind MP, went even further. "This is a disgraceful waste of public funds. I shall today send a letter to the Chairman of Mersey Regional Health Authority demanding such funding is immediately withdrawn." The following day, the story was picked up by two tabloid newspapers, The Sun and The Daily Star.(3) The Daily Star's story ran under the headline "What a Dope: Daft do-gooder tells kids it's OK to use killer drug." (Daily Star, 29th January, 1992) The Star also gave it's editorial over to the issue, offering advice to Merseyside parents. "...this evil twaddle was written by Centre boss Pat O'Hare and his staff - local parents should find out where these oddballs hang out and then they should storm the place and dump all 20,000 copies of this pernicious pamphlet into the Mersey, followed by Mr O'Hare." The Sun, the newspaper that introduced the 'page 3 girl' to the British public, retained it's usual obsession with sex. The front page story was headlined "Fury at sex guide to E" (The Sun, 29th January, 1992), because of a single reference to sex in the leaflet that was aimed at raising awareness of HIV risk among this group. In fact, the leaflet read, "Sometimes you feel horny as it (MDMA) heightens sensations and pleasures of touch ... so have condoms with you." This national media interest led the Echo to devote it's front page to the story for the next two evenings. The following night's story was titled "Rethink on drug guide" and sought to imply that the regional health authority was about to renounce the leaflet. In fact, a health authority spokesperson said "We have no immediate plans to withdraw the leaflet." Meanwhile, other sections of the media were expressing their support for Chill Out. Mick Middles, a columnist on Manchester's counterpart to the Echo, the Manchester Evening News (Middles, 1992) wrote: "The media has universally feigned outrage and plucked a few provocative lines from the leaflet. ...It is all to easy for the media to take a line out of context and make the whole project seem like a celebration of this appalling drug. It isn't. It merely accepts the sad fact that many ordinary, intelligent teenagers are caught up in this Ecstasy subculture and takes it from there. The authority should be commended for attempting to reach the kids via this method." This support was also echoed in the Liverpool Echo's sister newspaper, the Daily Post (Daily Post, 3rd February 1992), where columnist David Charters wrote: "Admittedly, it is a defeatist tract, taking the line: the problem is here to stay. How do we cope with it. ...Most of the information is reasoned. The passage saying "Ecstasy can make you feel relaxed but energetic, happy, calm, exhilarated warm and loving" is too glowing, though it is balanced with references to sweating, nausea and vomiting. (...) Until the authorities control the spread of drugs, the MDTIC's leaflet has a role." On the third evening, the Echo gave its front page over to the story once again, for the third night running, this time to report that the Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker had withdrawn a £15,000 grant to MDTIC from the seized assets fund that was intended to fund an Ecstasy information campaign. The grant was frozen until after the general election (Liverpool Echo, 30th January 1992). By this time, staff on the Liverpool Echo had begun to sense that their stance was not only out of step with professional opinion, but also with public opinion. In local radio phone-ins and on television news vox-pop interviews, support for Chill Out was overwhelming, particularly among the young, who the leaflet was aimed at. In the same issue, the Echo gave the centre's director Pat O'Hare, and the leaflet's author, Alan Matthews, space to defend their position. The following week it gave its letters page over to the issue (Liverpool Echo, 4th February, 1992). Again, public support was overwhelming. Of sixteen letters, only three did not support the leaflet. The letters give an insight into the level of public awareness of and support for the harm reduction philosophy. "As the Echo pointed out, the drug trade in the North West reaps profits of £25 million. This will not be halted overnight. Obviously there must be a demand." "I am writing as the concerned parent of a 19 year old son to comment on your front page report, "Raving Mad". The most accurate part of the story is the headline ... but only if applied to yourselves." "I have in my counselling sessions been using the Chill Out guide and I have been astounded at the success of this publication, which in my experience has given the drugs agencies credibility with the young drug users." "I am 27 years of age and have been using Ecstasy for the last three years. Like most users I was ignorant of the side-effects attached to its use. Having read the leaflet, I have sat back and actually thought about my drug use." "I was reminded of the outrage expressed when MDTIC introduced a free needle policy for drug users, and how that policy, now copied by others, has helped circumvent the spread of AIDS." "The objectors to this leaflet ... the Liverpool Echo, Lynda Chalker and Ken Hind ... are in no position whatsoever to comment on a situation they know very little about. ... It is about time the whole drugs issue was tackled with some realism, instead of pretending that by making it illegal ,the whole problem will disappear." "I think your articles on Ecstasy are on par with the Government warnings ... a load of rubbish. ... You are meant to be an independent local paper for the good of the community. Tell us the truth and tell it straight." Like the politicians, the newspapers were attempting to appeal to an imaginary consensus ... the worried parent, concerned about their children being ‘on drugs'. Furthermore, the newspapers were relying upon common sense notions of how we should deal with drug problems ... believing that the public will reject anything other than a 'just say no' approach. The response of the public to the controversy indicates that this consensus no longer exists ... and perhaps it never did. In Liverpool at least, it seems that the public is well aware of the failure of previous drug policies and prevention campaigns. The evidence of this failure is visible all around us ... to any parent of teenage children, anybody who drinks in the local pub, in fact, anybody between the ages of 13 and 45. Illicit drug use is now an integrated part of the social fabric in this area. These letters also indicate a high level of understanding and acceptance of the harm reduction policies that were introduced in Mersey Region in order to tackle HIV and AIDS. Rather than opposing our realistic, pragmatic approach to drug problems, the public appear to be calling for the extension of such policies. Unfortunately, some politicians and sections of the tabloid press have not yet caught up with public opinion. Conclusion: What we're gonna do right here is go back.... This controversy arose primarily because of the serious contradictions that underpin earlier ideologies governing how we think about illegal drug use. Unless these contradictions are resolved, attempts to develop rational and effective responses to the problem of ever-increasing illegal drug use are likely to continue to fail. A major problem lies in our inability to think hard about the issues of pleasure and consciousness change. One of the principles that appears to underpin the political and media ideology is the notion that it is inherently wrong to seek to alter ones consciousness through artificial means. This assumption seems to have its roots in Protestantism and in the modern requirement for the time and work disciplines that were necessary to industrial capitalism. Though many of the early prohibition laws were a product of the struggle for economic and political dominance by certain sectional interests over others (Berridge & Edwards 1987; Duster, 1970; Szasz, 1975), more recent laws introduced to regulate synthetic psychedelic drugs appear to be a direct consequence of the perceived challenge that these drugs posed to the existing ideological order. Highly vocal advocates of these drugs like LSD and Mescaline argued that they had a revolutionary potential, a promise that seemed to come true as large numbers of American hippies began to visibly reject the old ideologies of the American Dream and the Protestant Work Ethic. Following the reaction to early advocates of psychedelic drugs like Timothy Leary, and the subsequent consequences that this anti-psychedelic backlash had for research into the uses and properties of these drugs, more recent advocates of drug law reform have strenuously avoided any discussion of the pleasurable aspects of the 'new' psychedelic drugs. These new psychedelic advocates talk about the value of drugs like MDMA as a ‘research tool' or as an 'adjunct to psychotherapy'. Alexander Shulgin has described MDMA as 'pennicilin fore the soul'. It is important to ask ourselves whether a group of middle-aged Californian academics sitting around on MDMA listening to Mozart and calling it ‘research' can genuinely be prioritised over the behaviour of an eighteen year kid from the North West of England who takes MDMA to get out of his face and dance to hard-core Techno music? We think not. The central issue here is one that is rarely addressed in public debates. The question is whether a state of intoxication should be considered an inherently immoral state. If society decides that it is, then we must surely apply the same sanctions to the use of alcohol and caffeine as we do to heroin. However, an ever-growing body of expert opinion is starting to acknowledge the probability that decisions about intoxication and recreational drug use are matters for individual choice, and that drug problems are best dealt with as health issues, rather than a matter for moral judgment or sanctions under criminal law. Most young people who use drugs today are aware of these contradictions and will no longer listen to grown-ups telling them that it is 'wrong' to take Ecstasy. They point to the legally sanctioned drugs -- tobacco and alcohol -- and ask what is the difference. If the reply is couched in terms of health risks, then young people today are only too capable of pointing out that deaths related to tobacco and alcohol use far outweigh deaths from MDMA use. They will also ask why nobody has taken the trouble to make those risks known in an accessible manner, along with information on how to minimize those risks. If the argument against using illegal drugs is couched in terms of support for a corrupt and illegal enterprise, young people just see this as another point in favour of the legalisation of drugs. Without wishing to get into the pro's and con's of the legalisation debate here, the widespread use of drugs like cannabis, LSD and MDMA in the UK must lend more weight to the arguments for interventions aimed at separating the different illegal drug markets. Our research with this group has indicated that because of this overwhelmingly positive initial drug experience, MDMA may act as a low threshold initiation into illegal drug use, and the lack of honest and accurate information about this drug can lead young people to reject messages about all illegal drugs, leading many to go on to experiment with drugs like heroin and cocaine. Some liberalisation of cannabis and MDMA markets would offer more control and easier intervention in those markets, while reducing the potential crossover. It is our belief, based upon our experience in Liverpool, that the general public is able to understand such sophisticated concepts and is likely to embrace them, given the failure of traditional methods of drug control. Unfortunately, interventions of this type remain unlikely to be implemented while politicians and the mass media continue to approach questions of drug control from an ideology rooted in moral absolutism, rather than adopting a pragmatic approach based upon interventions that have been tested and work rather than outdated ideologies that are inevitably doomed to failure.. Bibliography Beck, J. (1990). The Public Health Implications Of MDMA Use, in S.J. Peroutka, (ed.) Ecstasy: the clinical, pharmacological and neurotoxicological effects of the drug MDMA. Kluwer Academic Publications, Boston. Berridge V. & Edwards, G. (1987) Opium and the people. Yale University Press BBC Television (1992) E is for Ecstasy, Everyman, BBC 1, Transmitted 24th May, 1992. London. Charters, D. (1992) "Agonising Over Ecstasy While The Rave Goes On.” Daily Post 3rd, February, 1992., Liverpool Dalton, S. (1991) Personal communication with Andrew Bennett. Daily Star (1992) "What A Dope”. 29th January, 1992. London. Dorn, N. & Murji, K. (1992) Drug Prevention: A review of the English language literature. ISDD, London. Duster, T. ( 1970 ) The Legislation of Morality. Free Press, New York. Gilman, M. (1992) Beyond Opiates. Druglink, ISDD, London. Grund, J-P. (1992) Talk on outreach work Drug Prevention conference (unpublished) London Henry, J. et al. (1992) Ecstasy and the dance of death. The Lancet, London. James, M. (1991) Ecstasy. The Face, Nov. 1991, London Kaplan, C.D., Grund, J-P & Dzoljic, M.R. (1989) Ecstasy in Europe: reflections on the epidemiology of MDMA. Instituut voor Verslavingsonderzoek, Rotterdam. Lindesmith, A. (1940) Dope Fiend Mythology. Journal of Criminology and Police Science, Vol 31. Liverpool Echo (1992) "Raving Mad” 28th January, 1992. Liverpool. Liverpool Echo (1992a) "Drugs agency to lose funding” 30th January, 1992. Liverpool. Liverpool Echo (1992b) Letters. 4th February, 1992. Liverpool. Middles, M. (1992) Ecstasy is not Horlicks. Manchester Evening News. McDermott, P. et.al., (1992) Dealing with recreational drug use. Druglink, ISDD, London. McDermott, P. (1992) Representations of Drug Users: Facts, Myths and their role in Harm Reduction in O'Hare, P. et. al. (Eds.) The Reduction of Drug Related Harm. Routledge. London. McDermott, P. & Matthews, A. (1992) An ethnographic study of a cohort of Ecstasy users in the North West of England. Forthcoming. Nasmyth, P. (1985). Ecstasy (MDMA). The Face No. 66. London. O'Rourke, P. J. (1985) Turn on, Tune in, Go to the office late on Monday, in Republican Party Reptile. Paladin. London. Rosenbaum, M. & Morgan, P. (1989) Ethnographic Notes on Ecstasy Use Among Professionals. International Journal on Drug Policy Vol.1 No. 2. Liverpool. Shulgin, A. T. & Shulgin, A. (1992) PiHKAL. Transform Press. California Stephens, J. (1987) LSD and the American Dream. Heinemann. London Szasz, T. (1975) Ceremonial Chemistry. Routlege & Kegan Paul. London. The Face (1991) Letters, Dec. 1991. London. The Sun, (1992) "Fury At Sex Guide To E.” 29th January, 1992. London. Young, J. (1972) The Drugtakers. Paladin. London Young, J. (1973) The Myth of the Drug Taker in The Mass Media, in S. Cohen & J. Young, The Manufacture of News. Constable, London. Zinberg, N. (1984) Drug, Set & Setting. Yale University Press, New Haven & London 1John Paul Grund argues that outreach should be aimed at those who are most at risk. Ravers do not fall into this category. Presentation at Metropole Hotel, London. European Drug Prevention Week . 2In the experience of the first author, many journalists who cover drug stories actually use illegal drugs themselves, but when writing an article, they rarely draw upon their own experience, preferring to call a drugs agency to ask 'do you have any drug users we can interview'. This separation between personal experience and the subject of the story may be seen as a form of alienation that contributes a great deal to the skewed representations of illicit drug use in society. My article on drug use among drug workers (McDermott, 1990) looks at a similar phenomenon among people working in the drugs field. 3 Neither paper sells very well on Merseyside, in part because of their continued support for the locally despised Conservative government, but primarily because of their coverage of the Hillsborough football disaster. In 1986, at a Liverpool football match held at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, 96 fans died and many more were injured as a consequence of poor crowd control. The game was being broadcast live on TV at the time, and many Liverpool people watched as their friends and relatives had the life crushed out of them. Widespread popular anger at the tabloids built over the next few days. First, some papers published ghoulish pictures of dead and dying football supporters, in full colour, without any thought for the impact on the friends and families of the victims. Then, The Sun and The Star published unattributed police claims that the tragedy had been caused by unruly Liverpool supporters, who had been aggressive, had robbed bodies lying injured or dead, and had urinated on police officers who were attempting to help the victims. In fact, a public enquiry found that the tragedy was a consequence of police mismanagement of the crowd and poor facilities at the ground, and the allegations were made by a senior police officer, who resigned over the incident, who was attempting to divert blame from his force. The people of Merseyside began a mass boycott of The Sun and The Star. Newsagents refused to stock the papers and the few who did found themselves abused by their customers. The circulation of these papers has never recovered in the region so both papers are continuously seeking stories that will help them to rebuild their circulation in the Merseyside area. The Echo's "Raving Mad” story seemed ideal, appealing to uninformed but concerned parents and so both papers carried it as their front page story the following day.
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