ECSTASY: From the underground to the mainstream

Lethal party drug is underestimated by new demographic of users.

Ecstasy gained popularity as a sensory-enhancing drug used at raves

Despite efforts by authorities over recent years to protect the public from ecstasy pushers, the scene has quietly edged sideways and carried on.

Scouring a teen’s room for baby pacifiers, stuffed animals and glowing gloves will no longer yield the classic hallmarks of an E user.

If you knew that those accessories are commonly associated with raves, and you already knew that a rave is a late-night dance party set to electronic music, then you might also know that ecstasy is the reason the sensory toys are popular.

Not the only reason – there are ravers who don’t use drugs – but a large part of the desire to neon, glow-stick, and costume yourself to dance for long hours is fuelled by euphoria-inducing pills.

The context has moved, however, out of sweaty warehouse dance parties and 30-somethings’ feel-good weekends, into the back seats of N-adorned cars and teenage get-togethers.

The rave scene reached Canada around 1991. Historically, the risks associated with using ecstasy, or MDMA, were due to the hot, prolonged environment of the dance floors. Hours of physical activity combined with a lack of water was a recipe for overheating, seizures and organ failure.

People died, yet the party continued because ecstasy lacked the bad, back-alley reputation of crack or heroin. The brightly coloured pills, stamped with cartoon faces or cute logos, seem far removed from the dangers of hard drug use.

Intimate house parties and weeknight concerts are the new backdrop to popping pills, and as the scene dilutes, the dangers mount.

In a 2009 report on the illicit drug situation, the RCMP acknowledged that by 2005 Canada was one of the primary source countries for the world’s supply of ecstasy and that MDMA continued to be the most sought after and widely available controlled synthetic drug.

An amendment to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in 2011 made it illegal to possess the precursor chemicals.

The potential consequence was that traditional components of ecstasy became hard to come by in B.C., and a less expensive but lethal compound, PMMA, was introduced.

PMMA, also an amphetamine, is five times more toxic than MDMA. It is now often used to make a drug similar in appearance, and sold as, ecstasy.

Eight deaths in Calgary and five in B.C. since July 2011 have now been confirmed as caused by PMMA.

B.C. saw 16 ecstasy-related deaths in 2011 and two more so far in 2012.

The fatalities range from age 14 to 37.

Since November of last year, Abbotsford has had two young people die and a 24-year-old woman was in critical condition for weeks after consuming ecstasy.

Tyler Miller, 20, and Cheryl McCormack, 17, died late last year.

Depression, cracked teeth (from jaw-clenching), dehydration and high body temperatures don’t sound quite as scary as brain and organ damage and death, so those warnings need to be repeated.

Ecstasy is anecdotally expected to be reliable. The curious are told by friends to simply anticipate a great night of “rolling,” possibly augmented by additional pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Mark Yarema, medical director of the Poison and Drug Information Service, stresses that should the pills contain PMMA, the blissful effects are slower to kick in and it becomes tempting to take more, resulting in over-heating and seizures.

Due to various innovations in the drug-cooking world, “pingers” can be laced with highly toxic substances which are impossible to detect before ingesting.

With your ecstasy purchase, if it is actually ecstasy, it’s likely you’re getting crystal meth, cocaine, OxyContin, ketamine, GHB (a date-rape drug), and other wild-card ingredients the chemist was inspired to throw in.

MDMA is not safe either, having been found in all 18 B.C. fatalities.

While the authorities go after the people who produce the drugs, it only takes a two-letter word to stop their use – No.

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