Rave Review

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I ask him how the hell he knows that. He says there's a lab downtown that will test any substance anonymously. "You don't get your sample back, but you get peace of mind that you're selling people pure stuff."

What a guy.
Pez is still rapping, but I've phased him out because something strange is going on at the base of my spine. A hot, tiny ball of tingle just came to life and is rapidly expanding. I check my watch: ten to 1. "Right on time," I say out loud, then wonder if I really did. Pez stops midsentence.

"Have you arrived?" he asks.
"I don't know," I say. "I feel something in my back."
I reach around to touch the affected area through my silk shirt and marvel at how perfectly smooth the fabric is. Wait, I think, was that a normal thought?

A moment later, the ball bursts, releasing a warm, fuzzy liquid sensation that rockets up my spine and floods my torso, then shoots into my brain, arms and legs, coursing through all of my blood vessels at once, to the very tips of my fingers and toes, until all of my inside is coated with feel-good. When the transformation is over, I realize I've been describing each stage to Pez as it occurred.

I feel like my everyday, introverted self is floating outside my body, shocked at how talkative I've suddenly become. I can't tell if the positive--confidence, energy, honesty--has been accentuated, or if the negative--fear, anxiety, my public facade--has simply been edited out.

MDMA was invented by a German pharmaceutical company in 1912 as an appetite suppressant, then virtually disappeared until free-love enthusiasts in the United States rediscovered the compound in the '70s and gave it the street name "Ecstacy."

The drug induces the brain to release high amounts of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine--serotonin signals carry messages of love and empathy, while dopamine suppresses pain. The end result is a sort of psychedelic/amphetamine/opiate combination platter.

There is no evidence that MDMA is physically addictive, and when it was legal, many psychiatrists in the U.S. used it in therapy as a libido enhancer, an antidepressant and an empathogen--a chemical hammer to shatter the barriers of communication. MDMA has also shown promise asa treatment for Alzheimer's disease and alcoholism, and is commonly used by marriage counselors in Switzerland and the Netherlands, where it is still legal.

By the early '80s, Ecstacy was popular oncollege campuses across the country, and in 1985 it was banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration and designated a Schedule I drug--one with a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical purpose.

Studies on the long-term effects of MDMA indicate that, while occasional use poses no serious danger, heavy recreational use--three or four doses a week for several months, or a massive single dose of ten or more hits--strips serotonin cells of their axons, projections that make contact with cells elsewhere in the brain. Since serotonin helps regulate moods, effects of the axon loss can include episodes of severe depression.

There have been 76 "Ecstacy-related" deaths reported in the United States and Great Britain since 1980. (British law enforcement agencies estimate that 50 million hits of MDMA were consumed in the United Kingdom last year.) Seventeen of the fatalities were people who thought they were buying MDMA, but, in fact, got anything from animal tranquilizers to botched variations on the compound that can cause heart attacks and brain seizures. Several others died in car wrecks while tripping on E, and one climbed an electrical pole and grabbed a live wire.

By far the leading cause of "Ecstacy-related" death, however, is heat exhaustion--ravers forget to drink water while they're on the drug and, quite literally, dance themselves to death.

Which reminds me--water is vastly underrated, and I should drink a lot of it right now. It takes me five minutes to travel 30 feet to the fluids booth. How could it not, with so many fascinating people to talk to? Thirty minutes ago, I was an ill-at-ease rave wallflower. Now, I'd be the coolest person on the face of the Earth except for one thing: Everyone else seems just as cool as I am.

I'm not sure if the people I talk to are on E, but if they're not, they don't seem to mind my jabbering. One young woman is definitely flying on my tangent--I tell her I like the embroidered star on her shirt, and she looks at me wide-eyed for a second, then reaches her arms up around my neck.

"You are so beautiful," she says. When she turns to the woman next to her and does the same thing, I don't mind a bit.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse