Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jun 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Author: Marc Fisher


Name your generation, and there has always been earnest, righteous
debate among teenagers about the relative merits of various
mind-altering substances. Listening to high school kids argue over
alcohol vs. Ecstasy, I was transported to dorm rooms and bars of 20
years ago, when similar young minds used precisely the same words to
defend their side of the liquor vs. marijuana debate.

If you read the police blotter these days, or if you know a lot of
high school students, you hear ever more about the merits and miseries
of Ecstasy, the club drug that is credited with producing the same
rich understanding of reality that previous generations attributed to
marijuana or LSD. (Or perhaps escape from reality? No way, man.
Couldn't be.) If you have any sense of history, you know that along
with the claims for the drug's miracle powers comes the heartfelt
contention that the drug is as safe as baby powder.

Here, for example, is a senior at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax
on his semi-regular use of Ecstasy. See if his ardor for his newfound
chemical friend sounds familiar: "You feel this intense love for your
fellow man, and the next day, your entire world view has changed. You
see the people you did it with as really special, loving people, and
that bond stays with you."

This young man describes Ecstasy as a destroyer of social barriers and
a creator of mystical human links. His is a fairly typical love song
to MDMA, which the National Institute on Drug Abuse says is the only
recreational drug now soaring in use among high school kids. (Cocaine,
marijuana, heroin and other past fancies have either flattened or lost
popularity lately, the government says.)

It is possible in Washington to attend raves -- all-night dance
parties that sound to the uninitiated like Ford Focus commercials --
nearly every night of the week. At most raves, Ecstasy is easily
available at $ 15 to $ 30 a pill.

But our Woodson student prefers his Ecstasy while sitting around with
friends rather than while dancing at clubs.

The usual pattern of drug advocates and anti-drug enforcers shouting
past one another has just gotten rolling in a big way on Ecstasy. A
group called DanceSafe (, funded largely by Internet
gazillionaires, pooh-poohs the dangers of the drug and helps
teenagers absolve themselves of responsibility by offering to test any
Ecstasy pill for impurities or dangerous ingredients.

DanceSafe contends that "[t]he vast majority of people who use
[Ecstasy] (more so than any other recreational drug) find it pleasant,
highly controllable, and with few unpleasant side effects. By all
indications, if used moderately and responsibly, MDMA seems far less
dangerous than most recreational drugs, especially the two legal
drugs, alcohol and tobacco."

Meanwhile, over at -- a service of the federal drug
abuse agency -- the words "No club drug is benign" are boldfaced and
followed by this grim warning: "Use of club drugs can cause serious
health problems and, in some cases, even death." All this is
accompanied by the requisite image of a sunny and active healthy brain
juxtaposed against a blackened and disintegrating "brain after Ecstasy."

The hot new trend in local police departments is assigning narcotics
officers to wade into the rave scene, where, police say, international
drug rings and homegrown mobsters are strong-arming the groovy kids
who had been the primary sources of Ecstasy.

So we will hear much more about all this, and the Ecstasy trend will
follow the well-worn pattern of other such newfound paths to expanded
consciousness -- the hallelujah phase of discovery, followed by the
mainstreaming, and then the horrified adults and the crackdown and on
and on until the next chemical savior rises.

Meanwhile, our friend at Woodson has set his Ecstasy plan for college
and beyond: "You can't do it every day because you'd have to take more
and more." (But of course it's not habit-forming.) "So I'll just do it
occasionally. At least until I have kids. Once that happens, I'd want
to be sober. But I wouldn't cut it off entirely.

"But I'm not going to switch to alcohol." (Like Mom and Dad. That
would be wrong.) "I'm not a drinker. I just don't like the feeling."

Sound familiar?
- ---
MAP posted-by: Andrew