Strobe lights, dense fog, thumping beats, crowded dance floor… and a whole lot of MDMA. It’s a typical clubbing experience.
Clubs devoted to the class-A drug ecstasy aren’t exactly a new concept. They’ve been around for decades. But this was my first encounter. Everyone was clearly there to get high; the dancers knew it, the DJ knew it, the bouncers knew it.
In some ways it was a bizarre experience. And it was a microcosm of our nonsensical drug laws.
Ecstasy has been illegal since 1985, but it is a relatively harmless drug. There are risks associated with taking large amounts, taking it frequently or mixing it with other drugs, but compared to alcohol or tobacco these risks are low. Former head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor David Nutt, was fired for (truthfully) saying that taking ecstasy is less dangerous than horse riding.
To make the legal status of this drug look even more ridiculous, several scientific studies have suggested that ecstasy could be used to treat conditions such as PTSD and depression. If a drug is scientifically proven to have medical use, it can’t be a schedule-1 drug. It’s only a matter of time, really.
But for now, people who want to use MDMA have to avoid the law. And worse: they have to avoid dodgy dealers. Many ecstasy pills are laced with other, harmful products, and none come with dosage instructions. The pioneering charity “The Loop” is dedicated to providing festival-goers with information about the purity of pills in circulation, aiming to educate and protect people where the government has failed to.
The club I saw the other day is an example of how disastrously our drug laws have failed us. Very few people are put off from using class-A drugs, and a lack of regulation means that they risk taking dangerous adulterants mixed in with their pills, or risk taking very high doses.
On the smoky dance floor, despite the risks, everyone was clearly having a great time. Almost no one was drinking alcohol, and everyone had a water bottle in their hands. The music, which at first seemed dull, started getting better and better. The lights became magical. No one was falling about or starting fights like you might see with alcohol. People were happy, and having fun. It’s a shame that groups of harmless people like this are being failed by our drug laws; they simply aren’t adequately protected from impure or high-dose pills.
The only negativity during the night came from the bouncers. Even though this club clearly relied on ecstasy users to fill their dance floor, they are most likely under obligation to prevent drug use. So the staff were always watching with suspicious eyes. Partiers have learned to distribute their drugs with a subtle touch. Friendly dancers give each other heads-up on the most keen-eyed bouncers.
As the night went on, things started to get more intrusive, as security walked swiftly through the crowd in pairs, grabbing hands and shining torches in palms before people had a chance to react; trying to catch a bag being passed or pills being handled.
It was a crazy dance between bouncers and partiers, between common sense and the law. And it goes to show that ecstasy is here to stay, even with the harshest prohibition.
At the moment, our drug laws are hurting people, not helping them. MDMA is safer than alcohol, to users and families; and that’s in our current climate with no sensible regulation and protection. Responsible use of MDMA must be one of the safest activities around.
Overall, I preferred this night out to a boozy one – no fights, no vomit, no liver damage, no carcinogens. Just a room full of blissfully happy people… and one bored-looking bartender.