The rave-death scare

In Canada, Allen Ho swallowed pills at an all-night rave and died. On July 22, 17-year-old Alison Davis swallowed a pill at a family gathering in Ireland and died before morning. Reports of Ecstasy deaths and date rapes have created political panic, anti-rave laws have been drafted, and law-makers are scribbling up new ways to crush the rave culture.
Shortly after Alison Davis’ death, John Whyte of Ireland’s heavily prohibitionist “National Parent’s Council” told the Irish Times, “You can’t have raves without Ecstasy. About 90% of parents don’t realize that.” Some ravers would like to deny this truth, which even the cops know ? that these all night parties require two ingredients: good music and plenty of “E”.

Good Ecstasy

Harm reduction experts at Dancesafe ? an organization that distributes Ecstacy test-kits ? have conducted investigations and found that Ecstacy (MDMA) is not responsible for so-called “rave deaths”. The culprits are a few fake pills cut with potentially poisonous substances. According to Dancesafe, Ecstasy might be cut with anything from aspirin to cocaine, from PCP to caffeine. One Ecstasy substitute, paramethoxy-amphetamine (PMA), was recently implicated in three raver deaths in Chicago.

“Dextrothorphan [an ingredient in cough syrops]has been responsible for most of the medical emergencies we have dealt with at raves,” said Emanuel Sferios, founder and executive director of Dancesafe. “It is the most common fake Ecstacy drug, and inhibits sweating, thus more easily leading to heatstroke. It is true that Ecstacy can [also]contribute to heatstroke, but we don’t see heatstroke with people who take Ecstacy at home, on their couch. It seems more a problem with raving.”

Anti-ravers dig deep to find problems with the love drug ? deep into the brain of an Ecstasy user who died while raving in Canada. His warm body was delivered directly to a dissection table where his brain was sliced and diced, looking for damage that might be blamed on Ecstasy.

What head-dissector Dr Kish found was depleted levels of seratonin, a biochemical that moderates sleep and mood. His findings, published in the July issue of Neurology, were seized upon by the media as evidence of MDMA’s neurotoxicity.

Dr Rick Doblin, a PhD in public policy, is the foun-der and president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and a foremost expert on Ecstasy ? one of the few legitimate researchers to openly experiment with MDMA under FDA approval.

“The guy whose brain they dissected took Ecstasy two or three times a week for years, and he had less seratonin,” Doblin told Cannabis Culture. “This does not mean MDMA is toxic. It was probably a short term affect. Jim O’Callaghan, a Neurotoxicology expert for the Centre for Disease Control, has a measure by which he can determine whether or not there is damage to the cells of the brain. A neurochemical called ‘astrogliosis’ is around whenever there is neurotoxicity? it is a kind of clean-up crew for the brain. And there isn’t any of this in the brains of MDMA users. It is like water and a pipe. If there is less water, it doesn’t mean that the pipe isn’t there. If there is less Serotonin, it doesn’t mean that the cells are damaged.”

Ecstasy users report no more than temporary depression after using MDMA, indicating no long-term functional impairment. Sferios of Dancesafe recommends dietary supplements.

“There is one amino acid that people should know about, because it can be successful in reducing post-e depression related to the depletion of seratonin,” recommended Sferios. “5-HTP, a direct precursor of seratonin, is available in most health food stores and will help the body to replace seratonin depleted from Ecstasy. But we caution users not to use 5-HTP as a substitute for moderation.”

Religious experience

What bizarre force draws the turgid masses to gyrate and sweat to orgiastic beats while peeling back their daily mind-set with love drugs?

“If you look at what it most resembles, it is a ritual,” said Doblin, explaining the allure of raves. “They are listening to music, taking drugs, hearkening back to thousands and thousands of years of tradition. The only difference is that we have electronics and MDMA, where traditional peoples had peyote, drums, musical instruments, and singing. We have taken what culture and technology have given us, but we are still putting it to a spiritual purpose that creates balance and wholeness and healing.”

Some raves are conducted with spiritual experience as their primary focus. Shortly after the rave scene first blossomed in Vancouver, BC in the early 90’s, the group Mind/Body/Love held a rave in an Anglican church. Those who attended the event took psychedelics and walked a labyrinthian pattern on the church’s floor, while meditating on spiritual growth.

In August of this year, Colleen Riley and her husband, Matt Porter, organized a weekend rave of dancing, yoga and drawing workshops in Indianapolis. When the police stormed in, making about 130 Ecstasy, marijuana, and amphetamine related arrests, their guns and badges created a stark, metallic contrast to the peaced-out love-vibe of grass, Ecstasy and consciousness.

If raves are spiritual experience, then prohibition and arrests are religious oppression. Put another way, they are attempts to limit our freedom to experience certain cognitive states, to roam the hills and mountains of our spirits and minds. If cognitive freedoms were a right, guaranteed by the constitution, there would never have been a prohibition against either marijuana or Ecstasy. Groups like Alchemind have formed to defend and promote these rights.

“We seek to foster cognitive liberty;” Alchemind promoters say on their web site, “the right of each individual to think independently, to use the full spectrum of his or her mind, and to engage in multiple modes of thought and alternative states of consciousness.”

Prohibitionist madness

Last June 15, fun assassins frothed at th mouths about raves at the US Congress’ Subcommittee on Crime’s oversight hearing on “The Threat Posed by the Illegal Importation, Trafficking and use of Ecstasy and other ‘Club’ Drugs”.

The Ecstasy “date-rape” scare recurred throughout the conference, mostly by association with a mixed bag of chemicals that included GHB, Ketamine and Rohypnol, which can cause various states of unconsciousness in inappropriate dosages or if mixed with alcohol. Legislators refer to this grab bag of substances as “club drugs.”

New Jersey Investigator Andrea Craparotta took the podium to relate her sordid tale of how young adults would “take Ecstasy and begin gyrating oddly with the pulsating ‘Techno’ music,” while ripping off their shirts and bras. Other objections to Ecstasy included Psychiatrist and Columbia University Professor David McDowell’s hilarious statements that “it has no antidote,” and causes “an intense desire to defecate, known as a ‘disco dump.'”

The main focus and reason for the committee hearing, however, was rave-death hysteria. In Canada, the death of Allen Ho, a 20-year-old raver on pills who collapsed at a party in an underground garage last October 9, sparked a similar conference, the “Allen Ho Inquiry”, held last May.

Professor Phillip Jenkins, a distinguished professor of History and Religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, attended both the US and Canadian rave hearings, and provided a refreshing voice of reason. “The current wave of concern [about Ecstacy use]which seems to peaking right now, looks like becoming a classic moral panic, based on exaggerated fears and misused evidence,” Jenkins exhorted. “Panics might be exploited by bureaucratic agencies who stand to gain new resources on the strength of public fears.”

Rave-death hysteria

The rave-death scare reached a peak during the summer of ’99, after James McDonough, Florida’s Drug Czar, announced that there had been 254 club-drug related deaths in his state alone. When Orlando Sentinel reporters investigated McDonough’s claim, they found that over half of the deaths should have been immediately disregarded. Included among the so-called “rave deaths” were a 6-month-old who died of sudden infant death syndrome, an 82-year-old woman that died after being hit by a car and a host of similar fatalities.

The fear generated by a fake scourge of drug deaths propelled policy makers across North America into fits of law-making. In Toronto, an 8,100-person rave at Exhibition Place led to 24 arrests, and combined with false reports of a wave of Ecstasy deaths in the US, the city banned raves outright, and only reinstated them after hearing Professor Jenkins’ testimony.

In New Jersey, reports of rave deaths prompted law makers to introduce a mandatory 20-year sentence for Ecstasy dealers, after which 23-year-old university student Kenneth Gregorio, arrested last July with 49,000 love-pills, hung himself with his shoelaces in jail. Last April, in New Jersey, 18-year-old Rob Pace jumped in front of a train after being arrested for Ecstasy possession during a high-school trip. Grim reminders that prohibition is always more harmful than that which it pretends to protect us from.

Other countries are jumping on the prohibitionist bandwagon. Among them, Malaysia leads the rabid pack in harmful and repressive policies. The Malaysian media reports that Ecstasy causes “early death”, brain damage in small doses, and lack of work ethic, while Malaysian police smash into clubs, round up patrons, and drug test them, sending dozens to jail after every major raid.

Contact local politicians, write letters to the editors of local papers and take a stand for cognitive freedoms, or you might wake up one day to find that love itself has been made illegal.

? Dancesafe: PO Box 12462, Berkeley, CA, 94712, USA; tel (510) 834-4654; email [email protected] (for general inquiries) or [email protected] (for e-testing kits); website
? Alchemind: PO Box 73481, Davis, CA 95617-3481, USA; tel 1 (888) 950-6463; email [email protected]; website
? Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies: MAPS Inc, 2105 Robinson Ave, Sarasota, FL, 34232, USA; tel (941) 924-6277; fax (941) 924-6265; email [email protected]; website