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Ecstasy is a "club drug" that affects the users brain. The term club drug refers to a wide variety of drugs often used at all-night dance parties (raves), nightclubs, and concerts. Ecstasy, one of the many club drugs widely abused today, can damage the neurons in your brain. Thus, impairing your senses, memory, judgment, and coordination. Ecstasy has gained popularity primarily due to the false perception that it is not as harmful, nor as addictive, as mainstream drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
During the early 1990s, raves started to migrate to the United States, where electronic music was becoming hot. Ecstasy migrated back along with them. It helped that the drug had good advance press--users billed it as a good, fun high, with no readily apparent downside. Those were Ecstasy's early days, when psychologists were still trumpeting the drug's potential as a therapeutic aid (those trumpets have since faded) and it was mostly discussed as part of the rave culture--a culture which psychologists and cops alike regarded with the bewildered, an-thropological interest of Stanley peering into the Congo for the first time. The ravers wore baggy clothes, they noted, and waved glowsticks, of all things, while dancing energetically for hours. The drug seemed to enhance users' sense of touch, and so members of the opposite sex seemed to touch each other a lot, they observed, and the young ladies tended to dress very provocatively indeed. The shrinks tended to think of Ecstasy as another what's-the-harm, makes-you-feel-better drug like marijuana. The cops were decidedly more skeptical.
Detecting the use of the club drug Ecstasy is difficult for police because the pill is small and easily concealed. Also, it's difficult for undercover detectives to make arrests at raves because dealers can escape through the crowd, authorities said. "It is difficult to penetrate clubs and raves," Lopez said, of efforts by undercover agents. "It is just a younger type of crowd."
The market for Ecstasy has begun to expand from those ravers into a broader user demographic--one that is both older and younger, more racially diverse, and includes people who do their drugs not at big raves but home alone. No longer a niche drug, Ecstasy has begun to attract organized, professional drug gangs. In some cities, the drug is sold on the street alongside crack and heroin, by dealers who thrive on the repeat business afforded by addicts and junkies; since Ecstasy is not itself physically addictive, they've begun cutting it with drugs that are, like methamphetamines. Ecstasy, in other words, is becoming a street drug. "We're seeing the same things with Ecstasy that we did with cocaine in 1979," says Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA. The user group is expanding, prices are declining, and professional gangs are muscling in. If this new trend continues, Ecstasy may no longer be the largely self-contained, relatively low-risk diversion that it has been, but a potential gateway to addiction and violence for millions of young Americans.
But local law agencies have been making progress over the years. In 2000, sheriff's deputies arrested 19 people and closed Club Velvet at the Del Mar Fairgrounds after the club and its patrons were accused of dealing and using Ecstasy. In 2001, nearly 1,000 Ecstasy pills were seized from a car stopped at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint near the San Diego and Riverside county line.
One of the biggest Ecstasy operations occurred in October 2001, when Drug Enforcement Administration officials raided an Escondido lab that was capable of producing 1 million to 1.5 million tablets a month, worth more than $20 million.
According to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, an estimated 8.1 million (3.6 percent) Americans age 12 or older have tried Ecstasy at least once in their lifetimes, up from 6.5 million (2.9 percent) in 2000. The number of past year Ecstasy users in 2001 was approximately 3.2 million (1.4 percent) and the number of current Ecstasy users was estimated to be 786,000 (0.3 percent). Among 18 to 25 year olds, 13.1 percent reported lifetime Ecstasy use.
The use of synthetic drugs has become a popular method of enhancing the club and rave experience, which is characterized by loud, rapid-tempo techno music (140 to 200 beats per minute), light shows, smoke or fog, and pyrotechnics. Users of drugs such as MDMA report that the effects of the drugs heighten the users perceptions, especially the visual stimulation. Quite often, users of MDMA at clubs will dance with light sticks to increase their visual stimulation. Legal substances such as Vicks nasal inhalers and Vicks VapoRub are often used to enhance the effects of the drugs.
Raves originated in England and on the Island of Ibiza (off the coast of Spain) and the culture rapidly spread to the United States, along with techno music. Raves are either legal or illegal, the former run by professional promoters with the requisite permits and licenses, while the latter are amateur operations at unapproved sites (such as warehouses or open fields). Attendance can range from several hundred to many thousands, and admission varies from $10 to over $50 but is sometimes free. Raves often are advertised on the Internet and by word-of-mouth. Advertisements range from simple black-and-white flyers to elaborate artwork designed to portray the freedom and social awareness that these events espouse. Event attendance is heavily determined by the disc jockeys working the shows.
While these events were not originally intended to serve as a nexus for illicit drug sales, the culture surrounding the events has created a favorable environment for illegal drug trafficking. Although raves may have been the traditional venue for drug purchases throughout the early 1990s, more recently these drugs are being purchased at clubs and brought back to college dorms, high school parties, and more rural party venues.