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Ecstasy - Friend Or Foe?

Mal Fletcher
Added 30 October 2000
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Ecstasy: is it just a culturally hip drug to help you get the most out of club life? Or is it something more dangerous?

Ecstasy is a designer drug that's become, over the last few years, a central part of the rave and dance club culture in many Western nations. Most of the people who use it are between the ages of 16 and 24 years.

What they're looking for is an escapist drug that's accepted by their friends and will help them get the biggest buzz from their dance experience. But what is ecstasy and where it did come from?

Ecstasy is really a street-level, "user-friendly" name for a synthetic substance called dioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA for short. MDMA is a cocktail of different chemicals developed in a lab. Chemically, it is similar to mescaline and amphetamine. It gives users a cocaine-like rush with feelings of euphoria and hallucinogenic experiences. Some people have called it the LSD of this generation.

Is Ecstasy Dangerous?

Ecstasy is often called a designer drug. That's got nothing to do with it's being "cool" among some of the rave set. It's because ecstasy is manufactured by man, and because it's basic design is often altered to include substances other than the basic MDMA. Experts are surprised by how quickly ecstasy has spread as a recreational drug and scientists themselves admit they don't yet know its full side-effects. Yet early studies have shown some worrying signs.

Scientists do know that MDMA is especially dangerous where it's combined with vigorous exercise -- like dancing -- without frequent rest breaks or fresh air. Of course, that's exactly the kind of atmosphere you find in most rave clubs. People dance in stale air for hours at a time, drawing unusual energy from the drug. In settings like that, MDMA can cause drastic overheating and dehydration.

Because users don't feel pain while they're high, they're not aware that the drug is drying them up. Thirst, exhaustion and attacks of dizziness are all common complaints associated with ecstasy. It can also lead to heart and circulation problems, shocks and cramps. It's especially dangerous for people with any kind of heart or circulation illness, asthma and diabetes.

A Mental Health Threat

Ecstasy poses dangers to your mental health too. Studies have shown that MDMA users score worse on most cognitive and memory tests than non-users. Many people who've used the drug admit that it often causes people to behave like "animals", and unstable users of ecstasy can suffer from depression or even psychosis, and some can even experience suicidal tendencies.

Studies also show that ecstasy users feel more depressed, bad tempered and unsociable than non-users -- for up to two days after taking the drug. So, the effects don't end on the dance floor. Users say that when they first take the drug they feel high and happy, but they also feel melancholy and, after about five hours, that feeling develops into depression. Studies also suggest that ecstasy may be linked with child birth defects when the drug is used early in a pregnancy.

Of all the dangers associated with ecstasy, by far the worst is that so many other chemicals are now being sold under that one name. In Europe, experts say that as much as 50 to 75 percent of the ecstasy sold in clubs is actually other drugs -- drugs like PCP, amphetamine and methamphetamine. Amphetamines are often prescription drugs, but used outside of proper boundaries they are extremely dangerous.

One particularly dangerous drug that's often sold as ecstasy is called DOP. It's a powerful hallucinogenic that drastically screws up a person's perception for up to 24 hours. People who take DOP, get the short-lived high of MDMA, but find that it's followed by a frightening, psychotic episode. Drugs like DOP are beginning to flood the ecstasy market. Drug dealers have no scruples when it comes to their trade -- they're only real interest is their profit margin.

The Cost To Society

It's a fact: ecstasy threatens the mental, emotional and physical health of people who use it; but drugs like ecstasy can also place a heavy load on families and on society as a whole. Drugs always lead to a drop in worker productivity and a rise in problems like child abuse. Users find it hard to control their emotions and families often break up because of their violent mood swings and depression. AS health problems rise so do the costs of providing welfare -- and that's a price everyone must bear.

When drug use increases, so does the number of drug-related accidents, which often involve innocent people. And studies have shown that wherever drug is on the rise, prostitution is not far behind. Desperate people will do desperate things to support a growing habit. Drugs also bring other forms of crime into a community, because the drug market is linked with wider crime networks. In the USA, for example, drugs have brought with them gang wars, murders and much more. How do you count the cost of all this on human life?

In any drug culture, it's always the young who suffer first and most. Those who make the big money from selling drugs are not the normal street, school or rave peddlers. They're the 40-something businessmen who do behind-the-scenes deals on their mobile phones and leave their younger runners take all the real risks. These faceless people trade in human pain; for them, the misery of others is just another business opportunity.

Our Responses To The Ecstasy Problem

So, how should we respond to the ecstasy issue? Some people see any drug issue, throw up their hands and say, "let's just legalise the whole thing" -- as if that would solve all the problems. Now, that might sound very liberal-minded, but it would not reduce drug use -- or the social costs associated with drugs. Some countries that have tried legalising drugs, have actually seen an increase in drug use. Many drugs are "gateway drugs" -- people start with them before moving on to other even more harmful chemicals.

Social costs, like the cost of drug enforcement, would not come down either. California decriminalised he use of marijuana, but within six months found that arrests for driving under the influence of drugs rose by 46 percent for adults and 71 percent for children.

And legalising ecstasy wouldn't remove the profit from the drug business. If governments set the price of drugs, criminals would simply undercut them and supply whatever or wherever the government couldn't. What's more, organised drug bosses wouldn't just sit by and watch governments take over their turf -- they'd start looking for other, perhaps even more dangerous substances to sell. The cycle would grow.

Keeping drugs illegal means that, at the very least, we do have sanctions in place. Some people do think twice before getting involved with dangerous drugs, just because they know there are legal consequences.

Of course, our responsibility is to make sure that sanctions aren't just about punishing people -- but offering them the chance to rehabilitate, to change their future. Putting people in prison -- especially some of the prisons I've seen -- will never be the major way forward. We need counselling and other compassionate services that offer hope for the future.

Just about every recreational drug people have thought was harmless is now known to be dangerous -- even cigarettes. The same flower power 60s generation who preached the benefits of heroin and LSD now condemns those same drugs because of the pain they've brought. A generation changed its mind -- but it was too late for millions of people whose lives were destroyed by a lie!

What The Bible Says

Ecstasy is a modern invention, but the ancient and God-given wisdom of the Bible has a lot to say about drugs in general and about how we can overcome the need for them.

Drugs were an integral part of many ancient societies like those of Bible times and lands. Many pagan nations used drugs prepared by shamans and witch doctors as part of the religious ceremonies. The use of hallucinogenic drugs was so much a part of pagan worship that the New Testament word translated as "sorcery" is the Greek word from which we get pharmacy and pharmaceutical.

To protect the nation of Israel, the people through whom he had promised to bring the Messiah -- the Saviour -- God warned the people against getting involved with sorcery, or witchcraft, and with the drug culture that went with it.

In the pagan nations of Bible times, drugs were used to induce an altered state of consciousness. They opened up the user's mind to the activity of demonic or evil forces. People today might take drugs for recreational purposes, but the mystical and occult connection is still there.

During the 1960s, the self-styled drugs guru Timothy Leary preached a lot about the "religious" and "mystical" knowledge he said he received through LSD -- a drug very similar to ecstasy. He claimed it led him closer to spiritual truth. In the Bible book of Galatians, though, the Christian apostle Paul tells us that one of the acts of our sinful nature, a soul that isn't right with God, is witchcraft associated with drugs (Galatians 5:19-21, using that word "sorcery" -- see above). In other words, when we use drugs to open ourselves to mind-bending experiences, we're showing not how close we are to God, but how far from him!

The Bible is against the abuse of drugs because it is for the drug user. It points us toward what we're really looking for when we experiment with drugs like ecstasy.

It shows us how to have a deep spiritual experience without the dangers of drugs. We were created for fellowship with God. However, not all areas of the supernatural are good for us. Jesus said, "The thief (Satan) comes only to rob, kill and destroy; but I came that you might have life and have it to the full." Satan uses drugs to offer a fake spiritual high, to lead us further away from what we're really hungry for -- an experience with the love of God.

Jesus also said, "I am the way, the truth, and a life: no one comes to the Father but by me." No chemical can ever bring you into intimate relationship with God. In one place, the Bible says we should "not be drunk with wine…but filled with the Spirit". Chemical substances can only offer us a poor imitation of what God's Spirit can give us -- confidence, peace, warmth and joy. Drugs offer us what is really only a counterfeit spiritual experience. Like any counterfeit, it's empty and even dangerous in the end.

Conclusion

With all the experience our society has had with drugs over the past 40 years, we should have learned one thing: there's an emotional as well as physical danger in drug abuse. When we get into the habit of using drugs to escape negative feelings or experiences, we get to the point where we can't manage our own lives. The drug stops being a servant and starts to become our master -- and we hand over control of our will to outside forces.

The true measure of maturity is that we're able to discipline our own bodies -- to take responsibility for our lives and refuse to allow any outside force to control us. Victor Frankl, who survived the Nazi prison camps, said that self-control is the greatest of all freedoms. The Bible shows us how we can, with God's help, control our own bodies and thoughts. God has no desire to control us -- he gave us a will, the ability to make choices. He wants to help us learn self-control so that we're never manipulated by outside forces, like drugs; so that we're always open to what he has to show us and make us.

Jesus said, "I came that you might have life to the full." When your life is full, you don't need ecstasy to take you away somewhere.

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