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MDMA or "Molly" Is Not the Enemy

Yes, the drug has risks -- but it's possible to use it responsibly. And dance culture is about so much more.

This has been a hard week for dance music culture, and the media has identified a culprit: MDMA. The third day of the Electric Zoo festival in New York was  canceled, despite vigilant staff. Six overdoses were reported at  two shows in Boston last week, at two venues known for stringent-to-the-point-of- volatility security checkp oints. Not to mention that Miley Cyrus seems to be the most vocal celebrity  proponent of the drug at the moment.

I don’t expect to be able to write a comprehensive defense here, only to share a few thoughts. And I have two separate arguments that may seem somewhat at odds with each other: first, that MDMA is not essential to enjoying dance culture; and second, that, in spite of that, it’s gotten a worse rap than it deserves. I’m not going to touch on the history of rave culture (such as the  Second Summer of Love in Britain, which also resulted in crackdowns) or the grander economic/political forces at play with the war on drugs in America. Instead, this is a personal defense of dance culture today.

I also want to acknowledge that MDMA use isn’t risk-free behavior; while there are some precautions you can take, like using  testing kits, there’s no way to completely eliminate risk. What I’m arguing isn’t that MDMA use is completely safe, but that for the few extreme situations we see reported, there are millions more people who land in the middle of the spectrum between drug-free and using to excess.

I, personally, have taken MDMA a total of 15 to 20 times in my life.

I was first offered MDMA when I was a sophomore in college. A cool, older friend (it’s always a cool, older friend, right?) invited us to a “rave” in Connecticut. Since even alcohol was pretty new to me then, the idea seemed totally foreign and scary. My preconceived notions of “molly” were terrifying, to say the least, and I declined to attend the rave, since people there would be on drruuuugggsss.


Fast forward about two years. My first dose was wrapped (as part of an elaborate group ritual) in a Fruit Roll-Up™, which I ingested orally on the MBTA. We were headed to a Rusko show at Royale Nightclub in Boston. Definitely not my scene now, but “dance music” was fairly new to me (and a lot of people my age) at the time. I did a lot of  reading and talking about the drug with people beforehand. I watched the  Peter Jennings documentary “Ecstasy Rising” — an extremely objective look, and something I was surprised to see from someone I’d watched on TV all the time with my parents.

Despite my prior research, I was still anxious. I was afraid of losing control, of becoming disconnected from my sense of self. It took about an hour and a half for the drug to kick in, and there was no singular moment of “holy shit, I’m on drruuuugggsss” the way I had expected. It’s impossible for anyone to prepare you for MDMA, and by that I mean you’re probably going to expect something far more extreme than the actual outcome.

The appeal that MDMA has for me is the complete lucidity that it offers, particularly in contrast to alcohol. After that first experience, I felt that my mind-set had permanently shifted (and not in the sense that  proverbial “ice cream scoops” had been shaved from my brain). As someone who’s historically been quite introverted and socially anxious, and particularly reticent about touch (there was a time when hugs from friends, even after heavy drinking, seemed like a massive mental undertaking), I felt like a layer of my personality had been peeled back.

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