“Our deepest wounds are self inflicted”
No sooner the beat drops, a motley crowd of 200-300 youngsters carrying small water bottles in their hands lose control to the reverberating mixing of music by the Disc Jockey (DJ). The pulsating waves of the music (techno, trance, jungle, ambient and house) infuse demonic energy in the audience; one gets dumbfounded by the swiftness and stamina of these dancers. Inquisitiveness and contemplation leads one to think that who has fostered delusion in their minds to dance non-stop for hours like maniacs? How they are able to sync seamlessly with the beat, which an ordinary dancer would find too fast. Answer to afore-stated queries can be found in a song of American Hip Hop Group, Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony “I feel so zigidyzigidyzigidy, ’cause I’m floating in ecstasy”. Yes, all these zombies have been popping Ecstasy.
Since long many people in Pakistan are addicted to cocaine, heroin and hash, however, over the last few years, many have become chemically dependent i.e. they have become addicted to a synthetic drug, popularly known as Ecstasy. Being banned in most countries, ecstasy comes in the form of a tablet (of different colours) under brand names such as Orange Owl, Dutch Lion, Breaking Bad, Rock n Roll, Euro, Nintendo, Love Doves, Mad Bastards, Lightning Bolts, Yellow 007, Pink Pistols, Harley Davidson and Red Ferrari. The drug is high-priced as one pill costs around Rs2500-3000, primarily used in raves (night parties) by young people (aged 16 to 26) hailing from prosperous families.
Ecstasy or MDMA (3, 4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) is a psychoactive drug, it functions in the same way as amphetamines and hallucinogens. The drug was introduced in the early 19th century by Merck (German pharmaceutical company), over the time, it went through different experiments, however, in 1985, its use and sale was banned by U.S.A Drug Enforcement Administration on the pretext that its consumption causes brain damage. At present, it is characterised as a ‘Schedule 1 Controlled Substance’ in USA, signifying that the drug has high potential for abuse, has no medical benefit and suffers from deficient safety standards.
Any drug that contains the active ingredient MDMA is identified as Ecstasy, however, it needs to be noted that every ecstasy pill may contain a different amount of MDMA; it is the most adulterated drug in the market as it is often supplemented with additives like Dextromethorphan (cough suppressant), Ketamine (anaesthetic), Ephedrine (stimulant), LSD (acid), Methamphetamine, Caffeine, Cocaine and Heroin, consequently making it exceedingly unpredictable and dangerous.
Its users and advocates propound that consumption of the pill produces profound feeling of comfort, enjoyment, euphoria, emotional warmth, mental stimulation, confidence, empathy and connection to others. As they claim, it allows the user to effortlessly communicate with and boldly dance among people by neutralising the effects of shyness and vacillation. These highly praised after-shocks of ecstasy popping are not for free, the opportunity cost is tremendously high as the problems associated with ecstasy use are colossal. Some disturbing truths about ecstasy consumption are:
Firstly, the chemical compound MDMA in The Handbook of Clinical Psychiatry by Kaplan and Sadock is described as “extremely addictive and dangerous“.
Secondly, the physiological side effects of ecstasy include joint pains, muscle cramps, stomach disorder, loss of appetite, insomnia, fatigue, nausea, dryness of mouth/ throat, tightening of the jaw, clenching of teeth, palpitations, sweating, flashbacks, renal failure, liver damage, cardiovascular problems such as, increased heart beat rate, heart attacks and hypertension or hypotension.
Thirdly, according to psychologists, ecstasy use can result in irritability, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, schizophrenia and suicidal tendencies. Persons addicted to ecstasy are more likely to get involved in reckless or unlawful activities to reach to limitless ecstasies with no care for imminent implications. Psychiatrists also aver that extended use of ecstasy pills incapacitates the immune system of the body and lowers judgment, thus leaving the user at the mercy of exploiters and market predators.
Fourthly, neurologists argue that ecstasy abuse can cause neurotoxicity i.e. it can result in impaired brain structure thus leading to loss of brain functioning. Another cognitive impairment which may arise is Serotonin Syndrome, a disease whereby the drug attaches itself to cells, which respond to messages carried by serotonin in the brain, thus destroying them and upsetting their functioning. Other possible effects are bleeding in brain, distorted image perception and memory loss.
Lastly, increased level of physical activity (dancing non-stop for hours) with low water intake or high water intake can result in dehydration, hyperthermia or hyponatremia thereby seriously enhancing the chances of death by heart attack, myocardial infarction, coma or heat stroke. Much publicised case of British teenager Leah Betts, who after taking MDMA drank 7 litres of water in 90 minutes, went into coma and later died is a grim reminder to testify the effects of taking ecstasy.
Ecstasy is getting increasingly popular in Pakistan’s urban settings despite its established lethal consequences. Neurologists explain that when ecstasy is swallowed, the reward centre of the brain stimulates the release of dopamine which leads to increased levels of ‘DeltaFosB’ resulting in addiction. Social reasons such as shrinking public spaces for recreation and healthy interaction can also be attributed behind its increasing use. Till late seventies, Pakistan was fairly a liberal country where art, cinema, horse and cattle shows, etc. flourished but the successive governments ‘s policies and menace of terrorism closed all such avenues of entertainment. Under such suppressed circumstances, juveniles find raves forcefully tempting. The psychological reasons could be boredom, depression, curiosity and peer pressure. Observed facts tell that most vulnerable are wealthy kids from broken families, wanting to escape from the cruel realities thrown by the unresponsive families; they find salvation and solace in the feelings generated by the drug.
A little research helped me in concluding that small quantities of pills are smuggled into Pakistan from foreign lands but majority are manufactured locally. Quest for lower cost of production and higher profits have steered suppliers towards indigenous production of pills. The unregulated nature of this business coupled with local manufacturing is a highly dangerous trend as no one has the slightest of idea about what type of chemicals are being used as additives. Since, the drug is manufactured with unknown quality controls and expertise, there is a high probability that the additives are deadly.
It seems that either the police has miserably failed to gauge the dangers of ecstasy trade or is working in connivance with the suppliers; the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) also seems clueless and has not made any considerable progress in quelling this rising tide of ecstasy culture. It’s understandable that it is not easy to break into the ecstasy supply chain or plan a crackdown, as the ecstasy users are not like street addicts; they are attractive and well-dressed young people from the privileged classes, the sales depend on a strictly world-of-mouth communication, raves are never promoted openly as covert whatsapp groups ensure that only those who are invited can attend. However, such excuses by no stretch of imagination absolve the law enforcement agencies from their duty to bring to justice these merchants of death and curb the menace they have created.
Ecstasy pills are running tumours; they have corrupted minds, infected relations, spoiled lives and ruined families of the addicts. Do not fall for peer pressure; those who say“it is a safe drug” are ruthless liars and agents of your demolition. Many will taunt you and say that you don’t pop ecstasy because you are either a coward or less privileged, don’t fall for such preposterous arguments as the corrupt will always try to make you corrupt. Irrational choices in life can cause irreparable losses and leave us at the point of no return, an American psychologist rightly theorised that “Our deepest wounds are self-inflicted and ugliest scars are often invisible when it comes to addiction”.