The agony of Ecstasy
Popular party drug is affecting gay men in more than physical ways
Scott and Andrew met four years ago while both were involved in a Toronto gay sports league. They started dating and ended up in a serious, committed relationship eventually moving in together. Life seemed pretty ideal for the two thirtysomethings until Scott decided to try Ecstasy at a party the couple was attending.
“I told him I would prefer he didn’t do it,” recalls Andrew, “but I knew that if I told him not to do it he would just want to do it more. Ultimately it was his decision to make.”
Scott says he enjoyed his first E high but, his curiosity satisfied, figured it was a one-time experience. Soon, though, it became a part of his social routine and Scott was popping E at least once a week.
Last February Andrew and Scott broke up after repeated battles over Scott’s E use. “We almost never used to fight until E came into our lives,” says Andrew. “Without question, it was E that destroyed our relationship.”
Andrew says Scott was a different person while on E. He partied more, slept more and didn’t want to spend time with him. “It was also hard to trust him because he became very horny and touchy-feely around other guys, sometimes right in front of me,” says Andrew.
The physical effects of Ecstasy, though often disputed, are well publicized. There have been a number of deaths related to the drug’s use and research has suggested it causes chronic depression, memory loss and reduced concentration levels.
Little discussion has taken place, however, about the socio-economic effects of Ecstasy — the drug’s impact on relationships, careers and the personal lives of its users. The happy pills have come between partners and destroyed relationships, created financial and legal woes for regular users and affected the productivity of workers. There are even some suggestions that it has led to unsafe sexual behavior that could drive HIV infection rates up again.
Though E is not chemically addictive, the euphoria it creates is. First-time users want to recreate the sensation or test their limits.
Socializing without E soon becomes virtually unthinkable.
“It’s about loving everybody. Loving the situation you’re in. Everything’s wonderful. You could do anything in the world, you just feel like you’re on top of the world,” says Dave, 22, of the feeling of being on E. “You’re so happy. Very tactile. To have someone brush against you is a very erotic sensation — not necessarily erotic but it’s a wonderful sensation. It feels great. It’s not just the point of contact…. it’s like your entire body has this body rush. That’s what hooked me.”
Dave, a warehouse worker who started using E last September, says he spends an average of $400 a month on the drug. He admits that his habit has negatively affected his finances, his relationship and his apartment. Dave says he’s usually on E Thursday nights through to Monday morning.
“It gets to a point where it’s not so much fun as much as a habit,” he admits. “Every weekend trying to avoid the situation that develops. Your stomach’s in knots so you’re not going to be eating, so you’re not spending money on food. Basically you’re not going out in public all that much because you’re a little bit messy if you’re doing all those chemicals.”
The chemical in Ecstasy, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) was accidentally created by German chemists 88 years ago during development of hydrastinine, a drug intended to work as a blood-vessel constrictor. The drug was patented but not used until the 1950s when it was used by the CIA for mind-control experiments on animals. Therapists caught on to the effects of MDMA and by the 70s it was being prescribed to patients with emotional problems.
MDMA became an illegal substance only after it made its way into the club scene and onto college campuses as a “patty drug.” It is illegal everywhere except the Netherlands. Police figure it is the second most popular recreational drug after marijuana.
Even though E is impacting his life, Dave says he doesn’t want to quit. “I think I definitely want to cut it down, put it in moderation,” he says.
Dave’s partner, Alex, works as a nanny and housekeeper. Now 23, he says he started doing drugs around the age of 16. His drug of choice isn’t E but Special K, the street name for ketamine. Intended as an animal anaesthetic, ketamine produces a relaxed feeling in small doses and a feeling of being separate from one’s body in higher doses. Alex claims he goes through eight or nine vials every weekend but insists it hasn’t affected his job.
Ecstasy makes for bad sexual decisions
But he admits he may have made some risky sexual choices while on Special K. “I’ve gone home with someone and woken up in the morning and regretted it,” he says. “You’re really horny. You’re aware of your surrounding but you’re not.. Anything on two legs looks good to you, especially in a club where it’s really hot and everybody’s sweaty. You just see bodies everywhere.”
“I worry about Scott a lot,” says Andrew of his ex-partner. “He’s not the same person I met and fell in love with. I know he’s going into debt because of his habit and I know it’s affecting his health.”
Andrew says he’s tired of watching the gay community glamorize Ecstasy use. “Our neighborhood is changing for the worse because the dealers are moving in to meet the demand,” he says. “Our friends and lovers are hurting themselves and each other. We’re spending all our money, losing our homes, risking our jobs… and for what?”