Is ecstasy too good to be true?

"It was fun for a while"

By Salon Staff

Published June 16, 2000 7:29PM (EDT)

The agony after ecstasy BY LIZ O'BRIEN (06/14/00)

I know exactly what Liz O'Brien is talking about. Taking ecstasy was the most amazing, eye-popping, mind-expanding and humanity-embracing experience I have ever had. The first few times. But as you do it again and again ... the results lean towards O'Brien's experience. I'm no doctor, but I discovered that eating those little decorative pills causes your brain to wildly produce serotonin, the chemical that causes happiness. Ecstasy isn't the only drug to fiddle with your brain's serotonin levels. Many legal antidepressant drugs, such as Paxil, are like low-grade ecstasy. The problem lies in the fact that after a serotonin spending spree such as that caused by E, the happiness supply in your brain is dangerously low. Repeat use only compounds the problem. The only thing that can fix it is time, and avoiding ecstasy for a while. And maybe St. John's wort. Personally, I got tired of the inexplicable depression of the morning (and week) after E. It was fun for a while, but I just can't do that to my brain anymore and expect to function reasonably in society.

-- Jesse Buerk

Liz O'Brien's recent article was an eye-opener, I'm sure, for the thousands of people who discovered ecstasy through mainstream media publications like Newsweek. However, the basic premise of the piece -- that the ecstasy high, like the cocaine high, is often followed by varying degrees of discontent or depression -- is not news to anyone who has even partially educated herself on the subject. In spite of O'Brien's claims to the contrary, the Internet is rife with both authoritative and anecdotal information on a staggering variety of controlled substances. I point to and as two significant examples of such Web sites. Dr. Alexander Shulgin's epic work on the phenethylamine family (of which ecstasy, next to mescaline, is the most well-known member) is also readily available on the Internet. While the mainstream media, almost by definition, seems unable or unwilling to seek out accurate information about controlled substances (preferring usually the sound bites from police chiefs and other drug warriors), it seems incumbent upon the Internet media to go "the extra step" (or, in this case, the extra URL) to provide information the mainstream media cannot or will not.

-- David Penn

Wow, what a surprise. There are actually people who CAN'T use drugs (licit or illicit) in moderation. Well, sorry to say, there are just as many of us who can. Many who have indeed been using ecstasy for the nearly 10 years that raves have been happening here in the United States. Many more who had been using it even longer, before MDMA was scheduled as a controlled dangerous substance. And we haven't died, haven't been hospitalized, and, yes, some of us even have yet to wake up on anyone's bed crying our eyes out. Yes, it IS a shame that, for whatever reasons, biological or psychological, people such as O'Brien become addicted to and abuse various substances. But for every weepy, whiny, Wurtzel-wannabe, there's at least another person just like me who recognizes that drugs are only means to an end and not the end itself. Whether because she was naive or willfully ignorant, O'Brien mistakenly believed that a steady diet of pills would somehow permanently transform her into that "ecstatic other" that the drug seems to bring out in a person. Clearly, this was an incorrect assumption. What ecstasy will do is make the user feel incredibly good for a short period of time, and generally allow them to have a few fleeting hours of fun. No more and no less. While it is for obvious reasons that MDMA is called ecstasy, anyone who thinks any drug is a magic bullet for their psyches will inevitably arrive at the same position as O'Brien. All that the rest of us ask is that our leaders not ground national drug policy in these worst-case scenarios. Just as we do not limit the social drinker's intake of alcohol because the alcoholic on the adjacent stool wraps their car around a tree at closing time, it is abject insanity to wage a never-ending, never-victorious war on drugs simply because a small proportion of the population are unable to control their behavior.

-- Christopher Bosley

Salon Staff

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