March 04, 2015
Native Philadelphian Joseph* calls himself a "drug geek."
Joseph's the guy who's done his research: He can recite the chemical reactions that come with MDMA without having to skim through a textbook, passionately talks about MDMA as a medicine, cringes at the idea of putting untested drugs in his mouth and formerly kept a dosage schedule for his drug use.
His experience with MDMA began in April 2007 at a "burn party" (four warehouse floors of costumes, interactive art, EDM and drugs, he says) in North Philadelphia. He'd already experimented with LSD, mushrooms and synthetic psychedelics and, he says, had recently finished a term paper on the neurotoxicity of MDMA (he studied psychology at the University of Pennsylvania). His student research piqued his interest in understanding how he could use the drug to better understand himself, but with doses low enough -- and infrequent enough -- that he wouldn't suffer long-term damages from the flooding of dopamine and serotonin in the brain that MDMA is known to cause. At the party, he made a friend who invited him to the Nevada Burning Man Festival, where he later caved and tried MDMA for the first time.
From there, he was sold.
He recounts how it felt to take the drug for the first time:
"... I barely noticed I was on drugs the whole time, but I was having such a good time, and it was so easy to make friends. And like, I just felt wide awake in this, awake in this more than 'alertness' way -- I felt like I was more ready to understand what somebody meant when they talked to me than I’ve ever been in my life. And that’s the thing, that’s one of the primary effects, and one of the best reasons to take it. People have an understanding of it being this party drug where you want to dance all the time and feel really great in your body, which is true, but those effects are only at the forefront of the experience if you took so much that you’ve whited out the higher emotional resolution you get when you take it, or if you’re at a a place where the stimulation is so strong that there’s just no other way to react."
While taking the drug, he purchased test kits for his own personal use, but says he was wary of purchasing the kits online out of fear that his purchases would be tracked by law enforcement.
"It's a real concern, because a lot of the concern is, the cop’s mentality is that, ‘If they’re getting a test kit, they’re probably a dealer,’" he says. "The vast majority of users don’t know or care that much. They’re not going to be the ones who pay three times the cost of their individual dose of drug in order to make sure it is what it is; it sounds like a bad investment – it’s not, but it sounds like one."
Hence, he says, why DanceSafe's on-site services come in handy.
Finding MDMA in Philly at all, he says, hasn't been a problem for him, as he's sought the drug from friends -- though he says he's witnessed, at warehouse events, dealers who will "put as much in the hands of people they'll never again see in their life, and then bounce."
"Thing is, the question of how difficult it is to find, it’s a real question that’s going to vary widely depending on social circles," he says. "But It’s always worth the difficulty if you end up with something pure."
After a bad experience in 2011, Joseph stopped using the drug.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks that I was a danger to everyone in my life," he says.
Though he occasionally indulges in MDMA for yearly camping trips, he's since stopped attending rave-scene parties, partly because of the lack of focus on harm reduction and the untrustworthiness of those he encountered -- the sorts of places where, he says, he could find a "shady" crowd and could barely afford a bottle of water.
His hope, he says, is that the drug's perception will shift from recreational to medicinal, as California-based research organization MAPS moves into two Phase II trials for FDA approval that could have the drug legalized for PTSD therapeutic treatment purposes by 2021.
*Indicates a name was changed for the purpose of protecting the subject's identity.