THE FIRST TIME Max tried MDMA he was 17. He was in an empty house, with a bunch of other teenagers and a bag containing around 50 MDMA pills. This was their recipe for fun and when the pills started kicking in they all started dancing around in a pitch-black room with strobe light flashing to the pumping sound of electronic music. Max was living in the moment, forgetting all about his worries, commitments and exams. Later they would sit and chat, smoke cigarettes, listen to music, relax, feeling warm, happy, with butterflies in his stomach.
The now 22 year-old Max belongs to the upper middle class in Brisbane. He takes drugs on weekends after big exams and when he goes to electronic music festivals. According to Max there is a drug culture among his age group.
“Obviously I like to do marijuana. I like to take MDMA or ecstasy on special occasions, if I’m having a big night out or if I go to a festival. At festivals in Australia, drugs are definitely a big thing. A lot of people do drugs there.”
Partying with Emma
MDMA — also known as ‘Emma’, ‘Mandy’ or ‘Molly’ — is a synthetic drug that has the ability to induce euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others, diminished anxiety and sometimes has minor hallucinogenic effects. The main effect is due to the drug’s blockage of serotonin re-uptake in the brain. This causes the brain to be over-whelmed with serotonin a hormone, which simply makes you happy and euphoric. The drug is illegal in most countries, with some limited exceptions for therapeutic use. It typically comes in crystal form as capsules or pills.
“One pill – two if we’re feeling daring”
On a typical “drug” night, Max and his friends will pre-drink and then take some pills and capsules before they head to Brisbane’s going-out-area Fortitude Valley.
“We’ll take one pill – two if we’re feeling daring and then we’ll go to the valley. On good MDMA you feel euphoric and care free. The night just goes upwards. I get happy, jumpy and chatty, which I like way better than when I’m drunk – then I feel down, tired and droopy.
Max’s reasons for doing drugs, might be surprising to some. Doing drugs is a cheaper solution for him, and it lets him save the memories of the night out.
“I find it’s cheaper to do drugs than to drink. If I go a bar and buy drinks all night, the places I go cost 10 AUD for a drink (around 6.8 euros) – and I have a better time on a pill.”
“Also, I don’t like getting ridiculously drunk to the point where I don’t remember things. With drugs, I can wake up and remember everything. And when it comes down to it, memories are all you really have from a big night out. If you can’t even remember it, then why even bother doing it in the first place.”
A change in the typical drug user
As the Global Drug Survey and the National Drug Survey suggests, it is not the stereotypical junkie on the street that is the most typical drug user in Australia. As the Brisbane Times wrote in an article last year, there has been a demographic change in drug-users in Queensland and in Australia in general. It means that the drug dealers rely mostly on wealthy, functional and educated individuals who use drugs for amusement, stress relief or a good time.
This corresponds to the picture Max paints of the people he does drugs with.
“The general drug culture among my age group is mixed. A lot of people don’t do drugs and even though they’re not openly against it, they disapprove of it. And then there is the other part of the University students who like to party a bit more. I don’t think the majority does drugs, but it’s definitely a big group.
“Within my group of friends it’s completely socially acceptable. At least if you have your stuff together and just do it to have a good time”
The day after
Max tries not to think too much about side-effects and possible long term damage from his use of drugs.
“I did a bit of online research. I’ve never really worried too much about that stuff. If I can wake up the next day and feel okay, then that’s how I can justify it to myself. You can get a bit down the next day, but personally I don’t really get any side-effects.”
Since MDMA is usually produced illegally, users cannot always be sure of the content in the pills or crystals, and how clean it is. It might be mixed with other synthetic drugs such as ‘speed’ or meth that has different and often unwanted effects. However Max also tries not to worry about the uncertainty of what is in the pills.
“Obviously you never really know what you are taking, but for me the risk of something being really harmful is minuscule. When people get hospitalised or die from drug use, it’s often widely reported and a huge deal. But when you look at the statistics its not a huge risk at all – I’m taking a bigger risk driving my car”
“I’ve never really had any issues with addiction or anything and I wouldn’t say that MDMA is an addictive drug.”
Max gets his drugs through a friend’s brother. This way he mitigates the risk of getting caught by not dealing with drug dealers first hand.
“When I’m out, I don’t worry about getting caught. The bouncers don’t care. Bouncers know that there’s going to be a lot of people on drugs. So as long as you are careful and safe about it they won’t search you.
Online drug sales have, as in Europe, become a way to get your hands on drugs. Max explains that it’s much harder to get drugs in Australia, due to it being an isolated island.
“I’ve never ordered any online but I do know people who’ve ordered from Silk Road — which is now shut down — some who have had success with it, and some who never got what they ordered.”
Queensland’s battle against drugs
According to Max, Australia is quite conservative when it comes to drug-legislation, in comparison to Europe, and the legislation in Queensland reveals that the state is trying hard to fight drugs.
New designer drugs, often legally sold online because their content is new or unknown, are a problem Queensland tries to solve through legislation. In 2013 Queensland altered the Drug Misuse Act that makes it illegal to be in possession of any drug that is ‘dangerous’ – and has a similar pharmacological effect to an illegal and ‘dangerous’ drug.
The state is also trying to make life miserable for the biker gangs as they’re controlling a major part of the drug market by passing controversial anti-bikie laws. Among other things it means that bikers can be searched at all times if there is a suspicion that they belong to a gang.
While much seems to be done on a legislative level, its trickle down effect is yet to be seen amongst young people. It seems for Max, there’s no real reason to stop and until that point comes he’s happy to keep choosing drugs over booze on his nights out.
What do you think? Is MDMA a problem in youth culture? Should more be done to stop its availability? Or is the issue a moral panic in the making?
By Ida Nordland