Friday, July 1, 2011

The Age of Ecstasy

Disclaimer: This post does not have to do with those who do not do drugs, or who do drugs infrequently. This also does not have to do with those who read the news and who are quite aware of their country's state of affairs. This post has to do with frequent ecstasy (and other entactogens) users (who are using the substances for recreational purposes rather than medical ones), however this is not a post bashing those specific drugs. 

Every generation seems to indulge in several drugs that for that time period become popular. The 60s had LSD, shrooms, mescaline, and speed; the 70s had cocaine and heroine; the 80s had crack; and the 90s had ecstasy and methamphetamine. This generation seems to not only use the drugs mentioned above (and marijuana) but also new designer drugs that are created by usually modifying the molecular structure of an already existing drug in order to get past drug laws. The popularity of certain drugs within a generation usually show the mindset and social attitude of that time period, and the 2000s are no different.

Several months ago, my friend came up with the idea that we are the ecstasy generation. Though I don't necessarily believe that our generation's drug of choice is ecstasy, its use is still widely prevalent throughout the United States in raves. The drug first became popular in the 1980s, its use increased throughout the years and the world and nowadays, it can be seen taken mostly in party settings. Though its usage has decreased slightly because of the production of substitutes such as mephedrone, the stimulant entactogen (drugs that make you feel more sociable, touchy-feely, and empathetic) component is what makes this type of drug so popular, especially today. (From now on, I will refer to all entactogens in this post simply as ecstasy, for brevity's sake.)

So the question is, why do we like these kinds of drugs so much? (By 'we', I mean those who use them frequently) Why do we get hooked on drugs that make us stimulated, that allow us to be more empathetic, to socially connect with others easily, and that allow us to be uninhibited by our fears? The surface answer is obvious: who wouldn't want to feel like that? The deeper answer is a bit more complicated. The other reason why we would be so enamoured by a drug like that is if we couldn't behave those ways while sober. What's the point of taking something if it makes you do the exact same thing while sober? If you could interact well with others and be open and not feel inhibited and awkward normally, there would be no reason to take ecstasy over and over again, unless it would be purely for the heightened senses and hyperactivity. It's hard to believe though, that most long-term users would state the former effects as their primary cause for taking the drug, so I'll assume that the basis for ecstasy's popularity is its entactogenic qualities.

There are three main reasons why ecstasy is so popular among today's generation: the failure of physical communication,apathy, and a pervading, deep depression.

Before the 21st century, people had more difficulty travelling and communicating. In olden times, the means of transportation were mostly boat and horses and communication was either done by writing letters or by physically speaking. These methods were all painfully slow but the beauty of them was that people actually maintained relationships with each other. A boat trip lasted weeks to months or years, and travellers could meet new people and communicate with them in no hurry. Letters took weeks to be received and though people one hundred years ago probably didn't have more to talk about than we do now, they had more time to go through and tell about. Nowadays, we have planes, cars, IMs, text messaging, phones, Skype, AIM, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a ton other devices that are supposed to make communication easier. And they do. It's now more convenient to talk to someone in China when you live in the United States than it was fifty years ago. The problem isn't necessarily communication (although the depth of the conversations could be debatable), it's that we don't actually hang out with people anymore. We prefer to sit behind our computers and video chat our friends than physically get off our couches and go outside to play soccer, or go watch a movie at a movie theatre, or go to a park, or a museum, or read, or interact with others and not be separated by a screen and text. It's hard to talk face-to-face with someone else because then, they can see your emotions, your sarcasm, your eyes. It's harder to tell them your secrets if they're looking at you and judging you for them. It's harder to walk to the nearest DVD rental store than to log into your Netflix account or wait until the DVDs come to your door.

Of course, people still go to coffee places, parties, clubs, and raves and get to meet people that way. But how many actually go up to a complete stranger in Starbucks and begin a conversation with them? How many people at raves develop friendships (not hookups) with those that they are dancing with? With all of the opportunities technology has given us, there is no reason why we shouldn't be meeting new people and actually developing relationships with them instead of adding them on Facebook and forgetting them along with the other 500 people we're "friends" with. Before, we had the excuse of distance and inability, but now our only excuse is ourselves and our lack of desire to connect. Even if we do go out and talk to others, we're awkward and nervous. We're afraid of rejection and we don't know what to say. So why not take something that wipes all those fears and insecurities away? Why not take a pill that will make us more confident and sociable and that will allow us to be more connected and empathetic with others?

The second issue is apathy. Before the 21st century, the majority of the United States (and the world) were living in order to survive. People had to worry about their next meal, clean water, whether they were going to have a roof over their heads during the night, whether they could survive, whether their children could survive. Even after this mentality disappeared in the more developed countries, there were still threats of the two world wars, of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and economic recession. That's not to say that there aren't still wars going on or that there isn't a recession, but it seems that most of my generation doesn't realize that. People were more involved in those times because they had no choice but to be involved--if they weren't, either they or a member of their family or a close friend died and their lives would change monumentally. There's more distance today between wars that our governments are involved in and ourselves. Other than taxes, gas, and food prices shifting, we don't notice much else that changes. Social unrest comes more from internal issues such as domestic shootings rather than external ones. There are wars being fought, but they're not here, they're over there, somewhere very far and distant. I've also noticed that I have never actually learned anywhere, either in school or from other sources, an account of the United States history from the mid 1970s to the present. Ignorance may be a major cause of my peers' apathy.

Even if we're not more apathetic about our external surroundings than past generations, we certainly seem to be more apathetic about ourselves and our own lives. By "apathy", I don't just mean not caring about anything, I mean such a deep apathy that we believe our lives are so meaningless and boring that we sink into depression. To quote Brad Pitt from Fight Club,

"We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact."

It's not news that there has been an increase in depression for the past fifty years in the United States. I personally know a large number of people who do drugs just to escape reality and who are so eager to do so that they refuse to know what exactly they're taking, as long as they don't have to deal with this world. Some of them do it because they think their life is meaningless and boring and nothing exciting is ever going to happen (and if they do go to interact with others, they still believe that's boring too). Some do it because they are so disgusted by what they see around them, that they just want to escape and forget about it. And that is an extremely painful and sad thing to experience, because in a way the latter users are right. We, who are privileged, can look at those who are not and we can see how much poverty, misery, cruelty, and unfairness exists in this world, solely because of ourselves, humans. There is an unbelievable amount of horribleness that we face right now, and even more in certain cases, in the decades and centuries to come.

One can say that even twenty or fifty years ago, this was the case, that the world was more horrible then than it is now with all of our technological and scientific advances. And in those times, people used ways to forget and escape reality also--they used numbing agents such as alcohol and opium. People use them and others, such as prescription drugs, today even more so than before to numb the pain, but it seems that those agents are a constant. People have always drank their suffering away, they have always searched for a substance to dull the agony. Entactogens, on the other hand, have only been produced recently, and those manufacturers are catering to today's desires and needs. Of course, alcohol and psychedelics are also entactogenic, but they are not made to be so. If you feel lovey toward someone else, or sociable, those are simple side effects, whereas ecstasy is purposefully created to allow people to feel that way. Either way, the above reasons are perfectly good reasons to want to escape reality but they are also the most dangerous.

Ecstasy makes you feel incredible. It allows you to have in-depth social connections with others that otherwise you would not have achieved, if you are a shy, awkward, nervous person. It makes you excited and allows you to enjoy music more, makes you want to dance and talk with others. It allows you to forget about your shitty existence for several hours and just have fun and be joyful. And on the surface, that's really great. But there's a difference between doing a drug several times and doing a drug frequently and intensely. It doesn't matter what drug you take, if you take it long enough and immensely, there will be long-term negative consequences, such as addiction (not for psychedelics), memory and cognitive impairment, organ damage, and emotional issues. For ecstasy, liver damage and concentration and memory impairment are certain if you do it too much.  There have also been a number of users who have become clinically depressed while they were still using the drug or after they stopped but this study was countered by other scientists claiming that it was unconvincing due to methodological errors (though there is evidence that those who use ecstasy and other drugs have higher symptoms of depression than those who do not). In addition, there's the study that shows MDMA reduces the amount of serotonin transporters (basically kills your joy receptors for a period of time) in animals, yet these kinds of experiments on humans have not been pursued. There have not been enough studies done to pinpoint exactly what the drug's long-term effects are other than organ damage, addiction, tolerance, concentration impairment, memory loss, and possible mental health issues.

Even if there are no or few negative long-term effects of using the drug, I'd like to address a serious issue that comes from not only doing ecstasy but any other drug as well because of the desire to escape reality in a negative way, namely to escape it because it's too painful. Reality is here and it's not vanishing. It will always be here and you either have to come back to it or you need to stay in another world. That other world can be provided by drugs, sleep, or death. Unfortunately, you cannot sleep forever, unless you're in a coma and drugs do not last a lifetime, they last several hours to several days, at the most. If you want to bar reality, you must continuously do them and cross the line, which eventually, all drug users must decide whether to cross or not. The line I'm talking about is the line between reality and the world that drugs can give you. When I was talking to my friend about this, she said that there's no hopping the line. You either stay on one side or stay on the other, you either stay sober or you delve into the drug world and if you can, you get out and (try to) stay sober. You cannot put one foot in one world and one foot in the other and think that it will be okay. Personally, I don't know if I believe that and I don't know if it must be that way. I hope that moderation is the key to drug use and that if you do your drugs responsibly and not viciously, that you can inhabit both worlds and comfortably. But what I do know is that if you don't do that, you will certainly come up with mental health issues. There is only a certain amount of time that you can hate reality and try to escape from it before you go down in flames or you straighten up.

People will always do drugs for different reasons. The issue is not that they do the drug, it's the reason for why they do it. It's like jealousy--it's not the problem, it's only the symptom of the problem. Ecstasy and entactogens in themselves are positive substances for those who do not abuse them, but for those who do, they are propagators of a vicious cycle which only they can stop. So, the reasons for frequent ecstasy use are the inability to physically communicate, apathy in the form of not caring/boredom, and depression with one's surroundings and with reality. So now the most important question is, other than drugs, how do we solve these problems?

The issue with communication is not that we're not empathetic. We are extremely empathetic and we can communicate, we even desire to do so. We love using Facebook, phones, texting, etc. Most of our lives seem to be based on keeping in touch with others and being social. But we're insecure with ourselves and our abilities to reach out and meet new people. We hide behind computer screens and we're afraid that we'll be judged and rejected by those outside our front door. But the thing is, we probably won't. There's not much rejection to fear when you're meeting new people--in fact, more rejection comes from you than from others. You decide which people to keep in your life (to an extent) and so if you meet someone who doesn't appeal to you, you can cut them out. We need to dig a bit into ourselves and understand why we're so afraid of being judged and rejected, why we're so insecure with others and if those fears are founded. It's true that once one gets to know another better, emotional attachment can complicate a relationship, but not necessarily in a bad way. If one has trust issues, one must analyse the reasons and decide whether it is reasonable to be so fearful, and what one could potentially gain from developing new relationships from people. We must take our hearts into our mouths and just push head forward and hope for the best. We may be surprised with what we find.

For those who constantly whine about their lives being boring and being bored, I first asked myself how someone could get to the point of complete apathy. Not caring comes from lack of motivation--if you have motivation to do something, or even be interested in something, you will care. Your mind will be occupied and what's more important, you'll have fun and you won't think your life's that uninteresting anymore. So, where did the motivation go? I think that it's both inherent and learned, that you're born with a little bit of motivation (human nature) and that that either develops and grows or gets cut down by your surroundings. The lack of motivation comes from a lack of response to your earlier needs (like attention) as a child. For example, if a child is left alone the entire day while his parents go off to work or if he is given negative attention instead may start him on the road to apathy. Once he is old enough to go to school, he may already be de-motivated or the abominable United States public education school system may do that instead. Obviously, one needs to have Once the deed is done, how can you put motivation back into a person? By talking to several friends and asking their opinions, we concluded several solutions:

The first involves the support of one's friends--you acknowledge them as a person; repeat the mantra that they're worthy and not boring, that they're capable of doing and doing well; you encourage them and hold their hand when they falter, give them a push when they slide back. On the other hand, the friends are not going to make you believe all of that, only you can. You have to believe in yourself, you have to gain that self-respect back, to get going at least for a little while. Ultimately, it's up to you. Everyone is worthy of love and support, everyone is worthy of being happy, worthy of living a life that meets up to one's highest standards--unless one denies those rights to someone else.

The second solution is fighting the thought of boredom. We can control what we think and what our mindset is in certain situations. For example, we can rethink our simple moods--we can decide to be happy instead of sad, or we can convince ourselves of a certain idea that we may not believe but is true ("He's not cheating on me even though I'm afraid he is") by logically going through the concept over and over again until we believe it. We can resign ourselves to being bored and believe everything else around is boring or we can find something and try to see if we enjoy it. We can pick up a new sport, or play an instrument, read for a while, or talk to a friend about something we've never considered. We can keep ourselves busy until we find something we truly enjoy. Boredom is only there if we decide it to be there.

The third solution is a bit harsher--in order to realize what's meaningful to you and in order to care, you must crash. You must have those things that you take for granted taken away from you and crawl out of hell on hands and feet and perhaps that effort will make you realize what is truly important for you. Some people never understand unless they are put in a position in which they must change their mindset or else they risk ruining their lives.

The third type of people are those who are depressed because of what they see going around them.
The fact still stands that even though there are events in this world that happen that shouldn't and wouldn't happen in a less hateful world, we who are privileged enough to have a roof over our heads, three good meals every single day, an education, no deaths that surround us, we should be able to at least look up at the sky and say "My life is good, it is better than others', and if I care that much, I will do something or at least try to do something to help their plight." Trying to escape from the horror of reality is impossible without causing oneself suffering. Reality is what we must cope with and if we don't like it, we should make an effort to change it, especially if we are in capable positions to do so.

The last point I want to touch on is those who do ecstasy for medical reasons. I spoke to one person who took it because she had severe anxiety and it helped her develop relationships with people that otherwise, she would not have been able to form. There are those who have post-traumatic stress disorder that may be helped by this particular drug (as one study has already shown). There are those who are seriously depressed and who have chemical imbalances who use ecstasy to ameliorate their symptoms. Those people who take the drug frequently may be taking it to self-medicate. I believe that ecstasy, as I said before, can produce positive results if taken carefully and in the right dosage and I do believe that it could be part of the solution to the first problem I stated above (communication issues) and others. But I also believe that one should try to think of other solutions and see if they work, instead of plunging into drugs from the get-go or taking them trivially instead of with care and seriousness. 

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the rave generation`s cocaine. With it`s [1) ability to elevate the senses of kindness and affection, and 2) decrease appetite and sleep], properties that make its abuse potential high has been for a while now the drug of choice of young adults who gather in warehouses (is it true??) to be (let`s say) musically entertained while under the influence. But young people need E to open up! to feel love be more than their usual selves!, no? Uhm, no! The next day they`re the same person as before, (except one step closer to addiction), and now sad and depressed even more than before. What the hell is the point? If one thinks his/her life is boring and depressing before taking E, I don`t wanna be around them when the drug wears off... Life is not a fairly tail, no, everyone has ups and downs, and ups and downs, but as you say, there`re so many who are so much worse off! And I agree, we have surprisingly a lot of control over our own fate, we really have the power and can improve our lives/circumstances, seriously! We just need to want it.