KARACHI: “You need to know a trip is just a trip, it may feel really good but it’s unreal,” cautions 25-year-old Shaan Malik, who has been popping ecstasy pills off and on for the last seven years. “Still, you want to keep doing it as it is a great escape.”
In the world of drugs, escape and ecstasy (E) are synonymous for most users who want to break away from their reality to a place without inhibitions, no consequences and where today means more than tomorrow.
E is the name given to the pills made up of methylenedioxy-methamphetamine or MDMA. They are attractively coloured and stamped and each supply cycle of the drug usually lasts about one month on the market. The pills have catchy names such as Red Rose (because of the colour and a rose stamp), Yellow 007, Pink Pistols, Harley Davidson and the Red Ferrari.
“The drug is a psychedelic,” explains Mohadesa Muhammad, an assistant professor of psychology at a government college. “Many people do not even consider the long-term consequences and just want to enjoy its immediate effects. The user may feel like they are not addicted but all drugs have a level of psychological dependency.”
The pill’s temptations include feelings of euphoria, being pumped with high energy and sensations of emotional and physical warmth - like someone massaging your body. E is a synthetic psychoactive, which has a similar effect on the brain as amphetamines. However, its side effects include distortion of time and reality. Long-term abuse followed by withdrawal can lead to significantly more serious consequences, which include severe depression, loss of appetite, nausea and in some cases extremely high suicidal tendencies. “The user loses touch with reality and feels they can’t cope in the real world,” according to Dr Murad Moosa Khan, a consultant psychiatrist and chair at the Department of Psychiatry at Aga Khan University.
“At first, I did E every weekend and then I needed it every third day and sometimes I felt I just couldn’t manage a single day without it,” said 29-year-old marketing manager Saif Aslam. “It got worse with work pressure and then I started questioning the reality of my relationship with my girlfriend of seven years.”
Shaan too has paid a price. “I have developed a slight stutter, I can’t focus, am disorientated at times and occasionally I feel like I’m losing it.” Shaan’s third relapse was on New Year’s Day 2010 when he was tempted by the Red Ferrari. He popped pills notstop till January 6.
E caters to the affluent of society with a price range between Rs800 and Rs2,200 per pill. However, the steep price doesn’t guarantee a pure MDMA product. In fact, fake pills pose a greater threat than the drug itself. “When mixing with other substances such as LSD and speed, the person taking the pill can suffer some serious backlash but you do not have such issues with pure MDMA,” claims 29-year-old sales manager Naeem Zafar, another user who started what he calls ‘rolling E’ in 2008.
In some pills, MDMA is mixed with non-harmful components such as fibre, while in others contain more dangerous substances such as meth, heroin, marijuana and/or cocaine. “Mostly the drug (pure E) is used for recreational purposes at raves and a few people will get physically addicted to it. However, once mixed with other drugs it does have a strong addictive potential and as a result the designer drug poses a significantly greater risk to the user’s life,” explained Dr Khan. All users interviewed by this newspaper said that their first time was out of curiosity but they stuck with the drug because it made them “happy.” Experts argue, however, that the drug won’t always lead to a pleasant experience. “E causes a ‘state of expansion’, meaning it extends the mood/mindset you’re already in when you take the drug for as long as the effects last,” Ms Muhammad explained.
Ayesha Asad is a 35-year-old journalist, who tried E for the first and last time back in her college days. “I was very nervous when I tried it and spent the whole night freaking out. My friend had to come over by the morning and take care of me,” she recalled. “My heart was racing in my chest and I felt it would explode.”
Meanwhile, there are those who gave up the drug for completely opposite reasons. Nasir Khalid, a 26-year-old writer, said he hated the pill, “It actually made me sociable and happy and I just couldn’t bear that.” But, according to Naeem, E is hardly the drug of choice for Karachi’ites anymore, “E’s pretty awesome but its marginal utility decreases immensely.” An occasional user a few years back, 27-year-old event manager Sara Afzal agrees. “I have seen my friends — eventually — pop nine pills a night! That’s just insane. But your system becomes immune to it. It’s like chasing the dragon, your first high, but you never get it again.”
Maha Khan, 30-year-old investment banker, has other concerns. For her, E is too time consuming. You can lose nearly two days getting over its aftereffects, “It’s time for the pill to roll over to make way for the powder, it may be more dangerous but at least it’s aftereffects are less time consuming.” Sara agrees, “E is so 2001. It was just a fad and it’s died out. It’s all about cocaine now.”
Names have been changed to protect identities.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2010.
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