Flashing lights, a pulsing rhythm and a feeling of pure bliss as feet move rapidly on the dance floor; there is nothing unusual about this in English nightclubs. Since the first recorded recreational use of the drug in 1976, MDMA has grown steadily in its popularity with party-animals and festival-lovers, fostering feelings of closeness and euphoria amongst groups of people. It is known as ‘the love drug’ for this reason, but love isn’t just a bed of roses.
In the south of Norway, Mona Bratland sits trying to come to terms with her son’s death. She doesn’t remember me, which isn’t particularly strange seeing as her son and I were classmates only up until 2006, when the boy with the snow-like hair moved to the city so far north that it only had one tree. That’s all I can remember, but Mona says it brought the tears back. They come easily nowadays.
“I’ve had people who have wanted to see Haakon’s death certificate, firmly believing that MDMA cannot solely kill a person, who think we’re running some kind of scheme. It hurts that they don’t believe us, but we think there is a need to inform the public,” she says.
Haakon was 21 and full of life. The news of his death was like a thunderbolt on a clear summer’s day. He’d travelled from Trondheim to Essex on a whim to meet his girlfriend in September last year, where they both took the drug. When Mona had received a text with the answer “MDMA” as to what they had taken, she’d become angry thinking she was being mocked. Surely this was some kind of slang such as “LOL” and “FML”?
MDMA is known by many names, though most commonly as “ecstasy” and “Molly,” but the list is endless when it comes to buying and selling on the black market. Next to heroin, cocaine and LSD, MDMA is a class A drug where the penalty for possession can be up to seven years in prison and up to life if you’re caught producing and supplying. However, unlike heroin and cocaine, there is no hard evidence that MDMA is addictive in the same way. In fact, there is little research conducted on what the long-term effects are but it is clear that the short-term risks can include anxiety, panic attacks and paranoia.
“I’m sure that Haakon didn’t know what he was doing and he didn’t know enough about MDMA to understand the consequences. Because of the damage done to his body, we think that he had gone back for a second dose when it had yet to start working.” Mona explains and tells of receiving a phone call from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, where they told her there was little hope. She threw herself on a plane and all she could do was hope she would make it in time. Her son was in a coma and she was allowed to cradle him for once last time as they turned the life-support off. Crying, she had promised that they would be able to get through this as a family.
If you’re a frequent user, you can develop a high tolerance, forever taking more and more to reach the same thrill. The dangers appear when it takes too long and you take another dose to find the euphoria. This second dose could potentially be lethal, as it starts to shut down your vitals. The coroner found nothing but MDMA in Haakon’s system. No PMA, no alcohol, no other substances. Both Haakon and his girlfriend were quickly admitted to hospital – only one of them came out alive.
Number of drug-related deaths due to MDMA/ecstasy use in England and Wales from 1993 to 2016:
The number of drug-related deaths due to MDMA/ecstasy is currently at an all-time high since they first began recording in 1993 and this could be for several reasons. First of all, they are getting stronger, now at 125mg per tablet compared to the average of 60-80mg in the 90s and 00s. Secondly, they are now only a click away, with the internet making it a very accessible affair.
“While MDMA itself is low in chemicals that trick the brain and thus are chemically addictive, it can be “cut” with other chemicals that have addictive qualities to them,” Pamela Roberts, a Specialist Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Woking, explains. In addition, there is no way of knowing if the drug has been “cut” with other dangerous or addictive substances.
Roberts explains the effects of MDMA as body will tingle, pupils will dilate and jaw muscles will tighten. The body’s temperature may also beat faster, which can lead to overheating and dehydration.
“The short term risks of ecstasy include feeling anxious or having panic attacks. People can also have episodes of confusion, paranoia and psychosis. Some people also take more MDMA after failing to feel the effects of their first dose, which can lead to the person having double the effects.”
Long term MDMA users can suffer from memory problems and may develop anxiety and depression and has also been linked to liver, kidney and heart problems.
Mona and her husband have, in the aftermath of Haakon’s death, researched the drug and are actively trying to inform the Norwegian public, where it is slowly making an appearance amongst young people. She personally thinks that the best thing to do is to talk about it, inform parents and teachers, ensure that people know that there are strings attached to evening of ‘love’. The real risk lies with those who trivialise it: “They don’t know what they are talking about. They have tried it and it turned out fine for them, but the truth is that there simply isn’t enough research out there to say there is no lasting damage,” she says.
Haakon’s outcome was the worst possible, but do you really know how much your body can handle? Do you know how high the purity is or if there are no other dangerous substances mixed in with the MDMA? The search for love might be thrilling, but if this is the only way that you can find it, maybe you should ask yourself if the game you’re playing is worth playing – if you lose.
*If you are in need of support, Priory Hospital Woking can be contacted here.
Interested in more? Watch Vice’s documentary dealing with ecstasy in the UK: