Rocking and Rolling: An Inside Look at SoCal’s Rave Culture
With over 65,000 guests attending last year, Monster Massive 2009 plans to break its record level of attendance this Saturday, Oct. 31. But while the many students at UC Irvine who partake in rave culture excitedly await next weekend’s big event, the looming consequences of the drugs many take at raves are also waiting for them.
Over the course of a few years, raves have become a major part of the lives of many Southern California youth. Embracing free-love, open minds and escaping reality, these massive electronic dance parties house kindred spirits are all longing to lose themselves in the music.
Not all ravers take drugs. Some of the people who go, primarily young people ages 14-25, only attend for the music. However, according to one regular rave attendee who recently dropped out of UC Irvine, around 90 percent of people at raves are “rolling” on ecstasy. This male, ex-UCI student wishes to remain anonymous but will be referred to as “John.”
“It’s the best feeling you’ve ever felt,” John said. “You get a ridiculous body high and your sensory organs are heightened so if you get a handshake or just touch people it feels amazing. If you sit down and converse with people on ‘x’ you have the most in-depth conversation. It’s a real bonding experience.”
But this bonding experience comes at a fairly high risk.
Many young adults buy their drugs at raves, unaware of what they are really purchasing and, often, other drugs are mixed in with the ecstasy they expect.
According to neurobiology and behavior lecturer Heather Dickinson-Anson, one drug that is often distributed at raves as ecstasy but is not, is called para-Methoxyamphetamine (PMA).
The problem with PMA is that, while it shares many of the effects of ecstasy, it has a slower onset time than ecstasy making people think they haven’t yet taken enough. This results in the person taking another pill and overdosing.
However, even with the right drug, serious consequences can follow, many of them being long-term.
An experiment performed in 1999 was one of the first steps in proving ecstasy’s extreme neurotoxicity. The test gave a group of monkeys two ecstasy pills per day over a four-day period. The scientists then looked at brain splices of some of the monkeys after two weeks had passed. Others were looked after seven years had gone by.
The results of the experiment were alarming.
After two weeks, many of the serotonin axons in the brain were completely gone. Seven years later, some had returned but with defects. Without the regular serotonin levels, serious consequences would follow.
For example, serotonin is a chemical in the brain that plays a very important role in determining mood. Many people actually report feeling a dysphoria, which is the opposite of euphoria. The serotonin neurons are not very good at replenishing their supply so while it is attempting to rebuild; ecstasy causes the serotonin neurons to empty out all of their serotonin supplies. With that imbalance of serotonin, depression and cognitive defects can often follow.
But for many ecstasy users, living in the moment is much more important than possible long-term side effects.
“It feels good because it kills your brain,” John said, “Nothing that feels that good can be that bad for you.”
But some effects of ecstasy are harmful to users while they are at the rave.
Bryan Sloan, a recent graduate from UCI is also an emergency medical technician who occasionally works at raves.
“It’s a really interesting, popular culture,” Sloan said of raves, “but it is also a drug culture with a lot of young kids overdosing on things like Xanax and ‘shrooms.”
One of the serious problems that Sloan has faced is dehydration.
“You’ll go in the rave and people will be passed out against the wall,” Sloan said, “because they were drinking or rolling and their friends will be there with them but won’t even notice that anything is wrong because they are so drugged out, too.”
There are sometimes deaths at raves because, while the prefrontal cortex, where ecstasy has the most profound effect, is the area of the brain that would usually stimulate a person to drink water because they are dehydrated.
When on ecstasy, this area of the brain does not work properly, so when people are in a room, drinking and dancing, they are not thinking properly and they can actually become dehydrated and die. Sometimes ecstasy can lead to organ failure or even arrhythmias of the heart because of the amphetamine properties.
These deaths are atypical, but the long-term effects have proven to be consistent. The question that remains is when does the dancing stop?
“I know I’m going to stop doing it eventually,” John said. “I will not roll after college – this is my time to have a good time. It just shouldn’t be done after college. It is all about the choices that we make. The problem is balancing doing drugs and then getting your shit done. I feel that I have finally reached that balance.”