• The big UK drugs investigation

    Ecstasy is nothing special

    Ecstasy? That’s nothing special for students in Groningen, especially if they’re members of a student organization. You don’t take pills on your own.

    in short

    The UK surveyed 700 students about their drug use.  Alcohol came in first place. Ecstasy came in fourth.

    Notably, fraternity members use twice as much ecstasy as ‘normal’ students.

    Ecstasy is almost always taken in a social setting, and most students only do it during festivals and dance parties.

    Ecstasy is less dangerous than alcohol. What’s more, those who take ecstasy drink less alcohol, which is a ‘health benefit’.

    Still, taking ecstasy is not without risk. The pills often contain a whole lot of the active ingredient MDMA. Students are often unaware of that.

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    The taboo surrounding ecstasy seemed to have all but disappeared until a party-goer at the Amsterdam Dance Event died – that got everyone talking about it again. The Telegraaf wrote about the ‘pill generation’ who ignores danger, and Youp van ‘t Hek called the dance lovers ‘idiots.’ But what about the so-called ‘pill generation’ of ‘idiots’ in academia in Groningen?

    The UK questioned 700 RUG students about their drug use. What do they use? How often? Why or why not? Do they ever have their ecstasy chemically analysed?

    Peer pressure

    One thing is clear: there is no drug on the list of forbidden substances that has not been used at least once by one of the surveyed students. Even heroin and crack were checked off by two students.

    The fact that the most used drug was alcohol (94 percent) – followed by hash and weed (66 percent) – was not exactly shocking. But somewhat unexpectedly, laughing gas (36 percent) was more commonly used than ecstasy (28 percent). Mushrooms came in fifth place with 15 percent. What’s more, students who are members of a student organisation use ecstasy much more often than non-members: 46 percent versus 22 percent.

    Is that remarkable? Rob Otten, a prevention officer at Verslavingszorg Noord-Nederland (Addiction Treatment Northern Netherlands), is not surprised. In any case, he thinks that drugs are used more by members of student organisations. ‘In a society, the peer pressure is often higher’, he says. Be that as it may, most students don’t use ecstasy very much. ‘The majority are relatively cautious about it.’

    Euphoric experiences

    Teun, a 23-year-old member of one of the largest student organizations, is a ‘society user.’ He began taking pills because of his year club – one of his fellow members did them regularly. One by one, each club member began experimenting. Teun didn’t think much of it at first, but he eventually became curious about all the euphoric experiences he was hearing about. He decided to take his first pill. ‘It was exciting, of course. An hour later, everything and everyone and parties and drugs and my friends and the whole world was com-ple-tely awesome. At that moment, I thought: why don’t we do this all the time?’

    Teun’s experience is how it usually goes. Out of all the students who take pills, 96 percent know someone else who also does them. Users get ecstasy from their friends 9 times out of 10.

    That’s because pills are cheap – about four or five euros a piece. ‘A dealer doesn’t come around for three pills, only for larger amounts’, says Anna, an arts student. She would know, because she has been active in the scene for years. She recognises her fellow university users straight away. ‘It’s so obvious if they’re standing there, going so hard and grinding their teeth, with their water bottles and their long hair’, she laughs.

    Drug use in Amsterdam and Rotterdam

    A similar survey about use of ecstasy among students was previously done in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

    The Amsterdam university newspaper Folia asked 544 students from both the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) and the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA). Two-thirds of the Amsterdam students have used ecstasy at some point, according to the research.

    In an online survey from the university newspaper Credo in Rotterdam, 30 percent of the 365 responding students had used ecstasy at least once.

    Side note: the surveys were conducted online and every faculty was not equally represented.

    In-between dealer

    She was actually an in-between dealer herself. She bought 120 pills for New Year’s Eve – ‘you get in a car, give someone money, get a bag of pills and then you get out’ – and sold them to friends.

    She doesn’t see that as problematic. According to her, students are level-headed users. They only use ecstasy, and they only use it at festivals. ‘After two days they’re exhausted, but it’s worth it to them.’

    ‘Across the border, I could get 10 to 20 euros for a pill.’

    The picture that she paints reflects what the survey revealed. Groningen students use ecstasy because it’s cool, it makes them feel good and, out of curiosity, makes parties more enjoyable. Only one person said they took it due to peer pressure or to forget their worries. But students aren’t big users in general. Only 16 percent take pills more often than once every three months, and even then preferably at festivals or dance parties. And there’s plenty of those in Groningen.

    Side business

    Still, there are students out there who do take a lot of pills. International student Joy, for example, was familiar with hard drugs before she came to Groningen. Once she arrived, she quickly got to know the people who could get her cheap pills – between 1.50 and 2.50 euros per pill. ‘In Groningen, I sold them for five euros, but across the border, I could get 10 to 20 euros for a pill.’

    Even though she’s working in the hospitality sector now, a couple of years ago, she paid for her rent and food through her side business. ‘It’s difficult for international students to find work’, she explains soberly.

    What is ecstasy?

    Ecstasy is a party drug. You take it in the form of a pill that costs about 3 or 4 euros. The active ingredient is 3.4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as MDMA. Users experience no physical addiction and the psychologically addicting effect is less than that of cocaine or speed.

    Colour, shape and logo give no insight into the dosage – sometimes, the pills contain ingredients other than MDMA. Since 1988, MDMA has been on List 1 (hard drugs) under the Dutch Opium Act.

    After swallowing (part of) a pill, it takes from 20 minutes to an hour before the MDMA begins to work: serotonin and, to a lesser extent, dopamine are released in the brain. Users feel intense emotions: relaxation, a sense of fuzziness, sensitivity, being carefree and sometimes sexual arousal. Perceptions change and colours are more intense, as are the experience of listening to music and the urge to dance.

    Physical effects are increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and body temperature, grinding teeth and a dry mouth. Some users experience nausea.

    After the ecstasy is out of their system, users may feel tired. A day or two later, they may also feel depressed as a result of the drop in serotonin supply, also known as the ‘dinsdagdip’- the Tuesday dip.

    The greatest risk is not from overdosing, but becoming overheated and dehydrated as a result of raised body temperature, so users should stay hydrated and not dance too long. Long term consequences of ecstasy use are less well known, but disruption of short term memory is mentioned in research.

    Source: Jellinek, Drugs Info Team, VNN.


    Besides, students would be better off taking ecstasy than drinking, she thinks. Pill takers are happy and don’t fight. ‘The bouncers don’t kick anyone out for fighting during a techno party, they only really throw out people for drug-related activities.’

    Prevention officer Otten agrees. Admittedly, it appears from the survey that a fair amount of ecstasy circulates among university students, but you could also see that as beneficial, he says.

    Because even though more than half of the students answered that they had consumed alcohol in combination with ecstasy, Otten thinks that they’re probably drinking very little: one or two beers, whereas otherwise they might drink 10 or 15. And the  damage that alcohol causes is much worse than ecstasy, LSD or mushrooms. ‘In terms of healthiness, that is somewhat better’, he says.

    New danger

    But that isn’t to say that ecstasy is without risk. In recent years, a new danger has arisen. It’s not just that the active MDMA is cut with cheaper and more dangerous ingredients, but the actual purity of the pills.

    What’s the problem?

    ‘In terms of healthiness, that is somewhat better’

    Otten knows that users feel the best with 1.0 to 1.5 milligrams of MDMA per kilo of body weight. Someone who weighs 75 kilos or less shouldn’t take more than 100 milligrams of MDMA per pill. But who knows how much MDMA is in a pill? Even if students are aware of that, most of them have no idea how much ‘a lot’ is.

    In the past few years, pills with nearly 150 milligrams of active ingredients have been appearing, although 46 percent of the students don’t know if a dosage of 130 milligrams is normal or not. ‘So these pills, among other things, will be consumed by this group, unfortunately’, Otten says.

    Get your drugs tested

    Get the drugs tested, he says. That can be done every Thursday afternoon at the Leonard Springerlaan: cocaine, speed, ecstasy – everything. It’s free, and you get the results back a week later. But currently, only 12 percent of the students make use of the facilities.

    Still, he’s happy that no one who took the survey responded that they took ecstasy every week – that means that students aren’t addicted. Or, as Anna puts it, ‘students take ecstasy because they want to take a mini-vacation at a festival.’

    Want to know more? Download the complete survey: Harddrugsgebruik onder RUG-studenten(Dutch pdf).