Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ecstasy - And Wild Berries

Way back in the day when Ecstasy (MDMA - 3,2 MethyleneDioxyMethamphetamine) was first universally distributed by some UT Chemistry student - it would sit a bowls at the front door of nearly every hot club in Austin - and bars only sold water. I never tried the stuff even when it was legal. But I did have a conversation one time with an ER doc here in town who was going to UT at the time - he grinning, looking introspective -as if he was recalling his youthful exploits. He said, " Carl, that was the best drug ever made."

I remember arresting a fellow here in 1998 with 4000 hits of Ecstasy - it was real and only a small portion of his empire - and I recall the efforts at the time by the DEA nationally and other federal law enforcement agencies to control the precursor chemicals that were used in the manufacture of Ecstasy - and meth and etc. The control of chemicals was remarkably successful - at least for domestic production.

Both of my parents were chemists - and as a child, I vividly remember a brown glass vial of Potassium Iodide - a saturated solution with clear rocky crystals still floating in the bottom. It was bitter - something my dad brought home from the lab. I don't know if that was to protect us from radiation - and at the time some countries, including our own, were still exploding nuclear devices in the atmosphere. I do know that it was the best decongestant I've ever taken, even to this day. Home chemistry was normal in our family and my father's entire professional life was about inventing new things.

As a child of a chemical engineer, I was afforded the unique opportunity to putter with things - including the manufacture of our entire neighborhood fireworks display one year. I nearly exploded my room were it not for the 75 gallon aquarium I had next to my lab table. When it all started on fire, I just whisked the catfish out of the way and splashed water all over my room. Those were fun days, but undoubtedly illegal now. If I was an eighth grader now doing the same thing - some lesser neighbor would call in and a SWAT unit would be whisking me away. Such a shame. Anyhow - chemistry comes in a lot of different forms - even those not reproduced in nature and the disappearance of precursor chemicals in just a temporary obstacle for the innovative mind.

A few years ago now, I had just taken on The "Bill" as a little bro. He was just starting to trust me and to tell me some of the things he shouldn't have been doing. And while I was having dinner with his parents - he was in Austin at all night Raves - taking Ecstasy with his friends. I used to lose sleep over him in those days. He was 17.

One morning he called me at the crack of dawn to ask for my advice. Someone in his group had taken too much, or for whatever reason was having some bad complications. He wanted to know what to do. I have sighed a lot in this assignment - helping to bring someone up into better thinking. His mom thought my mission was to make him obedient to her. All 17 year olds rebel for a time. I saw my mission as something all together different - to change his behavior, to keep him out of trouble and to change his thinking all together - so too to recognize the long term reward of doing good things. There came a point where I could no longer have divided loyalties to both he and his parents. If I was going to be successful, he had to trust me and I could not betray his loyalty. I think it was this incident that first anchored my troubled decision to keep the relationship with him, his mother, and I all separate.

He described the symptoms - a large group hangover from a night out on Ecstasy - the consequence of depleting our natural store of dopamine and serotonin. A multivitamin and gatorade for now. By that afternoon, I'd been to the DPS lab in Austin and studied everything I needed to know about what kids were doing on the street. And the next day I sat down with "Bill" - right here in this room. I was sitting in this chair and he was on the opposite side of the room. I was not angry. I was not emotional. I was determined.

For me, knowledge is power and from a position of wisdom, I can both win arguments and bend a reed of grass like the wind. I read to him a long and thoughtful letter about Ecstasy, its pharmacology, effects, side effects, long term effects and the loftier things - like lifelong friendship, love and loyalty. And when I was done, he paused, looking at me across the room and said, "Alright, I'll never do it again." And he hasn't.

He took the letter and hid it in his room - some secret compartment where he keeps special things.

I say all of this because this week, I was forced once again to revisit that conversation. One of "Bill's" good friends from school confided in me that he'd been to Dallas to a recent rave where he too did Ecstasy. I could here in his voice his excitement and enthusiasm. And like The "Bill", this kid has all sorts of promise. It was the same notable rave in the news this week at which two kids died - and 20 hospitalized - and 911 calls all night to local authorities by kids overheated, over drugged, at risk. He was going to go again this weekend to do it all over again. And so, like three years ago, I had the same conversation with him - urging his better judgment to intervene. I crafted nearly that same letter to him as I did for "Bill" three years ago.

Time will tell whether it makes a difference. This is a kid who knew Cocaine in the very worst way when he was only fifteen. But this weekend, he will be coming here to my house to eat gulf shrimp and corn on the cob and red potatoes and he won't be going to Dallas to a rave. He said "Thank You".

"Dear ...,
As I mentioned to you on the phone, the likelihood that you find real Ecstasy on the street is remote. Because I have invested so much into "Bill's" wellbeing and toward ensuring that he has a happy life at all times, and that he remain my dear friend and brother forever, I was once forced by circumstance to encourage him to look before he leaped. So too must I do the same for you.
There is a rule in the World that applies to survival situations, and certainly, worldly adventures may seem recreational and fun when dropped down in front of you, but the same rule applies there. “Before you put something into your mouth, study it first”. If you were starving in the jungle and came across a beautiful red berry, you would not only be enticed by its color but by your hunger as well. To eat it would of course be foolish, unless you were skilled in recognizing non-poisonous foods in the forest, or took the time to see who else was eating it. If the birds are eating it, and monkeys and squirrels, it is probably safe for you to eat as well. As you know, plants and animals alike have adapted all sorts of trickery to protect themselves from predators. Eating the wrong berry could kill you and would then rob me, and all of us, of someone for whom we love and care for deeply. And as thirsty as you might be in the wilderness, drinking from the first puddle you find might lead to a hideous demise. You wouldn’t really drink out of the Blanco would you?
I've gone to the DPS lab in Austin recently and learned that real ecstasy is rarely seen anymore. Precursor chemicals are so well regulated in and around the United States that any real ecstasy is generally only produced in Eastern block countries and parts of Europe. There is some evidence to suggest that Mexican cartels are trying to break into the designer drug business but none is thought to be here. Nearly all of what is on the street here is some chemical facsimile or an outright fake. By in large, the pills young people buy for parties, dances and raves which is portrayed as Ecstasy, is actually a combination of:
BZP / N-Benzylpiperazine and TMPP, or Trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine
It is fake ecstasy and is designed to mimic the pharmacological effects of ecstasy or MDMA. The euphoria experienced is best described as a combination of weak LSD (a slight hallucinogenic experience) with amphetamine(Speed). Fakes may include nothing – or ephedrine, methamphetamines, LSD, cocaine and heroin – or combinations of the same.
Although there are few reports of catastrophic death associated with the overdose of the most common drugs, there are several reports of deaths caused by complications experienced when taking it. Complications are caused by unique medical reactions, overdoses or the mixing of drugs and alcohol. So too are there accidents that occur such as falls, car crashes, assaults etc. Possession is a 3rd degree felony.
I will provide for you detailed information about the two ingredients that are found in this most common fake ecstasy. There is a lot of medical jargon that might not make sense to you, but in short, the drug causes your brain to release dopamine and serotonin, your feel good brain chemicals. You will find yourself loving your friends, and some people you don’t know at all, wanting to touch them – all over and everywhere, to smell them, taste them, kiss them, lick them, sweat with them, dance with them – but sex with them is unlikely. You will have an enhanced experience to music, rhythm and color. Complications during ingestion include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, clenched jaw and grinding teeth, profuse sweating, extreme variations in body temperature (mostly overheating), a profound sense of thirst, acute psychosis (extreme paranoia, irrational perceptions of reality), prolonged impotence (inability to stimulate, raise or maintain an erection or to ejaculate), renal toxicity (causes kidney damage), renal wetting (leaking of urine, wetting pants) and seizures. Seizures are common. Permanent brain injury can occur from heat stroke.
The hangover from such an experience can include mild to sever headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, confusion and prolonged impotence. Vitamins and electrolytes like Gatorade or Pedialite are suggested as a temporary remedy. Side effects and the depth of the post event hangover are significantly aggravated when taken with other drugs or alcohol.
The most common cause of death comes from two things – over hydration and hypertension. People drink too much water and die from a water overdose – and they have extreme bouts of high blood pressure, which can cause nose bleeds and strokes. The actual statistical numbers of those killed is undoubtedly wrong, as deaths caused by complications from mixing different drugs and alcohol can make for a difficult diagnosis – generally going down as a “drug overdose” as the cause of death with no specific chemical named as the single cause. An accident while on Ecstasy is just an accident.
There is little known medical evidence which suggests what the long term effects are. For people who chronically used real Ecstasy (MDMA) in the past, Parkinson’s Symptoms (tremors) presented in many young people, suggesting permanent debilitating brain injury.
Ecstasy and the various facsimiles cause your brain to dump, in vast amounts, dopamine and serotonin, leading to a euphoric feeling of love and wonder. This is a temporary feeling and like most brain drugs, leads to a crash in the end when your feel good chemicals are depleted. Taking more drugs to resurrect the good feeling is generally counter productive – like with cocaine – which leads to psychosis and/or self destructive and sometimes irrational endeavors to get back on top.
Brain chemical dumps occur at synaptic bridges and are the seat of the transfer of electrical stimulations throughout the brain – the foundation for our personality, memory, perceptions and so much more. It is thought that chronic ecstasy users damaged the synaptic connections between the hypothalamus (mid brain) and the cerebral cortex and cerebellum, leading to permanent debilitating loss of memory, cognitive acuity and motor skills.
It is important to consider that what might be fun now could be a real tragedy for you later. Over the span of my lifetime, I have lost friends because they did a little too much, or a little too often, or took something that wasn’t what they thought it was. Although few have died, they were just never the same. Any time you screw with your brain chemistry, the most important biochemical reaction in your body – the processes that makes you who you are, help you to perceive the world as you do, you put at risk absolutely everything. I don’t want you to do that!
Carl H. Deal III

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