20/20 Downtown: Ecstasy Copycats

While Sferios says that the best way to reduce harm is to abstain from using drugs altogther, he believes his harm-reduction approach of providing nonjudgmental information on the risk of drugs and risk-reduction techniques are the best way to reach a large segment of the population whom he calls “novelty seekers.” For these youngsters, he says, “drug experimentation is a fact of life.”

High-Tech High Touch

And Sferios has his supporters. Bob Wallace, 51, who was the ninth person ever hired by Microsoft and is now semiretired, met Emanuel at a party and has since contributed $70,000 to DanceSafe.

“One thing I like a lot about DanceSafe is that they don’t say ‘You should or should not do a drug.’” Instead, DanceSafe is “spreading knowledge very effectively” and “reducing the harm that can happen.”

In fact, most of DanceSafe’s funding comes from Internet professionals. “In the Internet work community, it’s very intense, long hours, very structured, very difficult,” Wallace says. “So you can imagine that when these people have a little free time, they want something that helps them open up and feel compassion and love.”

So MDMA, which is said to do just that, has made its way from all-night raves to Silicon Valley. “It’s called high-tech high-touch,” Wallace says. “The more technical you get in your job, the more touchy-feely you need in your life.”

Wallace, who has also contributed nearly $300,000 to research mind-altering drugs, says that the unique qualities of MDMA, such as increasing feelings of empathy, make it a drug worth studying. “We need to understand how our mind works,” he says. Because of DanceSafe, he adds, “people who would normally not have any idea of brain chemistry are starting to learn what’s good for the brain and what’s bad for it.”

Steve Simitzes, 25, who recently left the Internet industry to work in music production, is also a donor. People who are interested in “forging deeper into their psyches,” he says, which can include professionals who work developing new technology, are drawn to Ecstasy.

A “raver” for 10 years, Simitzes supports DanceSafe’s mission. “If people are going to use drugs, they’re going to use drugs. Let’s make sure they are doing it safely,” he says.

But to Casteel of the DEA, “That is a misguided philosophy at best, a dangerous one at worst. It’s like putting on a seatbelt so you can go 1,000 miles per hour. It just doesn’t work.”

David Perozzi produced the 20/20 Downtown segment, with John Quiñones reporting.

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