Wild One Weekend, Brain-Dead the Next

Fiona tells how she discovered ecstasy while traveling overseas, but claims to have used heavily since returning to Australia. Even so, she worries about the consequences for some of her accomplices.

"I am concerned about some friends … [in one friend] you can already see the consequences in her severely depressed moods after she takes pills, and I think she might be predisposed to some sort of mental illness. I think she might be heading in that direction," Fiona says.

And that's exactly what has researchers so concerned — the likely long-term effects on mental health.

Enduring Problems for a Quick High

In terms of death rates, ecstasy does not come close to the big killers, smoking and alcohol, but scientists fear this has contributed to the impression that ecstasy is a safe alternative.

"There is a concern that a lot of people who are using ecstasy are doing so outside of any knowledge of what the risks are," says Allsop. "I think that there is a potential for people to have enduring mental problems — the evidence is sufficient to say that is a serious risk, and how that pans out in the long time remains to be seen."

Relaxing after a set at one of Canberra's top night spots, Ed Cregan, renowned under the DJ name "Drop Dead Ed," tells of his experience playing music for drugged-up dancers.

"These kids are going pretty wild," says Cregan. "At pretty much every place I play, it's the same. At the start of the night it's always pretty laid back, but once everyone starts getting drugs into them, things really start to hot up."

Cregan says he has witnessed a worrying trend during his time working behind the DJ decks. Although he doesn't take the drug himself, he believes ecstasy use to be rising, a view supported by Allsop and various research reports that show a increasing use throughout the last decade.

"I think it's becoming more prevalent. I've been playing for a few years now and you're really beginning to notice how much younger the kids are getting and how much more people seem to take. It's a trashbag culture, really," Cregan adds.

Laura agrees. She's noticed the same changes.

"It's getting younger and younger. Now I know people who are 17 doing pills, whereas I would never have considered it at that age," she says.

Dangers of Drug Cocktails

Another risk factor is the indulgence in drug cocktails, when partiers mix a variety of substances to suit their moods — or create them. For those who "dump," a few rounds of alcohol and the occasional cigarette are also commonplace additions. Sparking up a marijuana joint is also common, according to Allsop.

When chatting with revelers, many talk about administering a wide range of different substances.

"There's a lot of mixing of drugs whilst taking it — speed, coke, ketamine and other stuff," Laura says.

And it's not just mixing. Other behaviors are just as hair-raising. "Binging" is a popular approach to ecstasy consumption. This is where revelers use ecstasy and other drugs for more than 48 hours without sleep in a single session.

According to the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre's (NDARC) 2006 report on ecstasy use and trends in Australia, half of the national sample of users had binged within the last six months.

The NDARC also reports that a little under half of the national sample were using ecstasy between bi-weekly and monthly, while 23 percent of those questioned used more than once a week.

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