BFTN #23 2018-11-05
November 5, 2018
BFTN #24 2018-11-14
November 14, 2018
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Part TWENTY-EIGHT of our series on the WAR ON DRUGS – “Bubble Boy”.

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Show Notes:

  • In 1985, a new drug hit the market – MDMA.
  • Short for Methyl ene dioxy methamphetamine
  • In general, MDMA users report feeling the onset of subjective effects within 30–60 minutes of MDMA consumption and reaching the peak effect at 75–120 minutes, which then plateaus for about 3.5 hours.
  •  The desired short-term psychoactive effects of MDMA have been reported to include:
  •     Euphoria – a sense of general well-being and happiness
  •     Increased self-confidence, sociability and feelings of communication being easy or simple
  •     Entactogenic effects – increased empathy or feelings of closeness with others  and oneself
  •     Relaxation and reduced anxiety
  •     Increased emotionality
  •     A sense of inner peace
  •     Mild hallucination
  •     Enhanced sensation, perception, or sexuality
  •     Altered sense of time
  • Sounds downright HORRIBLE.
  • It was first synthesized in 1912 by Merck chemist Anton Köllisch in Germany.
  • Merck wanted to find a substance that stopped abnormal bleeding to compete with a similar product made by Bayer.
  • MDMA – 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine – was an intermediate compound during production of the actual substance.
  • But it wasn’t until 1970 that it appears to be used recreationally in the US.
  • It was probably manufactured as a substitute for a similar drug – methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) – a popular psychedelic  which had just been banned in 1970.
  • American chemist and psychopharmacologist Alexander Shulgin started producing it in the late 60s and by the mid 70s he was testing the psychoactive effect of the drug on himself and others and giving talks about it at conferences.
  • They found that it reduced people inhibitions and thought it could be useful for therapy.
  • Shulgin occasionally used MDMA for relaxation, referring to it as “my low-calorie martini”, and gave the drug to friends, researchers, and others who he thought could benefit from it.
  • One such person was Leo Zeff, a psychotherapist who had been known to use psychedelic substances in his practice.
  • Zeff named the drug “Adam”, believing it put users in a state of primordial innocence.
  • Psychotherapists who used MDMA believed the drug eliminated the typical fear response and increased communication.
  • Depression, substance abuse, relationship problems, premenstrual syndrome, and autism were among several psychiatric disorders MDMA assisted therapy was reported to treat.
  • According to psychiatrist George Greer, therapists who used MDMA in their practice were impressed by the results.
  • Anecdotally,   was said to greatly accelerate therapy.
  • According to David Nutt – no relation to Lefty Nutt from our earlier episodes, this guy is actually a British neuropsychopharmacologist specialising in the research of drugs that affect the brain and conditions such as addiction, anxiety, and sleep –  MDMA was widely used in the western US in couples counseling, and was called “empathy”.
  • Only later was the term “ecstasy” used for it, coinciding with rising opposition to its use.
  • In the late 70s and early 80s, ADAM was being used by psychotherapists, psychiatrists, users of psychedelics, and yuppies.
  • Hoping MDMA could avoid criminalization like LSD and mescaline, psychotherapists and experimenters attempted to limit the spread of MDMA and information about it while conducting informal research
  • By the early 1980s MDMA was being used in Boston and New York City nightclubs such as Studio 54 and Paradise Garage.
  •   Into the early 1980s, as the recreational market slowly expanded, production of MDMA was dominated by a small group of therapeutically minded Boston chemists.
  • Having commenced production in 1976, this “Boston Group” did not keep up with growing demand and shortages frequently occurred.
  • Perceiving a business opportunity, Michael Clegg, the Southwest distributor for the Boston Group, started his own “Texas Group” backed financially by Texas friends.
  •   In 1981,  Clegg had coined “Ecstasy” as a slang term for MDMA to increase its marketability.
  •   Starting in 1983,  the Texas Group mass-produced MDMA in a Texas lab  or imported it from California  and marketed tablets using pyramid sales structures and toll-free numbers.
  • MDMA could be purchased via credit card and taxes were paid on sales.
  • Under the brand name “Sassyfras”, MDMA tablets were sold in brown bottles.
  • The Texas Group advertised “Ecstasy parties” at bars and discos, describing MDMA as a “fun drug” and “good to dance to”.
  • MDMA was openly distributed in Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth area bars and nightclubs, becoming popular with yuppies, college students, and gays.
  • By 1984, the media had started covering the recreational use of MDMA, and so the DEA decided to make it a schedule 1 drug.
  • But they got a lot of push back from psychiatrists.
  • Which took them by surprise.
  • They had no idea it was being used for therapeutic reasons.
  • n response to the proposed scheduling, the Texas Group increased production from 1985 estimates of 30,000 tablets a month to as many as 8,000 per day, potentially making two million ecstasy tablets in the months before MDMA was made illegal.
  • By some estimates the Texas Group distributed 500,000 tablets per month in Dallas alone.
  • According to one participant in an ethnographic study, the Texas Group produced more MDMA in eighteen months than all other distribution networks combined across their entire histories.
  • By May 1985, MDMA use was widespread in California, Texas, southern Florida, and the northeastern United States.
  •   According to the DEA there was evidence of use in twenty-eight states  and Canada.
  • Urged by Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the DEA announced an emergency Schedule I classification of MDMA on 31 May 1985.
  • The agency cited increased distribution in Texas, escalating street use, and new evidence of MDA (an analog of MDMA) neurotoxicity as reasons for the emergency measure.
  • The ban took effect one month later on 1 July 1985 in the midst of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.
  • As a result of several expert witnesses testifying that MDMA had an accepted medical usage, the administrative law judge presiding over the hearings recommended that MDMA be classified as a Schedule III substance.
  • Despite this, DEA administrator John C. Lawn overruled and classified the drug as Schedule I.
  • Later Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon – the guy who the Aussie rock band is named after – sued the DEA, claiming that the DEA had ignored the medical uses of MDMA, and the federal court sided with Grinspoon, calling Lawn’s argument “strained” and “unpersuasive”, and vacated MDMA’s Schedule I status.
  • Despite this, less than a month later Lawn reviewed the evidence and reclassified MDMA as Schedule I again, claiming that the expert testimony of several psychiatrists claiming over 200 cases where MDMA had been used in a therapeutic context with positive results could be dismissed because they weren’t published in medical journals.
  • No double blind studies had yet been conducted as to the efficacy of MDMA for therapy.
  • Of course, as you’d expect, once the government had banned MDMA, the use of it exploded.
  • And the quality of it declined.
  • It became popular in the dance clubs of Ibiza, then spread to the rave culture in the UK.
  • And then to Europe and the US.
  • Since the mid-1990s, MDMA has become the most widely used amphetamine-type drug by college students and teenagers.
  • After MDMA was criminalized, most medical use stopped, although some therapists continued to prescribe the drug illegally.
  • “Molly”, short for ‘molecule’, was recognized as a slang term for crystalline or powder MDMA in the 2000s.
  • According to David Nutt, when safrole was restricted by the United Nations in order to reduce the supply of MDMA, producers in China began using anethole instead, but this gives para-methoxyamphetamine (PMA, also known as “Dr Death”), which is much more toxic than MDMA and can cause overheating, muscle spasms, seizures, unconsciousness, and death.
  • People wanting MDMA are sometimes sold PMA instead.
  • According to dancesafe.org, In the vast majority of cases of MDMA-related deaths, where no other drugs were found in the person’s bloodstream, the deceased had taken a dose within the normal range for appropriate therapeutic or recreational use.
  • By far the most common cause of MDMA-related medical emergencies and death is heatstroke, where MDMA was only one of a number of factors involved.
  • A normal dose of MDMA raises body temperature about one degree and also inhibits the body’s natural thermoregulation.
  • This increases the risk of heatstroke, especially when other factors are involved, like aerobic dancing in a hot environment and not drinking enough water.
  • Another new drug to hit the market in 1985 was called basuco or bazooka.
  • a smokable form of cocaine
  • Basuco is derived from the Spanish word for trash (basura), literally meaning “little dirty trash” (of cocaine), referring to the paste left at the bottom of a barrel after cocaine production.
  • Basuco is mostly smoked, either rolled like a cigarette with tobacco or cannabis, or more commonly from selfmade pipes.
  • “Freebase,” a smokable form of cocaine that was lovingly — and dangerously — manufactured by using highly flammable ether, had been around for years, and had become famous when comedian Richard Pryor immolated himself making it in 1980.
  • Its use had tapered off, though.
  • And nobody had ever called it “basuco”.
  • Another thing that hit in 85 was crack cocaine.
  • Crack is little rocks of cocaine
  • You smoke it like freebase, but it’s cooked with water and baking soda instead of ether, so it’s much easier and cheaper to  make.
  • Crack offers a short but intense high to smokers.
  • Crack cocaine is frequently purchased already in rock form, although it is not uncommon for some users to “wash up” or “cook” powder cocaine into crack themselves.
  • This process is frequently done with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), water, and a spoon.
  • Its initial effect is to release a large amount of dopamine,  a brain chemical inducing feelings of euphoria.
  • The high usually lasts from 5–10 minutes,   after which time dopamine levels in the brain plummet, leaving the user feeling depressed and low.
  • Crack cocaine may be combined with amphetamine (“croack”); tobacco (“coolie”); marijuana (“buddha”; “caviar”; “chronic”; “cocoa puffs”; “fry daddy”; “gimmie”; “gremmie”; “juice”; “primo”; “torpedo”; “turbo”; “woolie”; “woola”); heroin (“moon rock”); and phencyclidine (“clicker”; “p-funk”; “spacebase”).
  • Crack smoking (“hitting the pipe”; “puffing”; “beaming up (to Scotty)”) is commonly performed with utensils such as pipes (“bowl”; “devil’s dick”; “glass dick”; “horn”; “Uzi”); improvised pipes made from a plastic bottle (“Masarati”); water pipes (“bong”; “hubbly-bubbly”); and laboratory pipettes (“demo”).
  • Crack cocaine can also be injected intravenously with the same effect as powder cocaine.
  • However, whereas powder cocaine dissolves in water, crack must be dissolved in an acidic solution such as lemon juice or white vinegar
  • What was new about it, was how cheap it was and how you could buy it in tiny single-hit doses.
  • Really, really cheap.
  • $10 a hit.
  • They called it crack in South Bronx, but in LA they call it “rock” and in Miami, “growl.”
  • The drug abuse research community hadn’t worried too much about cocaine because they thought its high price would keep a lid on it.
  • They considered cocaine more of a “Hollywood production” than a threat to public health.
  • But once dealers were marketing it at a few dollars a hit, anybody would be able to afford it.
  • Particularly scary that it was appearing only in places like the South Bronx
  • At that moment, Reagan was readying another $20 billion cut in urban funding, bringing to 80 percent the total decline so far under his administration.
  • This kind of policy toward the urban poor, plus a new cheap form of cocaine, might soon spell disaster in the ghetto.
  • Meanwhile the Reagan administration was drawing the battle lines.
  • Their attitude was “you’re either with us or you’re against us” in the War on Drugs.
  • Newspaper editors were instructed to run stories on drug users.
  • Defense attorneys were told  that constitutional freedoms should not be used as a “screen” to protect defendants who engage in “the evils of drugs.”
  • the Justice Department was beginning to exercise its new powers to subpoena defense attorneys and force them to inform on their own drug clients.
  • It also was stripping drug defendants of the money they might use to hire a lawyer.
  • “Governmental investigations of lawyers — including use of such tactics as informants, wiretaps, subpoenas, and office searches — have risen so dramatically in the last four years that they are almost common,” the National LawJournal reported.
  • And the FBI even went as far as entrapping high profile businessman into being a drug dealer – John DeLorean

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