Peace, love, unity, and raves

Nicole Bronstein

Part I: Taking a step out of the darkness and into one bright night with three ravers

We all could feel the energy as we walked inside—an electricity pulsed through the air, and the scantily clad strangers milling around seemed to feed off of each other like a wildfire.

“Every rave is one big adventure,” said “Lindsay,” an anonymous junior girl. Lindsay let Alexa Addleman and me, two reporters from the Bark, follow her and her two junior girl friends to a rave in San Francisco to give us a taste of rave culture. They promised us that this night would represent their typical night at a rave.

On a weekend night, we met Lindsay and her two anonymous friends, “Annabelle” and “Kelly.” All three girls wore sweatshirts and sweatpants to cover up their true rave attire in front of Lindsay’s parents.

Once Lindsay kissed her mother goodbye and the girls were safely out of her house, Lindsay grabbed her bag and pulled out a fifth of vodka. Annabelle pulled out a bag of marijuana-infused chocolate. They passed the vodka around along with a Red Bull and split up the chocolate. They had tried to buy “molly,” a rave drug and central nervous system stimulant that causes euphoric highs similar to ecstasy, earlier that week, but they couldn’t get their money together in time, so this was their last-minute solution.

“It’s kind of hard to rely on [molly] because it’s different every time,” Annabelle said. “It could be a bad batch or it could just not work.”

Once the vodka was consumed and the chocolate was gone, they stripped off their sweatshirts and sweatpants to reveal lace bras, high-waisted spandex shorts, and thigh-high lace stockings. They wore flower crowns on their heads, gemstone stickers on their faces, and homemade rave bracelets made out of colored beads, which we learned were called “kandi,” on their wrists. The beads on the kandi spelled out words like “ASS,” “BOP,” and “PARTY.” Annabelle slipped a bedazzled flask into her stocking.

We arrived at the San Francisco venue around 9:30 and stood in line with a handful of 20-somethings who were decked out in kandi. Many wore rhinestone-encrusted pacifiers to relieve the common side effect of violent teeth chattering and jaw clenching when on molly, which without a pacifier can cause chewed up gums and cracked teeth.

Behind the rave doors, the crowd was sweaty, high, and practically naked, not to mention almost completely devoid of high schoolers. The girls seemed young and out of place.

We entered the crowd, and the girls swayed and bobbed their heads as the music thumped and womped and bright lights moved over the crowd. Lindsay wore special diffraction glasses that separated the lights into rainbow colors.

A tall boy reached his hand out to us to perform a special rave handshake and celebrate the rave philosophy, PLUR, which stands for peace, love, unity, and respect. Two fingers up to symbolize peace, two cupped hands to symbolize love, interlocked fingers to represent unity, and an exchange of kandi to symbolize respect. He slipped kandi onto our wrists to spread the love, asking for nothing in return, before disappearing into the crowd.

Annabelle and Kelly took selfies while Lindsay started a conversation with a man standing behind her.

His name was Russell, he looked about 25 years old, and he was a self-described entrepreneur. He said didn’t care much for PLUR, and to be honest, he was just there to feel the music and get high.

Russell and Lindsay talked and danced for a few minutes, and we watched as Lindsay whispered something in Russell’s ear. He nodded, grabbed her hand, and led us to the back of the room.

As they reached the back of the room, the girls huddled around Russell as he placed a small white capsule into Lindsay and Annabelle’s hands. Molly.

We tapped Annabelle on the shoulder, asking if she was going to pay for it. She turned around with a smile on her face, as if we were missing something. “We’re girls,” she said, and took the pill in hand without paying a penny.

Lindsay said she trusted Russell.

“Before anything else, I wanted to make sure he wasn’t trying to come onto me — that he just wanted to be my friend,” she explained.

Annabelle added that most guys at raves are respectful and friendly, but there are exceptions.

“Some guys are pushy. Sometimes they think you want to hook up with them just because of the way you’re dancing or the way you’re dressed,” she said. “But most people are really respectful.”

Lindsay said she had a strategy to figure out what type of guy Russell was.

“I could tell by the way he touched me. I grabbed his hand to see how he would react,” she said. “Once I figured he was just being friendly, I looked at him more. I could tell he was [on drugs] because I noticed he was sweating, so I brought it up.”

So Lindsay asked him if he was sober, and when he replied “f**k no,” she asked him if he had any molly to sell her.

“Everyone here has it and sells it, and sometimes you get it for free,” Kelly said. “It’s easy to find.”

Lindsay said that being under the influence is a huge part of rave culture.

“Having a bond over the drugs is a big part of the community feel,” she said. “You have the same feelings and you can talk about what you’re feeling.”

Molly is marketed as “pure” MDMA, but the girls said they don’t believe it.

“The whole rumor about molly being pure isn’t true,” Kelly said. “It’s all bullshit.”

According to Casey Rettig of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s San Francisco division, people shouldn’t trust that molly is pure, because more often than not, it isn’t. In fact, it has been found to be laced with substances like rat poison, methamphetamine, and heart medication.

“Outside of a lab setting, how do you really know that it’s pure MDMA?” Rettig said. “You want to believe the guy who’s trying to make a buck off of you, who’s telling you to put this unknown substance in your body. It’s Russian roulette, just because someone tells you what you’re putting into your body is pure doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Lindsay said she believed Russell when he told her that his pills were legitimate and that his friend had cooked it himself.

“I’m not worried,” she said as she and Annabelle popped the pills into their mouths and washed them down with water from Russell’s water bottle. The girls said it usually takes them three capsules to feel anything, but they still took one capsule each with high hopes.

Kelly didn’t get a pill because Russell had nothing left to give her. She began talking to Russell, and moments later they were kissing. He still didn’t have any molly for her, but she took his phone number and went into the crowd to find a different supplier.

Minutes later, she found an older man who offered her a nondescript white powder in a plastic bag. He told her it was molly, and she dipped her finger in the bag and rubbed the powder on her gums.

When we asked her how she knew what she was taking was actually molly, she replied, “I mean you can’t be sure, but you just trust that it’s safe.”

She recounted an incident that had happened a few months ago at another rave in which a man came up to her with a damp rag and asked her to sniff it. She said she turned down the offer immediately, citing it as one of her scariest experiences at an event like this.

About 20 minutes later, we returned to the front and Lindsay complained of a dry mouth. She took a sip of water from a stranger’s water bottle and felt better. It wasn’t long before she started feeling the effects of the drugs, or “rolling,” as it is commonly referred to.

“I feel the music in my chest vibrating through my entire body,” Lindsay said. “Everything is ten times slower and I’m in my own world. My senses are heightened.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the effects of molly include sweating, jaw clenching, muscle tension, and extreme alertness.

After all three of them claimed to be rolling, we went up to the balcony. Lindsay and Annabelle sat down in a row of seats immediately, explaining that they couldn’t and didn’t want to move. Their eyes were wide and they sat immobilized and silent, staring blankly and feeling the music.

Kelly remained standing, dancing energetically and smiling to herself.

“I’m rolling, like a lot,” Kelly said. “I’m just so happy. I just want to dance and feel this good forever. I must have taken something powerful because such a small amount [of molly] usually doesn’t do this to me.”

Her teeth were chattering and she chewed on her plastic bracelet to relieve the tension in her jaw.

Lindsay took off her diffraction glasses because she said she couldn’t handle them. She was overwhelmed, and looked away from the stage to the back of the room. Her knee shook, and she told us that it felt like the music was coming out of her knee. Annabelle added that she felt like the lights were coming into her eyes and out of her ears.

“I close my eyes and I can still see the lights,” Lindsay said. “I don’t need my eyes to see. I also can’t move.”

After a couple minutes of talking, it was clear that Annabelle and Lindsay were done socializing and wanted to keep to themselves.

A woman with short red hair approached Kelly, opened her arms wide, and screamed in her ear that she was from San Diego, and that she was on some wacked-out drugs. She put her arm around Kelly and tried to kiss her. her, but Kelly pulled away. She tried again a few minutes later and was rejected a second time.

Lindsay turned to Annabelle with worried eyes. She asked her how she was feeling.

“I swear we’ve never felt like this before,” she said to Annabelle. “Normal molly doesn’t do this to you.”

Annabelle turned to her and smiled.

“I know, this is the best,” she said.

A few minutes later Annabelle and Lindsay said they wanted to leave. Kelly was still dancing, but the two claimed to be thirsty and overwhelmed, so we left.

On the way out, the girls reflected on their experience.

“Usually one [capsule] doesn’t do anything to us but this was really intense,” Lindsay said. “This is probably the strongest I’ve ever felt it. I don’t know what was in that.”

Lindsay said she sees how taking drugs from a stranger at a rave could be potentially harmful.

“It was sketch what I did,” she said. “I shouldn’t make a habit of it.”

Unlike Lindsay, Annabelle and Kelly believed there were benefits to taking drugs from strangers.

“I can’t believe it was only one,” Annabelle said. “That just makes me mad at the stuff we can get from [guys in Marin.] We got it from Russell for free. We should start getting it from city guys more often.”

Kelly reminded the girls Russell gave her his number, so she can text him and meet him halfway next time they want molly.


Part II: Everything but the kitchen sink: The truth about molly

“My senses are heightened. I feel like nothing’s around me, I’m focusing on the music, I’m feeling the lights and the vibrations,” said “Lindsay,” an anonymous junior girl who reflects on her experiences with the popular club drug “molly.”

Molly is an illegal stimulant that is marketed as the pure powder form of MDMA, a chemical also found in ecstasy that acts as a stimulant and psychedelic. However, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, molly is almost never pure MDMA. In fact, the DEA claims that in the majority of San Francisco cases, molly contains no MDMA at all.

“Molly is marketed as pure MDMA, but from what we have found, molly, in most cases, contains no MDMA at all. Absolutely none,” said Casey Rettig of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s San Francisco division.

As it is marketed as “pure,” users seek out molly to avoid a drug mixed with additives like caffeine, methamphetamine, and cocaine. But today’s molly is often not pure, and people who think they may be purchasing “pure” molly are likely exposing themselves to the same risks. Common additives in molly are reported to include synthetic cathinones, which are found in bath salts, and ketamine, which is found in horse tranquilizers.

“Molly can contain everything but the kitchen sink,” Rettig said. “We’ve found rat poison, heart medication, methamphetamine, and caffeine. And when those substances are mixed together, it can have very dangerous consequences for the user, and it can be fatal.”

Rettig said manufacturers of molly lace it with these substances for economic reasons—synthetic cathinones and rat poison are cheaper than MDMA.

“The reason people are moving to the synthetic cathinones is because the profit margin is a lot larger—they can get the cathinones for cheaper and they can mark the price of their drug up,” she said. “Marketing something as pure MDMA drives the price up, it becomes a branding strategy. Pure molly is just a marketing tool.”

The white powder usually comes in gelatin capsules of .1 gram each. According to “Annabelle,” an anonymous junior, one capsule costs around $10 to $15. She said usually takes three capsules to feel the high, which lasts for hours. The drug has been popularized by references made by celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Kanye West.

Rettig said MDMA and drugs that are marketed as MDMA are popular among the young rave crowd. The drug’s dangers are becoming clearer and clearer after it was the cause of four deaths this past summer, two of which occurred at a popular electronic music festival in New York. The number of MDMA-related visits to US emergency rooms has jumped 123 percent since 2004, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network. There were 22,498 such visits in 2011, the most recent year on record.

Annabelle and Lindsay said they bought a bad batch of molly from a different supplier a few months ago.

“We had never gotten it from this guy before, and it’s almost like it was a totally different drug,” she said. “We had taken it before, and in the past everything was so fun and interesting, but this time was different. It made us really irritable and angry and tense,”

Annabelle said the next day she woke up in a cold sweat with a high fever.

“I took it on a Saturday night, and I woke up feeling really sick,” she said. “So sick that I stayed home from school Monday and Tuesday. I think my body was trying to get it out of my system.”

Annabelle said she told her parents there was probably just a flu going around school, even though she knew that it was from the molly.

“Now, after that one experience, I get a little scared [when I take molly],” she said.

The girls said they trust their current supplier, a senior boy, even though the quality of the drugs they get from him varies.

Rettig said that the chemicals found in molly are often produced in unregulated offshore laboratories.

“This stuff is being made in underground, dirty labs, often in foreign countries and is being shipped over to the United States and to be distributed,” Rettig said. “These aren’t scientists working in a lab—these are criminal organizations looking to make a dollar, at anyone’s expense. They’re combining dangerous chemicals and marketing them however they see fit.”