|There's a lot of information
on the web about drugs used by clubbers. The details need to be continually
updated, as new information about fashions, drug production and drug
research becomes available, not something I have either the time or
knowledge to do. In addition there is uncertainty about the answers
to some basic questions, like why some people die when they take ecstasy.
With regard to the issue of "what do we really know?" I
cite two letters sent to The Times in March 2002 by way of
example of apparent confusion amongst people who one would expect
not to be in disagreement; both were written after the recent publication
of the UK government's guidelines called "Safer
- This letter, from Robert Sharpe, Programme
Officer of the Drug Policy Alliance, based in Washington D.C.
was published on March 11th. 2002.
"The Home Office's new guidelines for club drugs like ecstasy
will undoubtedly save lives. In addition to providing consumers
with practical advice on reducing drug-related harm, dance clubs
should be allowed to test pills for purity. So-called ecstacy
over-doses are invariably the result of deadly toxins sold as
While the UK adopts a public health approach, the culture wars
are heating up in America. President Bush is now pushing "compassionate
This expansion of zero tolerance does not distinguish between
occasional drug use and chronic abuse. Jail sentences and open-ended
drug testing will be applied exclusively to users of non-traditional
drugs like cannabis.
Unlike alcohol, cannabis has never been shown to cause an overdose
death, nor does it share the addictive properties of nicotine.
However, cannabis represents Sixties counterculture to misguided
reactionaries intent on imposing their version of morality.
The Home Office is to be commended for putting public health before
|The reply, published
on March 13th. 2002 came from Dr. Leslie A. King,
Principal scientific adviser, Drugscope,
"Mr. Robert Sharpe writes that "Ecstacy
over-doses are invariably the result of deadly toxins sold as Ecstacy".
This is part of a wider myth of the "bad batch" that is
regretably perpetuated whenever an Ecstasy death is reported in some
sections of the media.
I recently retired as head of the Forensic Science Service (FSS).
Of the thousands of Ecstacy tablets examined by the FSS over many
years, no case of a "deadly toxin" was ever found. A number
of other substances are passed off as Ecstacy but these substitutes/fakes
pose no more of a health hazard than Ecstacy itself.
This situation is not only true for the UK, but also applies to the
US, where most of the Ecstacy consumed originates from clandestine
laboratories in Europe. To blame alleged contaminants for the mortality
and morbidity associated with the misuse of Ecstasy is misleading.
It suggests that if only we could get pure Ecstasy things would be
alright. However the pharmacological and toxicological evidence points
to the drug itself as the main contributory factor in Ecstasy-related
King's reply accords with the view of Matthew
Collin, in his book Altered State. The copy
I have came out in 1997, and then he summed up the debate about
ecstacy by saying that basically scientists still don't know why
some people die when they take the drug.
The issue is made more complex by the spread of other drugs like
ketamine and multiple drug use, including alcohol with E and/or
Many clubbers seem to reduce the issue of assessing the
risk of taking a pill to simple statistics along the lines of:
people have died over the past ten years from taking ecstasy,
(or approximately 10 per year).
pills are consumed each week, (making a total of approximately
25,000,000 per annum).*
the chances of dying in a year from taking one pill are 10/25,000,000
or 2.5 million to 1.
i.e. so remote as to not be worth bothering about.
It's perhaps worth noting however, that these are the odds of
dying from taking one pill in a year and that
the odds change with the number of pills consumed.
If someone took say five pills per week for a year, (250 per
year), the odds of dying from taking pills in a year become
10,000 to 1. Taking ten pills a week for a year, (500 a year),
bring them down to 5,000 to 1.
* The EMCDDA, the EU drugs agency, in its 1999 Annual Report
of the EU Drug Problem said a conservative estimate for
the UK is over one million "doses" every weekend.
Many people would argue that this is far
too simplistic, that there's other factors involved apart from
how many pills you take, e.g. it's not just the pills, but also
how much water you've consumed,
the ambient temperature, whether the pills are what you think
they are, (MDMA vs MDEA, vs MDA) or whether there's something
else in the pills (see the discussion in the letters quoted above),
whether some people have a natural tendency to react badly to
pills, whether the fact that you've not had a bad reaction in
the past means you're less likely to have one in the future, etc.
There are also a number of other risks which might concern people,
over and above the issue of whether or not you'll die from taking
one (e.g. the long-term effects, the effect on driving, etc.),
and the general view is that people should be as well-educated
as possible, so that, at the least, they can make informed choices.
a difference between risk and uncertainty. Risk can be assessed,
(e.g. we can assess the chances of being injured in an airplane
accident by looking at the data on past airplane accidents - insurance
companies do it all the time). Uncertainty means we just don't know
- there's no, or not enough, past evidence to enable us to make
As it stands it seems that there is still a lot of uncertainty about
many of these questions, meaning that it's not possible to
assess all the risks and make a well-informed choice.
Of course, most people actually don't go to much trouble to assess
risks anyway, but if you'd like some more info see some of the links
Over the past year, police in Birmingham have been making the public,
and particualrly drug dealers, aware of their intention to purchase
, a sensitive device used to detect
and identify drugs secreted thought a person's sweat. If someone
has touched a controlled substance, this will be indicated from
traces left in their sweat.
Monday 15th. December 203 saw them at Birmigham's gay bar Route,
demostrating both that device and a "roofie" tester kit,
which detects whether someone's drink has been spiked.
Customers seemed quite happy to be tested with the VaporTracer,
though the presence of four uniformed officers handing out leaflets
at the entrance to the bar would have inclined anyone worried about
being drugged up or having drugs on them not to bother coming in
The exercise should be seen as part of a wider publicity campaign
by the Birmingham force to get the mesasage out that the device
has been deployed and will be used wherever it feels appropriate
in the city.
you or a friend ever been thrown out of a club because you looked
Ever heard of clubs where they throw clubbers out because they
don't want the risk of a death on the premises, which might then
lead to the venue being closed?
guidance for clubs from "Safer
"4.26 On no account, should anyone suffering
from the ill effects of drug use be thrown out of the premises.
This can cause very serious health consequences. For instance,
some ecstasy-related deaths involve hypothermia, hence ejecting
someone from a hot club into the cold night air could result in
Drugs and Dance Music...
Are drugs and dance music inextricably linked? For many people,
incudng many of those who have written about the clubbing scene,
the answer seems to be a resounding "YES!" The kinds of
reasons given include:
I feel happy.
the music more intensely.
LOVE people when I'm E'd up.
can dance forever.
like to get fucked/trollied/mashed/offmyhead/face.
There's a combination of effects, at least for people on ecstacy,
the most popular club drug: a positive change in mood, an intensification
of sensation, a sense of increased energy, all
of which seem ideally suited to the experience of dance music.
However, the last view indicates that there's also a sense of
shutting out everything else, something particularly exerienced
by those using ketamine. The increased popularity of this drug
in clubs, first in London, then in the rest of the UK, has been
bemoaned by many experienced clubbers as "anti-social".
The view seems to be that whereas e makes people chatty
and outgoing, k makes people inward looking and solitary.
|and yet, and yet... Well
here's an extract from an interview with Paul van Dyk lifted from
"One of the most interesting aspects of you is that you are
one of the few djs that take an active anti-drugs policy. Tell us
more about that.
PvD > I wouldn't go as far and say I am anti-drugs. Many people
relate the dance/electronic music industry with drugs like ecstasy.
All I'm saying that that is not necessarily the case all the time.
I started up in East Berlin in the days before the Wall came down,
and there were no drugs anywhere in the city. There were no clubs,
no records, no djs, and we got into the dance scene thanks to the
spill over of the West Berlin radio signals. In that case I can
honestly say that everyone there was into the music firstly and
fore mostly. None of the East Berlin radio stations were allowed
to play dance music, no one could buy the records, and it was all
very underground. Our only exposure was via the radio stations of
the West, which of course the communist government couldn't stop.
Even though we were in effect doing something illegal (listening
to the music) - as judged by the dictating government at that time
- it was a unifying and liberating experience. Once the wall came
down we all rushed to the clubs and the (club culture) scene really
exploded. That was back in 1989 - not really such a long time ago.
I have a different perspective on drugs and dance music - I don't
condone drugs - but I do strongly believe there are people who are
into the scene just for the music. I am one of them."
Drugs, Club Promoters and the Police
This is not about what to do if you are stopped
by the police carrying a container-lorry load of class A drugs,
but rather my take on the multi-faceted nature of government and
police policies towards drug dealing and use in clubs, not to mention
the attitudes of club promoters. (For info on what to do if stopped
by the police try one of the links below). Just as a reminder, I
take the view in this site of writing as much about the business
of clubbing and club promoting as anything else. My perspective
here is to explore some of the ethical business issues of in-club
The publicly expressed views of the government, (they make the laws),
and the police, (they enforce the laws), seem to differ from police
behaviour towards drugs in clubs. Generally both condemn drug use
and particulalrly, drug dealing, and ever increasing powers to threaten
venue owners and promoters have been enacted or proposed over the
years. Yet, most clubs seem to have in-house dealers. The much publicised
exception of Ministry of Sound only serves to make
In some cases the same dealers operate in clubs for years. In others,
the clubs (actually in this case I'm thinking of a bar), know who
deals and every so often "give-up" the dealers to help
the police with their crime figures. Whatever, both venue owners
and promoters can easily know who deals at their club. I'm hardly
a detective, but I can figure out who's dealing in a club if I want
to find out. Go there for a few weeks and you can readily figure
out who's dealing regularly, (i.e. as an income supplement or for
a living rather than having a spare pill to flog now and again).
If I can know, then you can bet the club knows, the promoter knows
and the police can know anytime they want to. Yet drug dealing in
clubs continues, with the same people involved year after year after
year. Conclusion: despite what they or the government may say, the
police don't want to do very much about in-club dealing. Nor do
the club promoters nor venue owners.
When we started 2Klub in Manchester my then business partner and
I discussed what our policy towards drug dealing should be. We discussed
- Tolerate an in-house dealer.
The rationale was that if something went wrong (dodgy
pill) we'd know who was responsible.
Bear in mind this was Manchester, late 1990s, emerging from a spate
of gang violence. There were still gang members being gunned down
even while 2Klub was running there. Most doors were run by bouncers
allied to one gang or another, though the gay scene had seemed to
have been by-passed in that regard, but that may have been wishful
thinking on my part. The point being though that there were likely
to be vested interests wanting to see some dealing going on at whatever
venue we chose to operate the club, (this was before we'd found
somewhere to hold events). That said, my view was simple. I had
no choice - I could only go for the first option. To do otherwise
meant being complicit, something I wasn't willing to be. The rationale
for the second option seemed to me to be ludicrous. People bring
their own drugs into clubs; how would we know who was responsible
if something happened? The step from "tolerating" an in-house
dealer, (and who, by the way, would this be; we'd have to know who
it was), to asking for a cut of his take seemed to be a small one.
Why not, we're allowing him to be there (it's always assumed it's
a "he" isn't it) providing a service, and running a club
can be a perilous undertaking, putting up money to get the club
going - why not get an additional bit of extra income to help sustain
the venture. It seemed to me to be just a few small easily "justified"
steps to take and we'd be up to our necks in dealing. That was not
what I was out to do. However, I have the feeling that I'm more
the exception than the rule. More than this of course, as the rumours
about big name clubs being into dealing have been rife - one northern
club had a notorious door staff, who worked with the in-house dealers
and runners, bringing bagfuls of the stuff onto the premises and
at the end of the night the police would come round to empty the
club's amnesty box!
It is of course at that level when the police seem to take an occasional
interest. That club eventually did get raided, and the door staff
were changed and police action has led to some well-publicised club
closures of course. Home in London closed because
they couldn't control the dealing on the premises. Cream
suffered a well-publicised raid, and subsequent threats to the venue's
license, and not long afterwards, the club closed. Ditto Trade.
So the police do take action now and again. But in the main, drug
taking and dealing in clubs seem to be tolerated... so long as no
one dies. The impact of such tragedies on clubs can be guaged by
reading the Sundissential
page on this website, though numeorus deaths later, that club marches
The fear of the effect of a death on the premises is of course one
of the major reasons why some club staff get people out of the venue
as quickly as possible. If someone dies in the street, then it can
be argued that the death had nothing to do with the club if the
venue's license is threatened.
So, so long as deaths remain at low levels, the benefits seem to
outweigh the costs. From a policing point of view and crowd control
on a Saturday night, policing the streets is much easier when dealing
with a bunch of loved-up or mashed clubbers than when dealing with
This somewhat cosy, some will say
commendably tolerant, attitude by the police unfortunately raises
some further issues or at least suspicions, for just as it seems
so easy for promoters and owners to step across the line from tolerance
to deep involvement, so similarly for the police. If members of
a force could raid a venue, or go after a particular
dealer, but don't, the suspicion starts to be raised that perhaps
it's because they are given further incentives than just easy policing
not to do so. To what extent then do dealing and police corruption
go together? Certainly there has been evidence of at least one famous
club being raided not by the local police force, but by an outside
force investigating corruption in the local force.
However, when I put this view to one police sergeant he expressed
the belief that the issue was simply one of resources. Mounting
an in-club operation to identify and arrest an in-club dealer is
an expensive and lengthy process, and apparently not as simple as
might at first appear.
For anyone thinking of getting into club promotion there are thus
a host of ethical issues to consider. They need to be understood
and considered well in advance, and any differences in opinion of
the main players need to be ironed out, otherwise you or your business
partner could go the way of one Leeds club promoter who's been enjoying
Her Majesty's hospitality for a few years now, with many more still
There's lots of sites which
can provide drug-related info. Here's a few, from which you can
get to others...
DrugScope provides a wide range of drug information.
(Link not working December 20th. 2003)
in Solihull, Cascade provides drug information for young people
by young people.
information on general health issues including drugs.
Ecstacy.org provides info on ecstacy, mainly MDMA they say.