MDMA safety: Practical medical tips for ravers who choose to use ecstasy


Follow the Festival Lawyer on Twitter // Photo by Sterling Munksgard

In writing the second part of this article about “Ecstasy Safety”, I found almost as many urban myths surrounding the medical aspects of Ecstasy as there are surrounding the legal aspects of the drug.

That’s why I’m super fortunate to be able to collaborate with Stefanie Jones and Missi Wooldridge from DanceSafe.

DanceSafe is a grassroots organization that promotes health, education and safety within the rave and festival community. DanceSafe is also one of the leading groups promoting “harm reduction” policies in the rave and festival community.

“Harm Reduction” is a public health philosophy that encourages policy choices at raves and fests that reduce the risks associated with the use of MDMA.

Think of this article as a form of ”Personal Harm Reduction”. What specific, practical medical tips should ravers who choose to use Ecstasy know?


The Number One Risk in using MDMA isn’t actually using MDMA.

Woah. This first tip reads a bit like a Zen Koan. Allow me to explain what I mean.

People make irrational and illogical decisions when it comes to weighing perceived risks all the time.

I mean, we have a 5 second rule for foods because, “Oh God! I couldn’t possibly touch a Fig Newton off that disgusting floor.” And we put dainty paper rings down on our toilet seats to avoid the rampaging public health threat of TSTBDs (Toilet Seat Transmitted Butt Diseases).

But pass around an unknown powder which may or may not contain any active ingredient other than rat poison? All of a sudden it’s, “Let me hit that shit!…Is there enough for me?”

In preparing this article I had a chance to speak to Dr. Julie Holland, who ”wrote the book” on Molly in her book, Ecstasy: the Complete Guide: A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA.

Turns out Dr. Holland puts “ingesting unknown substances into your body” into the “risk” rather than “benefit” category of Ecstasy usage:

What’s happening these days, though, is you have no idea what you’re taking. Maybe it’s MDMA, but it could also be any other number of drugs, research chemicals, or prescription drugs. When someone buys “Ecstasy” or “Molly” maybe it’s MDMA, but it’s very possible it could be anything else you can think of. A bag of white powder is inherently very dangerous since you have no idea what’s in it.

Missi Wooldridge at DanceSafe makes the same point. Unless you have a testing kit, you literally have NO idea what you are putting in your body

What is sold as Molly is often a mystery powder and may not contain MDMA at all. Most frequently, it contains a new psychoactive substance such as those from the family of Cathinones (i.e., Mephedrone, Methylone, Butylone or MDPV). Other common adulterants include 2C(x); PMA/PMMA, mCPP, and other Piperzines; and Methamphetamine. NEVER obtain drugs from a stranger!

In his recent article for Forbes Magazine, Jacob Sollum put it this way…. “Molly these days is the shit… but not in a good way”.

(PS – Here is a bonus Zen Koan tip. That tree falling in the forest without anyone there? It definitely makes a sound. Leave your iPhone in the forest and hit that red “record” button if you don’t believe me…Boom. Done. I just totally saved you a trip to a Zen monastery.)


Unless you happen to be crazy, test your Stuff.

Okay, so Ecstasy/Molly may contain things you had no idea you were putting in your body. Like what? Well, for example, there are synthetic Cathinones, a common ingredient in those “bath salts” that supposedly turn people into flesh-eating zombies. (FYI, Stefanie Jones says that of all the pills tested by DanceSafe, less than half contain actual MDMA.)

Given that, Tip 2 should be pretty obvious — You have to be crazy to use an unknown powder without having it tested.

I asked Missi why she advocates so strongly for testing kits to be available for use at raves and festivals:

I advocate for testing kits because NOT providing them is morally and medically negligent. The other side of this is how highly adulterated substances are now. Until we screen/test people’s substances, we aren’t doing anything at all to reduce the risk of people taking adulterated substances at these big events where we are seeing tragedies.

Another huge reason for testing your stuff is the danger of unintentionally mixing substances. Experts usually have some idea what one drug may do to you. But when you combine it with another drug, you are basically a “drug guinea pig”. That’s because it’s so difficult to predict how two drugs will react together in an individual.

This issue of these so called “drug cocktails” came up in the Electric Zoo deaths as well. Toxicology tests showed that the young woman (Olivia Rotondo) died from acute intoxication after taking pure MDMA. However, the young man (Jeffrey Russ) had actually taken a fatal mixture of MDMA and Methylone.

Missi uses the term “morally and medically negligent” to describe the decision not to test an unknown substance. I would describe the decision to not to test as falling into the “Don’t you know I’m loco? Insane in the membrane. Insane in the brain!” level of crazy decision-making.

DanceSafe provides adulterant screening on site at events when they are allowed to do so. But if you are going to “roll responsibly”, you need to buy and use your own test kits.


Take steps to properly hydrate and chill out.

Every music audience seems to have it’s own mood altering substance of choice. When I saw Snoop Dogg at Coachella, he came out with a gigantic blunt and encouraged the audience to “light up”. This might have been the most unneeded direction given by a performer to an audience ever. I don’t think there was anyone there who was NOT smoking weed.

On the other hand, if you go to a “rave”, chances are high some folks will be using Ecstasy. But the combo of high-energy dance music and “rolling” can be dangerous without taking precautions.

That’s because MDMA (and Methylone, which is one of the most common things in Molly), and Methamphetamine all work in part by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure and body temperature. Dancing for hours uninterrupted by breaks, especially in hot temperatures and with other people packed together does the same thing. It’s this combo of raving and rolling that can potentially be lethal.

I asked Dr. Holland what she would tell a raver taking MDMA to do to increase their safety:

To increase safety, there needs to be chill out rooms, free water readily available, and a lot of outreach and education. People need to be instructed to take breaks, drink water or electrolyte solutions, not alcohol or energy drinks, and also not too much water, which can be dangerous. Try to only replace fluids lost by sweating.

As Jules Winnfield would tell you, “we all have to be like Little Fonzies…and what’s Fonzie like? …Cool.”

So everyone just needs to be cool and everything is fine, right? Well not really. That’s because you can’t just hydrate and chill out and solve the danger. The problem is that MDMA causes fluid retention, especially in women, and hyponatremia (overhydration) can also be lethal.

For a while, people in the community were treating water like a “toxic drug flush”. The myth has been floating around (ha! see what I did there?) that if you just drank enough water that it would flush out the bad stuff in your body. But that’s not true. Water is an antidote to dehydration, not to the effects of Ecstasy or other drugs. You have to be careful hydrating too.


Make sure your Festival buddies are okay.

As I mentioned in a previous article, making a commitment to be responsible for your friend’s safety at an event is the “Golden Rule” of being a good Festival Buddy.

I asked Missi Wooldridge what a Festival Buddy should know to be able to take care of their buddy who takes Molly:

This may be stating the obvious, but LOOK OUT FOR YOUR FRIENDS and never let someone wander alone. Drink water and replenish electrolytes. Take breaks and cool down. Communicate with someone around you if you start to feel overwhelmed or are having a difficult experience. If someone around you seems fatigued, confused, or is having a difficult time breathing and/or standing on their own two feet, get them somewhere safe to sit and cool down. Seek onsite medical personnel.

I started to dedicate a portion of this article to talk about what symptoms or signs people should be looking for when it comes to determining if their fest buddy is overdosing or having a bad reaction. But I realized it would be safer and smarter to direct you to two resources that answer these questions in more detail.

First of all, I encourage you to look at the DanceSafe advice page talking about how to avoid dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

It’s also a good idea to download the DanceSafe app. (it’s just Android App right now but IOS shortly). The emergency response sections of the app talks a great deal about what to do if you feel your friend is overdosing or having a “bad trip”.

Boom Festival, one of the largest Psytrance Festivals on the planet, is a great example of how drug checking has been integrated into a festival event.

Boom Festival, one of the largest Psytrance Festivals on the planet,
is a great example of how drug checking has been integrated into an event.

Festivalgoers should only attend events where the promoters encourage “harm reduction”.

In 2002, Senator Joe Biden attempted to pass a bill called the RAVE act in Congress. When opposition to the bill started to organize, they changed the name to the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, attached it to the popular Amber Alert legislation and quietly snuck it into law.

The bill basically makes it illegal for for anyone to “knowingly” put on an event that has the purpose of “using, distributing or manufacturing any controlled substance.”

This is why promoters and festival organizers are in such a tough spot. They know that if they allow test kits and other “harm reduction” activities they are potentially exposing themselves to civil and criminal liability.

Why? Well, because someone after the fact may say, “see they KNEW there were going to be people using Ecstasy at this event. They even had test kits to help them use it!”

On the other hand, if they don’t take basic “harm reduction” steps (chill out rooms, medics on hand, plenty of water available) they get accused of not taking care of their audience and could potentially end up with people getting hurt or killed.

Missi Wooldridge thinks the key is for promoters and raves and fests to integrate “harm reduction” services while at the same time adopting a “zero tolerance” drug policy:

There is a thin line, but the line is walkable. If you familiarize yourself with the NEWIP and TEDI project, these are great examples of how government, public health officials, and the nightlife industry can come together to improve the quality of life for this community. Boom Festival in Portugal is a great example of how drug checking has been integrated into the event.

Remember a few articles back when I wrote about needing to bring back the second “R” in PLUR? The one promoting “Responsibility”? To me the “Second R” means encouraging promoters and club/venue owners to adopt and promote harm reduction practices and policies. It also means not supporting or attending events that don’t follow these practices.

I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard with this article to be the shepherd. But honestly, people in the dance community themselves are the only ones who can fix this problem. They can do that by demanding safe events. And if they don’t see harm reduction policies in place, they can force change by not going to that event again.


Join and promote organizations like Dance Safe that promote harm reduction

As you can tell, I am a big fan of DanceSafe. I have all their albums.

DanceSafe provides on site harm reduction services, both stationary and mobile to events. Typically, they will set up a table and provide patrons with condoms, water, ear plugs, sunscreen, unbiased drug information, and adulterant screening (upon approval). They also provide a safe space for people to cool down and have healthy conversations about the drug use and their health.

Go like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @dancesafe.

Once again, huge thanks to Missi Wooldridge and Stefanie Jones for all their time and attention to this article. This is collaboration in the best sense of the word.

Like Showbams on Facebook and follow Showbams on twitter to get more advice from the Festival Lawyer and to win free tickets to shows. Follow the Festival Lawyer on Twitter.

The Law of MDMA: Practical Legal Tips for Ravers who Choose to Use Ecstasy


Follow the Festival Lawyer on Twitter // Photo by Marc Fong

“I just took six hits of Molly.” Those were 20-year-old Olivia Rotondo’s last words to an EMS worker at this year’s Electric Zoo Music Festival. Jeffrey Russ, 24, also died from an MDMA overdose at that same event. Four other people were hospitalized.

Fortunately, the media used the tragedy at Electric Zoo to have a thoughtful, informed discussion about MDMA use in the EDM community. Just kidding. The media chose the “Blind Hysteria” option. For example, The New York Daily News’ headline the next day was simply “DEATH FEST”.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Congress was attempting to outright ban all raves and dance music events on the basis that club owners and promoters knowingly allowed illegal drug activity on their premises. And when a teenager died at Electric Daisy Carnival in 2010, California politicians immediately proposed the “Anti Raves Act” of 2011 to ban raves entirely in the state.

That’s why I am suggesting it is up to the dance community to police itself now before the government jumps into EDM events to propose new regulations or ban raves completely.

What can the dance community do to make sure a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again? It can make sure that festivals are doing everything possible to make sure people are safe when they go to an EDM event. And ravers themselves need to be doing more on their part to party responsibly and to look out for their festival buddies.

This is a two-part “Ecstasy safety” article. Part One focuses on practical legal advice so that you know your legal rights if you or a friend use MDMA. Part Two focuses on practical medical and “harm reduction” tips.

If the police stop you at a rave, ask if you are being detained and leave IMMEDIATELY if you aren’t.

Let’s say you are at a rave and a cop stops you and asks to search you. What do you do?
Everyone should know and understand their basic legal rights in this situation.

1) Ask if you are being detained or arrested.
2) Exercise your Constitutional right to remain silent.
3) Do not consent to any search of your person or property.
4) Have your “Festival Buddy” record your encounter with the officer.

I have already covered all of this in a prior article in a lot more detail. If you haven’t already read it or need a refresher of your basic rights, take a look here.

Most Ecstasy cases in criminal court involve a detention and subsequent search by the police. That’s why it’s so important to ask the key Festival Lawyer phrase: “Am I being detained? Why? Am I free to go, or am I under arrest?”

If a cop detains you, unless you verbally ask to leave, a Judge will assume you agreed to the encounter with that officer.

Also, if an officer says you can leave, it’s up to you to leave the scene of the encounter immediately. If you choose to stay, the detention is automatically legal.

That’s why it is critical to ALWAYS ask the cop if you are free to leave. If not, you know you are a suspect in a crime. That means you need to remain silent and wait for a lawyer. If, on the other hand, the cop says you are free to leave then leave immediately.

Listen, I know you may want to stick around and debate with the cop his opinion on whether dubstep is dead or not. But don’t. As I always tell my clients when I get a good result in court, “Let’s leave before someone changes their mind.”

If you are “Under the Influence” of Ecstasy, you can be arrested and searched at any time.

California’s Health and Safety Code Section 11550 makes it a misdemeanor to be “under the influence” of a controlled substance like MDMA.

When someone is driving a truck and the truck has a broken taillight or another vehicle code violation, cops use the slang phrase, “rolling probable cause” to describe it. This means they can stop that vehicle and investigate the occupants at any time. The owner of that truck has basically given the cops a standing invitation to be investigated.

The law says that if a cop is a DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) and he can see “objective symptoms” that you are high on Ecstasy, you can be arrested and searched at any time.

From a legal standpoint you need to be aware that if you are high on MDMA, you are just like that truck with a broken taillight. You are ”rolling probable cause” and subject to being stopped, arrested, and searched.


If you are caught with Ecstasy, what you intended to do with it makes a huge difference.

Under California law, possession of MDMA is treated as the same type of felony (Health and Safety Code Section 11377) as possession of Methamphetamine. After all, MDMA is short for Methylenedioxymethamphetamine.

Let’s take a scenario where you are stopped at a rave and found with Molly on your person. Now what?

In California, the law looks to see what you intended to do with that powder. If it’s a small amount and you can show that it was just for your own “personal use” you should be okay. The law calls this “simple” drug possession and you should be eligible for a drug diversion program or perhaps a minor misdemeanor charge.

If on the other hand, the government can show that you intended to sell (or distribute) that Molly, you just crossed a very serious line. It’s a “Smokey, You are entering a world of pain” level of line crossing.

That’s because “Possession for Sale” of Ecstasy is what is called a “Non Alternative” Felony under Health and Safety 11378(a). This type of felony makes you ineligible for any kind of “diversion” or other drug program. It also means you can’t get a misdemeanor on the case. Instead you now face a mandatory felony and potential jail time.

Remember how I told you that possession of Ecstasy is treated the same as possession of methamphetamine? I said that for a reason. Under the law, if the cops can show that you intended to sell (or distribute) the Ecstasy, you and Heisenberg both get the same charge – namely, a felony under Health and Safety Code Section 11378(a).

Cops are legally allowed to lie to you in an interview.

Okay, so how do the courts determine what you intended to do with that Ecstasy you were caught with?

Normally, the police will look at things like how much MDMA you had, how much money you had with you, how it was packaged, what kind of texts you have on your phone, and also what you told the police about your intent.

Most people are taught to cooperate with the cops and we are taught from a young age to trust the police. So a lot of people end up talking to the cops. Cops will always ask what you intended to with the Ecstasy.

But here is something you may not know:

Let that sink in. Cops can totally tell you stuff like, “We have a witness who says you sold him the drugs” or “We have you on videotape selling” or anything else they can think of to get you to confess.

One of the police’s favorite things to do is to try to get you to admit to something that sounds like it is not that serious but really IS just as serious legally.

Example, “Listen bro…I know you weren’t going to sell these pills. I bet you had that many pills because you were just going to give some to your friends to party with, right?”

Gee what a cool cop. He totally gets me and my vibe. Heck he probably is a member of the PLUR police…Oh wait…did I mention that the law considers “distribution” of drugs the same as the “sale” of drugs? That’s right, if you admit you were “giving away” the drugs, it’s the same legally as admitting you are a drug dealer.

Bottom line, if you get arrested, don’t talk, and ask for a lawyer immediately. Asking for a lawyer USED TO stop the interrogation then and there. A very recent Supreme Court case, (Montejo v. Louisiana) now allows police to keep trying to get you to talk. BUT DON’T ANSWER THEM. When the police tell you that anything you say can and will be used against you in court, they’re not joking.

NEVER give away or take drugs from strangers

Spoiler Alert: In next week’s “Medical Safety” article, one of the key tips from drug experts is to never take drugs from someone you don’t know (and never take drugs that have not been tested).

Turns out there is similar advice from the legal experts (me). Here’s why:

Sales of Ecstasy is also a mandatory “non-alternative” felony (California Health and Safety Code 11379). This charge normally involves someone selling to an undercover cop or buying from an undercover cop.

I can’t tell you the number of times someone has said to me “This guy came up to me and just kept bugging me for drugs and I eventually gave him some. Turns out it was a cop. I was totally entrapped into giving him drugs!”

This is a pretty common misconception. Actually, Entrapment only applies where law enforcement engages in conduct that would likely induce a normally law-abiding citizen to commit that crime. (People v. Grantham (1972) 26 Cal.App.3d 661, 665)

That means that you have to show that the undercover officer did more than ask you for drugs. You have to show that he pressured, harassed or threatened you as well.

That means it is perfectly legal for a cop to ask you to sell them drugs or even ask you repeatedly if you can “help them out” or just give them drugs. This is why being friendly and “giving away” some Molly to a stranger is not an #upgrade, but actually #dumb.

Bonus Legal TipIf you ask a cop if he is an undercover cop he can totally lie.

Okay can everyone PLEASE stop spreading the urban myth that if you ask an undercover cop if he is a cop he has to tell you the truth? It’s hard to know why so many people believe this. I mean, how would cops ever work undercover if it was true?

The law says that an undercover cop can totally lie to you if you ask him if he is a cop. But I mean really you should already know this. Didn’t everybody see that episode of Breaking Bad where this was all explained by Badger?

Thoughts On Our Drug War

I know you are probably thinking, “Hey Festival Lawyer, it’s a good thing our society makes drug policy decisions based on evidence about the drug’s dangerousness vs. its potential benefit to society, right?”

Hahahaha…That’s a good one. Oh wait, you were serious? No. We make drug policy for all kinds of crazy reasons.

Don’t believe me? Well I give you Festival Lawyer Exhibit One: The DEA’s complete shenanigans in making MDMA illegal in the first place.

In the late 80s hearings were held to determine if MDMA should be considered a “Schedule I” drug under Federal Law. A Schedule I drug has no “legitimate medical purpose” and has a “high potential for abuse”.

A number of psychiatrists and psychotherapists testified that they used MDMA in their practice and it had a legitimate medical purpose. In fact, a Federal judge, hearing this testimony, made a recommendation that MDMA be made a “Schedule III” drug. This would have let doctors continue to use and research the drug. The judge felt that the DEA could then make a future determination about the dangerousness of the drug.

The DEA was like “evidence based decision making…what’s that?”, ignored the medical evidence, ignored the judge’s recommendation and went ahead and made it illegal for all purposes.

To sum up, the DEA made MDMA illegal because it was too “dangerous” to the public. Ironically, the act of classifying it as “dangerous” and illegal MADE it way more dangerous. Because we aren’t researching it and studying it, we really have little idea how dangerous it is. That’s some serious, next level, ten thousand spoons when you all you need is a knife, level of irony.

That is why I believe so strongly in educating yourself about your rights and empowering yourself to make smart choices.

As part of that education, next week’s article focuses on tips to keep yourself “medically safe” through the use of test kits and other “harm reduction” ideas.

Like Showbams on Facebook and follow Showbams on twitter to get more advice from the Festival Lawyer and to win free tickets to shows. Follow the Festival Lawyer on Twitter.