Higher and Higher

Drug Cocktails— Pleasures, Risks, and Reasons

Ten minutes before the Ecstasy is due to hit, he heads out, drinking a bottle of water in the taxi en route to the club, hiding a milliliter measure in his shoe. Once in the club, he buys more water. With the E kicking in, he and his friends head onto the dance floor, where they do their first bump of Special K for the night, followed later by GHB specially made up for them by a chemist acquaintance. (They avoid such physically addictive substances as heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth.) "I use the Ecstasy as the base drug, and then afterward use the K as a temporary effect to heighten the E experience," Dexter says. "I find that drugs are a lot more effective in a group situation where everybody is high. The ritual get-together enhances the drugs. It's more a social thing than a drug thing."

Because of the crackdown in clubland, customers increasingly take the drugs before entering clubs, or smuggle them past security, rather than buying from house dealers. "The drugs are very impure in the clubs at the moment," says one dope peddler. "Everybody goes, 'Oh, this is the best from Amsterdam.' They don't have a clue. It's probably from somebody's bathtub in South Jersey. In a club, how can you check?"

As a result, club-kid chemists now synthesize their own connoisseur brands at home— for instance Chanel No. 9, an expensive mix of cocaine, MDMA, and Special K. "The high is intense and powerful," reports one user. "As you come down from the coke, you feel the tingling relaxation of the Ecstasy, followed by the intermittent euphoria brought on by the K. It then becomes like a rollercoaster, repeating in waves up and down for hours."

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Clubland features more blends than Starbucks. But combining one drug with another is not confined to dance floors. Pharmaceutical companies are the biggest polydrug peddlers on the block: cough and cold medicines such as Nyquil P.M. are usually drug mixtures, and the current mania for so called "lifestyle drugs" only adds more to the mix. The psychedlic tea "ayahuasca," which pop stars like Sting rave about, is an ancient polydrug example— two rain-forest plants are combined; one contains an MAO inhibitor, which deactivates stomach enzymes that would otherwise nullify the effect of the main ingredient, the powerful hallucinogen DMT.

In the modern world, from Prozac to MTV, from special-effects blockbusters to those cruel silver machines found in gymnasiums, society seems rife with mood-altering simulators and stimulators designed to enervate, sedate, or change some aspect of personality or biology. There are plenty of technologies available that allow you to achieve multiple highs without hard drugs. Normal folks relaxing at home, sipping a glass of red wine then drinking a cup of coffee while flicking through TV channels, rely as much on polydrugs as the nocturnal freaks of clubland. Bombarded by fast-cut images and free-floating visuals, the trippy, media-saturated fabric of everyday life encourages all of us to explore different forms of reality concurrently.

"The whole culture tends towards blending," claims Rick Doblin. "You want multiple things happening simultaneously. I don't think that's inherently a bad thing."

Additional reporting by Steph Watts

Doing Polydrugs Safely

Given that, among young hipsters, the desire to get high is perennial no matter how harsh the season, what should the disco polydrug user watch out for, other than the law? The Voice does not endorse illegal drug use, but experts and experienced clubbers we talked to offer the following advice:

  • Avoid taking different drugs that do the same thing— like piling stimulants on top of stimulants.

  • Don't mix psychedelics and booze.

  • If you're unhappy or depressed, don't get high.

  • Be conscious of your surroundings. In a club, the ambient temperature of the room, the proximity of the bodies, and the disorienting visual and sonic assault can fuse to create a potentially hazardous environment for the unwary user.

  • Make sure you're in the company of responsible friends who will come to your aid if anything goes wrong.

  • Rely on the power of your imagination as much as the potency of chemicals.

  • If you're doing a new drug for the first time, try it by itself before combining it with other substances.

  • And, as Ann Shulgin counsels: "Make sure you stay hydrated and don't overdo things. Watch out for heavy sweats, chills, and vertigo. . . . Most of all, be conservative."

  • Plus, get plenty of rest afterward.

    Polydrug Glossary

    Crystal methamphetamine: highly addictive, turbo-charged amphetamine that increases energy levels, enabling users to party for nights on end. Done in excess, can cause diarrhea, paranoia, hallucinations, and liver damage.

    Ecstasy (MDMA): euphoric, empathy- inducing amphetamine derivative that Rick Doblin calls "the universal solvent" because it goes well with a cornucopia of other drugs.

    Ephedrine: the speedy substance that may have killed Anne Marie Capati. Frequently found in over-the-counter drugs like Sudafed.

    GHB (gamma hydroxybutrate): salty- tasting steroid that, before it was banned, used to be sold over the counter in health stores. Because it comes in concentrated liquid form, there's a fine line between a heavenly high and a deadly dose.

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