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New Drug War Documentary – Ecstasy, Harm Reduction

Please support this crowdfunding campaign. This will be a unique, one-of-a-kind drug policy reform documentary.

When we think of the so-called “war on drugs,” we tend to think of cartels, violence and the the prison industrial complex. But there is another, equally disturbing consequence of the drug war. The prohibition of recreational drugs (and hence their deregulation) spawns illicit markets where impurities and adulterants harm the health of people who use them. Levamisole, for example, a toxic de-worming agent, has emerged as a major contaminant in cocaine, and can slowly destroy a user’s immune system. Similarly, heroin is often cut with other depressant drugs, such as fentanyl, which can act synergistically with heroin and lead to overdose.

But there is no illicit drug market in the world as highly adulterated as the Ecstasy market. Ecstasy, or MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), is a serotonin releaser that, in a proper dose of 80-125mg, produces a four to six hour mood elevation effect accompanied by feelings of self-acceptance and empathy. Originally a tool in psychotherapy, MDMA rapidly became the world’s favorite party drug after it was banned in 1985.

To call the Ecstasy market “adulterated,” however, is a misnomer as well as an understatement. Unlike the examples of cocaine and heroin above, users aren’t typically consuming MDMA tablets laced with cutting agents (although that does happen). Rather, Ecstasy prohibition has led to the clandestine manufacture of literally hundreds of other synthetic drugs (mostly newly invented stimulants and hallucinogens), which are then sold to unsuspecting consumers under false pretenses. Some of these drugs are deadly in doses just 2-3 times a typical dose of MDMA. A recent spate of deaths in the UK, for example, have been attributed to the synthetic stimulants PMA and PMMA. And while the Netherlands issued an early warning about these deadly tablets, and Public Health England knew of the Dutch warning, the UK does not have an early warning system in place for illicit drugs. This underscores—yet again—how the culture of prohibition leads to laissez-faire or “buyer beware” attitudes among public officials afraid that implementing harm reduction programs would “send the wrong message” to young people.

A new documentary is currently in the works that will highlight harm reduction and drug policy reform as it relates to Ecstasy. MDMA The Movie is produced and directed by DanceSafe founder, Emanuel Sferios. DanceSafe is a harm reduction organization providing peer-based drug education within the electronic dance music community, where Ecstasy is widely consumed. One of the first organizations to offer drug checking services (a.k.a., “Ecstasy pill testing”), DanceSafe sells reagent testing kits from their website and sets up booths at raves and music festivals where they offer safer drug use information. Today there are dozens of similar private charities around the world offering harm reduction services to recreational drug users. These groups are attempting to fill a public health void that should be addressed—as it is in the Netherlands—by their respective governments, particularly because it is government policies of MDMA prohibition that have created the bulk of the problem in the first place.

Documenting the cultural and medical history of the drug, the film will expose the way current laws make recreational Ecstasy use more, rather than less dangerous. His crowdfunding video features Rob and Dede Goldsmith, whose 19-year old daughter, Shelley, died in 2013 after taking MDMA. “It is time for a safety-first approach to drug use that emphasizes harm reduction,” they say. Shelley’s death has prompted Dede to become an advocate for harm reduction. She has launched a campaign to amend a piece of regressive federal legislation written by Joe Biden called the RAVE Act, which expands crack house laws to commercial venues, allowing the federal government to prosecute promoters and club owners for the drug crimes of their customers. The law, according to Goldsmith, prevents the implementation of common sense safety measures—like offering free water and “chill out” spaces inside venues—that reduce the risk of hyperthermia or heat stroke, the most common cause of Ecstasy-related medical emergencies, and the cause of her daughter’s death. Promoters fear that implementing such measures could be seen as encouraging drug use and open them up to federal prosecution.

The film also highlights medical MDMA, and features Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who participated in ongoing FDA-approved studies using the drug to treat PTSD. “MDMA saved my life,” says one veteran in a short film Sferios produced from interviews he did for the full documentary, noting that 23 US veterans commit suicide every day.

Sferios is looking to take production of MDMA The Movie to Europe to present a global perspective on current trends. We encourage you to support his crowdfunding campaign. This will be a unique, one-of-a-kind drug policy reform documentary.

For more information on the film please contact

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