Dance festivals are powdered white with elaborate light shows filtering through a thick fog of hazy air.
Glowsticks sail through the air as the bass of an electronic act first drops. A moving wave of hands sway in the same patterns and speed.
Drugs of all kinds are somewhat freely sold, bought, taken and then, sometimes, experienced negatively.
The same substances in medicines that treat parasites can sometimes be found in many recreational drugs.
Ralph Perales of Denver has witnessed firsthand what unknown drugs can do to an unsuspecting person.
He attended almost 14 music festivals in the last calendar year.
These include the biggest musical gatherings in the country like Wakarusa, Blastoff, Electric Forest, Bonnaroo and Summer Camp. Last June, more than 85,000 people attended Bonnaroo in Tennessee.
“There are people [at festivals] selling stuff and saying it’s Molly, but it’s not,” Perales says. “I’ve seen kids freak out physically because they thought they had taken something, but it was really something else. It’s a big issue.”
It was at a festival on the East Coast in June 2011 when Perales first encountered DanceSafe and is now a volunteer for the organization.
Dancesafe is a non-profit, all volunteer-run organization that started in California in the mid-90s and promotes harm reduction in the rave, dance/electronic and nightclub community. This includes support in drug use, as well as sexual health and water intake, preventing dehydration to the partygoers.
According to their web site, “the organization currently has nine local chapters throughout the U.S, and these consist of young people from within the dance culture itself who have a sincere interest in bettering their communities and educating themselves and their peers.”
Missi Wooldridge, the local DanceSafe director of the Denver, Colo. chapter, firmly believes that this resource is needed.
“Drug use is going to occur, and we’re just trying to minimize harm,” Wooldridge says. “We don’t condone drug use, we don’t encourage it in any way, we’re just a resource for people if they do choose certain activities.”
“Being in the [electronic] scene, we do what we do drug-wise. It’s just going to happen, but I’ve just sent too many people doing bogus stuff like handing people things, saying it’s one thing and it’s not,” Perales says.
Thousands of people smuggle their vices into the concert gates even though cars and individuals are searched. If one does not bring anything, then no worries, there will be plenty available for the taking. It’s completely normal to find festival-goers walking
around a venue selling, buying and asking if they’ve seen ‘Molly.’
“The electronic music scene isn’t an underground warehouse show with just 100 people like it was maybe six years ago,” Wooldridge says. “It’s now thousands of adolescents as attendees, and the initiation into drugs is younger because of how shows are getting more mainstream.”
Pretty Lights, Derek Vincent Smith’s stage name, is one of the most popular electronic acts in the world.
Starting in Fort Collins, Colo., Smith began in 2006 playing in bars and local venues that house less than 500 people. By 2009, just three years later, Pretty Lights was selling out the almost 10,000 seats available at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrision, Colo. in hours.
Along with the mainstreaming of the electronic scene and thus, inevitably, drugs, also comes the greater number of drugs in powder or pill form that is cut with something else, says Wooldridge.
These are the same type of occurrences that have possibly caused the incidents that Perales has witnessed.
There’s a whole family of piperazines this is being cut with MDMA or Molly and possibly not being disclosed. Piperazines were originally developed for medicines to treat parasites.
The two main piperazines are TFMPP and BZP. BZP has a salty taste and is commonly found in prescription drugs like antidepressants. It creates the feeling of anxiety and paranoia that can lead to dehydration and convulsions with a hangover that can last for days.
“There’s just so many chemicals that people can cut ecstasy with, it’s hard to keep them straight,” Wooldridge says. “And every drug affects each person differently.”
Other things that might be found in “pure” forms of Molly include cough syrup ingredients, cathinones and even caffeine powder.
DanceSafe sells testing kits from their web site for $25 that allows people to test the purity of the drugs they buy. The web site also offers facts and FAQs on a dozen different substances, as well as health and safety information.
The DanceSafe web site also highlights er0wid.org and ecstasydata.org, which contain vaults of drug information and experiences. ecstasydata.org also offers people the service of testing MDMA if it is sent in.
“Europeans are already recognizing the movement and have had ecstasy tester kits available in health clinics for over a decade,” he says.
“This movement is hard to tackle because of our American mindset. We send messages that say no, we don’t use drugs or we don’t have sex,” Wooldridge agrees. “But there is starting to become more momentum for support there.”
“I can tell you that a large majority of festival people would test their drugs because of personal experiences,” Perales says. “I’m totally confident that if people knew it was available, they would use it.”
Anna Baldwin graduated from Colorado State University with a Journalism and Technical Communication degree, although she spent more time skiing and backcountry touring than she did in class. She has written for more than five publications and the online entities on a variety of subjects, and some of her work has appeared on MSNBC.com and in Skiing Magazine. Her interests include biking, skiing, reading, skiing, cooking, skiing, hiking and skiing. Anna lives in Boulder.