A Kandi-Coated World

Originally appeared at: http://www.fwweekly.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4210%3Aa-kandi-coated-world&catid=30%3Acover-story&Itemid=375 The kandi kid is rolling hard. His sweaty teenage face is bathed in a supernaturally bright light, even though the surrounding rave is lit only by colored lasers and black lights. The kid is obviously in a rapturous trance. His face is full of awe and gratitude, his eyes gigantic, his body completely void of tension. His wrists, ringed by the fluorescent plastic bracelets that unofficially mark him as a member of the kandi gang, hang tranquilly at his sides. He wants to hug the whole world, and that tangible vibe seems to stretch out before him infinitely. He is a perfect picture of Ecstasy. The source of this young man’s total devotion? Another kid, his white clothes incandescent in the black lights, waving gloved hands in his friend’s face, the fingers tipped with multicolored LED lights. This is not a scene from the famous Dallas clubs in the 1980s, but from an August weekend in a warehouse party in the shadow of downtown Fort Worth. And the new chemical-tribal ritual wasn’t connecting only these two kids. They were surrounded by hundreds of their peers. In the last three decades, Ecstasy, known chemically as MDMA, has been in and out of favor as the drug of choice. Right now, it is raining Ecstasy in certain young Fort Worth circles. Local high school students and former students interviewed for this story guessed that a third to half of the kids in area high schools take Ecstasy regularly — as in every weekend. Results of a survey of Fort Worth public school kids last spring suggest those numbers are much lower, that perhaps as few as 10 percent of Fort Worth teens have ever used Ecstasy. But the local students’ guesstimates don’t sound far-fetched to those who work with drug-using kids. “X is very, very popular,” said John Haenes, who works for Tarrant County Challenge, a nonprofit group combating substance abuse. “Kids enjoy four to six hours of turning off the inner critic… . They feel connected to their friends, and adolescence is all about finding an identity and connecting.” The drug, which researchers believe has enormous potential for treating things like soldiers’ post-traumatic stress and married couple’s problems with emotional intimacy, was once completely legal, and Dallas was one of its first mass markets. But then the DEA, in a move that many now believe was over-reaction, used its administrative powers to make MDMA illegal, even for researchers. Now professional therapists are barred from using it in psychological treatment, although some risk their licenses and continue to give MDMA as part of therapy. Furthermore, researchers rarely get permission or funding to continue work to better understand Ecstasy’s long-term effects. As with other losing battles in the drug war, making MDMA illegal didn’t stop its flow nor make it any less attractive to recreational users. A few years ago, Fort Worth filmmaker Tom Huckabee spent time in California with the chemist who popularized MDMA in the 1970s. In doing research for an as-yet-unproduced screenplay, Ecstasy, TX, he met the many of the original dealers and distributors who gave away the little pills to their “relatively enlightened” adult friends. “The fact that it was made illegal turned it into the problem it is,” he said. This time around, however, it’s not parents or law enforcement agencies who are sounding an alarm but, to some extent, the kids themselves, who see their friends being affected by heavy use of the pills known to young users as “E,” “molly,” or just “X” “The green unicorns [X pills] were the best night of my life,” said a current Southwest High School student. When the Fort Worth school district shut down due to a swine flu scare last year, he and a few friends spent the entire “swinecation” taking Ecstasy at a nearby lake. Since then, they have taken X, among all sorts of other things, at school. They can buy Ecstasy pills for as little as $4 in the hallways between classes. “Getting drugs at school is the easiest thing you can do,” said one student. “It’s an epidemic all around,” said a recent Paschal High School graduate, wearing purple rubber Paschal sunglasses. “Whenever I bring the word up, everyone agrees.” In some ways, it’s a gentle epidemic. Most researchers believe that pure MDMA is relatively safe for occasional use. The problem is, only some of what’s on the street is pure. “Forty percent of what’s on the street isn’t even X,” Haenes said. Many of the pills contain methamphetamines or DXM, and some have even turned out to be PCP. Ecstasy is not physically addictive, but some users get psychologically attached to it. Even its proponents believe that it can cause problems, especially when youngsters take it too often. Kids didn’t invent the phrase “E-tard” for nothing. “X puts you on pause,” the Paschal graduate said from personal experience. “You stop growing. You stop educating yourself. You get stuck, and you cannot evolve.” He thinks parents need to understand what their kids may be doing. “They might think, ‘My kid goes to Paschal. He likes to hang out with his friends. He’s making good grades.’ They don’t want to admit it to themselves,” he said. In short, it seems to be time to bring the Ecstasy issue out from under the carpet where it has been swept. For where Ecstasy goes, agony can follow. Even ecstasy’s young fans worry about what the drug is doing to Fort Worth kids.