Talking To Frank

I believe it was either Salvador Dali or Deirdre from Corrie who said, "I don't do drugs. I am drugs." Yesterday, I was on the phone to a friend who took me step by step through his recent jaunt to Global Gathering, and I wasn't surprised to hear that over the 50-hour music festival, he had piled a cabinet’s worth of drugs down his throat. My question is why? Why do young guys like my friend, let's call him Frank, pump these illegal substances through their bodies with little to no knowledge of the hidden effects they are having?

If you ask a seasoned user of ecstasy what the drug does to you, he'll no doubt mention the feelings of happiness and love that overwhelm a user and, almost as though he were reading from a textbook, alert you to the need to sip a bottle of water every hour. Almost, that is, because he's not likely to know much about the increase in body temperature, in heart beat, and in psychological vulnerabilities such as anxiety, paranoia and confusion. And that’s just the short term, probably before you’ve even been to sleep.

Over the long term, you’re looking at personality changes, psychological dependency on the drug (though it’s not addictive in the way cigarettes are) and memory loss. And who wants that? Well, almost one in ten 18 to 25-year-olds have taken ecstasy, according to a 2004 survey.

The problem is, pills are always dirt cheap, wherever you plan to spend your night. In some cases they beat the price of a vodka lemonade. It’s no wonder some users don’t take a moment to question the gravity of the situation. How can something so cheap and easy to get hold of, they might think, be having a serious impact on their health?

It would be worrying to think that it's not possible, actually, to embrace a hardcore event such as Global Gathering while staying sober. But the danger is that once you've tried something better, you're not going to want to take a step back to more mundane things. The enhanced experience that drug takers get used to could make them forget about the benefits of drinking, because alcohol can't replicate what they've felt on harder substances.

So when Frank described over the phone the most effective method of taking MDMA (as far as I knew, a qualification that could be studied part-time), I didn't know whether to scold him, hang up, or ask him where I could get hold of the stuff myself. You see, Frank must be doing this for a good reason, right? My concern is that, if pressed, he couldn’t offer a better reason than telling me how good taking drugs makes him feel.

That feeling, impossible to describe or imagine until you’re actually high, is getting further away every time Frank hits the town. He used to get off his face on half a pill, back in ‘05. But drugs, like most things people consume, start to lose their potency as we build up a tolerance to them. So, these days Frank is forced to munch a handful of the coloured tablets, in a variety of shapes and sizes, to reach the same buzz.

Three weeks ago, when I last left a club in daylight, I saw a few of the symptoms of heavy drug-taking in the people around me, including him, and I couldn’t understand the attraction of it. There were almost as many bottles of water as there were hands; normally good looking guys pulling strange gurning faces; sweat patches that could be wrung out to fill a bath; and blank stares from pupils the size of a 5 pence piece. Some were flapping around sucking lollipops, which users keep handy to ease the pain of their teeth grinding. And the worst thing is, short of a makeshift chemistry lab in the corner of a club, nobody knows what’s actually in the tablets these guys share around, swallow in twos and, as nasty as it sounds, sometimes pop up their bottoms.

I don’t know if Dali ever took drugs, but it’s doubtful he ever relied on them as mood enhancers, vital to bring his body and mind up to the sort of level - the only level - where he’s able to have fun in a certain place. Today I asked Frank if he thought it was possible he might stay off drugs the next time he went to a festival. He looked at me as though I had asked him how much his mother charges for the whole night. My suspicions had been confirmed - Frank's previously cautious character had made way for a relentless clubber eager enough to try anything once, twice, or on most weekends.