"Everyone's so nice," says Sarah, who's from Victoria and says her parents don't
know she's at the rave.
Her friends, A.J., Robin, Seth and Simon, are rubbing Vicks VapoRub on her and
each other because they say "e" enhances the senses and it just feels, well,
She derives great pleasure from rubbing Seth's pants, which look like they're
made of faux fur.
"I feel so good," Sarah says of the designer drug that's often manufactured in
home laboratories and is also known by its chemical name, MDMA.
"I'm not supposed to be here," she says to a reporter, whose pants she starts to
In an adjoining room, ravers are dancing to the constant thump thump thump of
the "trance" music churned out by DJs. Some of the dancers are sucking on
soothers because "e" makes them grind their teeth.
The bug-eyed ravers wear glow-sticks on their heads that look like halos. They
guzzle water and dance jerkily to the pounding beat.
Some are asleep in the middle of the dance floor littered with water bottles.
Layers of coats are piled on top of them, likely because they've taken "e"
containing "downers," says one raver.
Ravers, some as young as 14, are also flaked out on the floor or leaning against
the walls, as friends massage their neck and shoulders.
It's almost 5 a.m., and some have remained on the floor since midnight.
Ashley Hughes, 22, who says she's a certified massage therapist, has set up four
massage tables to one side of the room.
Hughes, wearing flannel pyjamas over a midriff-revealing tank top, says she has
a business licence to work at the rave.
People pay up to $3 per minute to have their clothed bodies rubbed by one of
eight massage therapists, says Hughes.
Some ravers just want someone to talk to, she says.
"They're on 'e' and they don't know their limits."
Eight police officers and 50 security guards prowl around, checking to see if
the kids are all right.
They make their rounds to the three areas, including the "chill room" upstairs,
an auditorium where people are slumped over in chairs and a few are dancing to
the music piped in from below.
Ravers say they're not sure what's in the drugs they're taking but that a group
called DanceSafe should be allowed to test them.
The U.S.-based group operates at raves in 13 American cities and has recently
branched out to Vancouver.
DanceSafe volunteers have set up a booth at the rave to hand out literature
about ecstasy and other drugs.
They're not testing pills tonight because, they say, the RCMP have threatened to
arrest them for trafficking if they do.
DanceSafe has previously done testing in the Vancouver area by scraping off some
powder from pills offered to them by ravers. A chemical mixture of sulphuric
acid and formaldehyde is then dropped on the powder.
The resulting colour within 10 seconds will determine if any of four potentially
harmful substances is present, DanceSafe volunteers say.
Nadia Van der Hayden, 18, a DanceSafe volunteer, says the group provides "harm
reduction" for ravers who are using ecstasy anyway.
By getting the drug tested, they have the option to take it or not -- even
though the pill would be given back to the raver before it's tested," Van der
"We don't condone or condemn it," she says of taking ecstasy, which she has used
Van der Hayden says the drug only causes euphoria and those who have died after
taking it have succumbed to dehydration because they didn't drink enough water
after dancing for hours.
But Cpl. Scott Rintoul, of the RCMP drug squad, says DanceSafe's tests are
extremely unreliable because they can't detect the presence of up to 70
dangerous drugs that can be used as fillers in ecstasy pills.
That gives potential users a false sense of security and also puts promoters,
police, first-aid attendants and security at risk for being named in a civil
lawsuit if someone dies, Rintoul said.
He said the infrastructure of the rave scene in Vancouver is different from
other cities in North America. In Vancouver, promoters, city police, the RCMP, a
security firm and first-aid attendants work in partnership.
Their goal is to keep the all-night dance parties fun while taking a strong
stance against drugs, Rintoul said.
"The drugs are extremely addictive and extremely deadly . . . we've had four
people die in Vancouver and 16 people have died in the Toronto area."
Tessa Nicoll, a University of B.C. pharmacist, says ecstasy is a potent drug
that causes side-effects such as clenching of the jaws, nausea, paranoia and a
huge depletion of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that controls mood.
"We know that people have died taking as little as two tablets, so the safety
index or margin is pretty small," Nicoll says.
"The dose that you take to get high and the dose you take to die is not that
But at this rave, "e" rules: capsules and pink pills with an imprint of tulips,
white ones with the Playboy bunny logo and XXX markings, and plain green, beige
and blue ones.
Chris, visiting from Seattle, says he downed "e" two hours earlier and now feels
a tingling sensation in his head and the back of his neck.
"I'm feeling happy and I'm really into the music," he says as he shows a
reporter five blue pills in plastic wrap stuffed into a clear tube.
Like other ravers, he's smuggled them in despite being frisked by security at
Chris says he gets the pills for $20 each in Canada, compared to $20 US in
An eagle-eyed first-aid attendant catches a glimpse of Chris's stash and hauls
him into the first-aid room, with the teen pleading his innocence.
He's forced to hand over the drugs as three first-aid attendants start lecturing
him about the evils of ecstasy.
"When we find you foaming on the floor we have to treat you and go home thinking
about it," says one of them.
Minutes later, first-aid attendants carry a male teenager into the room and
close the door. They won't say what happened to him.
article first appeared on January 2, 2001 on