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Rave Culture: The Dark Side

The rave culture has been around for a very long time. If you consider the definition of a rave to be a place where large groups of young people gather with the intention of connecting through commonly loved music, then raves are timeless as well as generational.

Historically and to this day, these dance festivals have a high incidence of drug use. On August 31, 2013 in Randall’s Island, NY a rave called Electric Zoo was held. Unfortunately, this event did not end well. The three-day event was cancelled a day early because partying on the second day ended with two people dead. Both ravers were under the age of twenty-five and their deaths were attributed to MDMA overdose.

MDMA, also known as ecstasy (pill form) and molly (powder form), is the most commonly used drug within the rave culture. Users report both a stimulant and euphoric effect. The stimulant effect allows users to dance and party for longer periods of time. The euphoria and mild hallucinations allow the users to better connect with the music and people at the rave.

While deaths due to MDMA use are relatively low, their prevalence throughout the rave culture raises concern.  Two different approaches are implemented in dealing with drug use at raves. The first is strict enforcement against drug use and the facilitation of drug use. Raves are often shut down because of drugs. Promoters can be prosecuted if they are found to have knowledge of drug us at their events. Police and security personnel are hired at high rates to ensure that drugs are not used within the party.

Yet, even with all of these actions implemented, drug use—particularly MDMA—is very high at these events.

A second train of thought believes that a harm-reduction approach should be used to minimize the risks of using at events. The most revered harm reduction tactic is to require venues to have stations where users can test the MDMA for any type of adulterants prior to consumption. Currently, a venue having knowledge of drug use during their event can lead to prosecution. If an area where users can test their MDMA is set up in the venue, this inherently means that those running the event have knowledge of drug use.

Proponents of drug testing stations argue that it is not the MDMA which harms people. What ends up harming people is almost always the adulterants people ingest. Knowing exactly what is in your drugs could lead to much safer use. This harm reduction tactic is used in much of the world as well as throughout Europe.

There are definitive gaps in both theories.

A select few people are chemical sensitive to MDMA and can die their first time ingesting even a small quantity. The most common threat of non-adulated MDMA is hyperthermia. MDMA increases the heart rate and blood pressure. When you couple these physiological increases with hours of dancing, the threats of over-heating and dehydration are imminent. Hyperthermia is the main threat of death when dealing with MDMA.

The fact of the matter is that the use of drugs throughout the rave is scene is rampant. Something must be done to ensure the safety of our youth who choose to be a part of these events. Whether that means they should be shut down or not, drug policies must be strictly enforced or measures must be taken to ensure safer drug use.

What is certain is that something must be done.




Herman, Bill D and Brian L Ott. Mixed Messages: Resistance and Reappropriation in Rave Culture. June 2003. September 2013 <>.

Missi. If Our Community Doesn’t Appropriately Respond and Take Action After the Electric Zoo Tragedies, Who Will? 2 September 2013. 24 September 2013 <>.

NIDA For Teens. What is MDMA?( Molly). 2012. September 2013 <>.




Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Featured, Research, Substance Abuse · Tags: MDMA, rave, rave culture

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