The Differences Between British and American MDMA Users
How each great nation treats Mandy and Molly.
Photo: Contraband Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
As summer comes to an end – and with it Festival Season – the body should jump for joy at the prospect of its recovery. No longer should our liver feel the weight of alcohol around its edges. Serotonin levels should creep back up, letting us take pleasure in, for instance, the onrushing onset of autumn: the crinkle of leaves beneath our feet, the twee joy of drinking pints by a fire.
For British sesh gremlins, however, the end of festival season merely means a move indoors, to clubs and house parties where lines and bumps of Mandy are smashed just as frequently, where bodies melt under strobe lights, lamplights and finally daylight, before the curtains are drawn and the rollover begins. British sesh gremlins are as happy dancing at home to a Boiler Room mix as they are at Parklife – and a big reason for this is their MDMA consumption.
According to the 2018 Global Drugs Survey, the average UK user took MDMA on 10.6 days in the previous year, consuming an average of 1.5 pills or almost half a gram of powder each time. For those of you content with beers at All Bar One: that's a lot of MDMA, so much – in fact – that it puts Britain at the top end of countries using the drug.
On the flip-side of this is America, where the average user took 1.4 pills or about 340mg of powder on 5.3 days of the year. Despite these being large doses, America's per-user consumption is less than half of the UK's, not to mention modest compared to its use of drugs like benzodiazepines and opioids. This, however, is just the beginning of the differences between British and American MDMA use – differences worth looking at as "Molly" culture becomes increasingly more defined in the US.
Those aforementioned madheads are, of course, responsible for driving up the UK average. Theirs is a world of either being on it or talking about being on it, reminiscing about glory seshes of bags past while sharing Ketflix and Pills memes and links to Croatian festivals or Airbnbs for next summer's blowout.
Doses are inevitably heroic, building to where an entire gram is not uncommon. Dan, 19, from Bournemouth recalls taking between 900 mg and a gram once, though he says he "can't be fully sure because they were pills, but reputable ones". Dan began dropping pills at 15 and now takes them "whenever my plug has [them] in. It ranges from [every] two weeks to [every] two months, but is usually every month".
British users also love piling other drugs on top of MDMA, especially ketamine. "Ket and MDMA is a beautiful mix," says Dan – failing to mention that it's also not the best of ideas, health-wise.
To Brits, then, America's embrace of MDMA might be seen as restrained, wide-eyed and perhaps a little cringe. Certainly, some Americans view it more spiritually, akin to mushrooms and LSD, while advising each other to take it safely on boards like Reddit's r/MDMA before then doxxing themselves by posting selfies of their melting faces under headings like "Rolling like a motherfuck, i fucking love you guys" and "A couple of bros having an amazing rolly polly bro moment".
Their harm reduction techniques can also seem extreme. Though any attempt to lessen a drug's impact must always be admired, their supplement regimes before and after taking MDMA often appear more complicated than actually knocking up some homemade pills in the bath. "I was always using magnesium and vitamin C pre-roll and 5-HTP afterwards," says Andy, 30, from Ohio. "Last roll, I added acetylcarnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, grapefruit juice, and my hangover was nonexistent. I [also] do heavy cardio, eat healthy, meditate and a few others things that I believe boost my serotonin."
Despite the apparent benefits of supplements, it's hard to imagine the majority of British users running to Holland & Barrett any time soon. "If there are supplements to help your body recover, then why shouldn't you use them?" asks Tony, 18, from Grimsby. "Although, next time I do [MDMA] I probably won't use them."
For Brits, preparing to do MDMA mainly consists of pre-rolling fags and taking massive shits, while recovery – at least for Tom, 18, from Norwich – means "a cup of tea and Planet Earth II". Dan from Bournemouth says, "I lay in bed, binge Netflix, smoke weed and eat a lot."
Americans also take MDMA in much different settings, from their purposefully kaleidoscopic EDM events to wholesome "ecstasy parties", where guests are given glow sticks, Pop Rocks, bubbles, blankets and funny outfits, before being encouraged to do things like paint and write complimentary notes to each other, to be read on the comedown.
Jesse, 24, from Massachusetts recently hosted his first ecstasy party, and believes one reason why UK MDMA culture seems so destructive by comparison may be because Brits start getting on it too early. "Many people who try MDMA in America do so during college. Because of this, people have more to worry about if they do something that can derail their lives," he says. "[In Britain], it seems MDMA is more common at high school and then leads into university."
Though Brits take more, Americans love combining other drugs with MDMA just as much. Jesse mentions taking it with ketamine, nitrous oxide, LSD and 2C-B; Dakota, 22, from Utah says she mixed it with LSD; and Adrian, 42, from Ohio says, "MDMA is fine by itself, but it's great with LSD or 2C-B."
The biggest point of contention between Mandy and Molly enthusiasts, however, is the wait time between drops. Generally, Americans abide by the "three-month rule", a suggestion of Ann Shulgin – wife of Alexander Shulgin, the medicinal chemist who introduced MDMA therapy in the late 1970s – which feels like a sensible enough buffer against high tolerance and the mental and physical problems MDMA can cause. Still, the British users I spoke to don't seem to like it. "I think the whole three-month rule is kind of bollocks," says Darren, 22, from Kent. "I think you could take it after a month and be fine, as long as you aren't overdoing it with doses." (The Global Drugs Survey team say: "Try not to use more often than once every month – or every two or three months; saving it for special occasions can really help to magnify your enjoyment.")
Ultimately, how Brits and Americans treat MDMA probably has something to do with their respective natures. Brits are as nihilistic with the drug as they are with alcohol, while – arguably – Americans generally put more brainpower into how they use their illicit substances. Think, for example, about how many more American weed nerds you've come across than British.
So is reconciliation possible – some great rave in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where 19-year-old Alfies in bucket hats get introduced to Pop Rocks and supplements? Doubt it.