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There was only one sure way to find out. I decided to buy two pills from Brittany's dealer and test them myself. I purchased them at the bargain price of $10 apiece, which is conspicuously cheaper than the $20 per pill rate prevalent at the UC Berkeley co-ops in 2002. Nobody is quite sure why the price has dropped so much in the past four years. At any rate, I called Le and asked to use his DanceSafe pill testing kit.
Le lives in the same East Oakland apartment building where he grew up, a three-story brick tenement that also houses a Vietnamese noodle house and a DirecTV shop, both plastered with posters advertising the Lunar New Year celebration in Reno. Inside, Le's apartment is warm and clean. Piercing solution and citrus toothpaste clutter the bathroom sink, and there's a low-backed divan in the living room. The kitchen is stocked with a variety of herbal teas, and the walls are decorated with posters depicting all the different strains of several drugs, including Ecstasy. The afternoon I stop by, Le is lounging in the living room wearing baggy warmup pants, a Puma jacket, and flip-flops. He has three or four piercings in each ear. He has laid out a table with all the paraphernalia DanceSafe typically uses to test pills at parties: a jar of pens, a bowl of condoms, earplugs in sealed baggies, a sound meter to test the decibel level of the speakers, a thermometer to test the room temperature, stacks of splashy, laminated fliers with information about every recreational drug found in the club scene (plus one on heatstroke and one on protecting your hearing), and a drug testing kit consisting of three reagents -- Mecke, Marquis, and Simon, which change color when combined with Ecstasy; speed; the psychedelic 2CB; and DXM, an opiate found in many over-the-counter cold medicines. The test can tell if your pill is completely fake, but won't indicate its purity or how much Ecstasy you're taking.
We decide to test my pills with the first two reagents, since that's all Le has on hand. The pills look a little suspect: one is pink with darker speckles, and not even totally round -- Le murmurs that it doesn't look as if it was pressed properly. The other is blue with multicolored speckles and a horizontal line pressed into one side. Neither has a logo. Le takes a ruler and measures them. The pink one is 8 millimeters in diameter and 5 millimeters deep; the blue is 8 x 4.5 mm. With a razor, he carves a tiny sliver of the pink pill onto a plate and smothers it with a drop of the Mecke reagent. After a couple seconds the pill fragment turns blue and then black, indicating the presence of Ecstasy. This would be a normal reaction, except that Le detects spots of pink in the puddle whose presence he can't explain. "It might be from the speckles," he guesses. "I've never seen a speckled pill before." The Marquis reagent also indicates Ecstasy, though again with strains of some unknown substance -- this one produces tiny yellow dots in the reaction. The blue pill is no better: Combined with the Mecke, it tests positive for Ecstasy, though the reaction glitters with tiny yellow and pink dots that defy explanation. Likewise, the Marquis reaction turns up Ecstasy-positive, but flecked with yellow spots.
Although the tests aren't very reassuring, the sight of two virginal Ecstasy pills lying before me on Le's coffee table is difficult to resist. I decide to take the pills. I cut them in half, take half of the pink one, and wait 45 minutes. When nothing happens, I take half of the blue one, too.
Having taken my fair share of Ecstasy in college, I know how warm and fuzzy it's supposed to feel. And I expect only the best -- especially after Brittany's gushing review. So I wait. Another half-hour passes. Then I start to feel flighty, though the sensation is no more intense than a caffeine rush, or two glasses of red wine on an empty stomach. My palms and the soles of my feet are sweating. Le is bumping a fizzy techno soundtrack on his stereo, and I demand that he switch over to the hyphy mix on Wild 94.9 -- after all, I want to feel myself. When we can't settle on the appropriate background music, I decamp; I catch a BART train at Lake Merritt and sit in a corner of the car by myself, feeling twitchy. Within two hours of having taken the pill, I'm morbidly depressed. Officer Gates had said something about "Suicide Tuesday" being the day that every raver comes down from his Ecstasy high. I'm not exactly ready to slit my wrists, but I can see why some people have called Ecstasy "crack for the malcontent."
We decide to try again. I buy two more pills from the same dealer, and this time they look more legit: they're light blue with Christmas tree logos, and measure a healthy 8.5 x 4.5 mm, although they still have speckles. I send one to a Sacramento lab to be tested with a mass spectrometer, which determines the relative amounts of certain substances, including caffeine, ketamine, methamphetamine, and ephedrine, but not the actual quantity of each. On its Web site, EcstasyData.org explains: "The DEA has made an unpublished administrative rule that licensed labs are not allowed to provide quantitative data to the public, reportedly for fear of providing 'quality control' to dealers and suppliers of black market products."
I take the other pill to Le's house. Once again, the Mecke and Marquis reactions both reveal Ecstasy. Without giving the matter much thought, I decide to pop this pill, too.
This one's a little better. An hour later I feel light and floaty; I'm gnashing my teeth, listlessly watching rodeo footage on TV, and trying to fraternize with Le's fellow trance scenesters -- albeit without much success. A few weeks later I check EcstasyData.org and find that my pill is one part Ecstasy, one part diphenhydramine (best known as the antihistamine Benadryl), and one part phentermine (a speedy diet pill).
I want my forty bucks back.
Seven Days - December 9, 6:10 PM
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Seven Days - December 4, 5:31 PM