February 24, 2020

Practising harm reduction when taking MDMA: How Emily does it

Last week, we spoke to Harry* about how he minimises risk while taking G, and this week we spoke to Emily* about her harm reduction practices with MDMA.

While this is one person’s story, Pivot Point has more information about avoiding an MDMA overdose.


Pivot Point: Hey Emily! So tell us, when do you take MDMA?

E: I generally only take MDMA for two reasons. One is that I’m at a party with a lot of my friends, generally a queer party, which probably happens these days about four times a year. And the other time is occasionally an evening at home with friends that’s been pre-planned. In every case it’s always pre-planned. It’s never spontaneous. My friends and I map it out.


PP: Why do you take MDMA in a party setting?

E: Music is better when you’re on MDMA. I don’t really like dance music, but when I’m on MDMA I really do. I love my friends, and I love the way that love feels when I’m on MDMA.

As I’ve gotten a bit older, I’m almost 35, I enjoy taking the same batch of drugs with my friends. We all know our bodies and we know how we respond to MDMA. When we do it, we’re together and feeling safe once we’ve gotten a read of the room, a read of each other’s moods, and we’re all making well-informed decisions.


PP: How do you plan for a night or occasion on MDMA?

E: I always have made sure I’ve eaten some carbohydrates a couple of hours before I take my first cap, so there’s something in my stomach. You need to find what works for you. It’s paying attention to your body, right. If I’m planning on taking more than one cap that day, I always make sure that I don’t take anymore until the third time that I’ve thought my drugs are wearing off, because the first time I think that, the drugs definitely haven’t worn off!

The stress of drug detection these days is always apparent. I have close friends who no longer carry anything with them, which means that drugs are taken before leaving the house. Particularly for a lot of trans people that I love, their fear of an interaction with the police is really, really terrifying, and important to always take seriously. So, weirdly, some of the preparation is in reminding myself what my rights are around strip searches and the language that I should use if I interact with a police officer who wants to search me. So part of the prep is going through those rules.


PP: What sorts of reactions do you hope to have when you take MDMA?

E: I’m more aware of my sensory processing, whether it’s sound, visuals, or touch. All my senses tend to be heightened, and it’s not always predictable which ones are going to be more heightened; I think it depends on where I’m at at that point. If I haven’t had as much affection that week then sometimes my physical sense of touch is more heightened.

I’ve never said anything to someone while I am on MDMA that I’ve regretted later. I do have an over-tendency to make plans and commitments that I definitely can’t follow through on. Either the next day or the next week, I promise to connect to people socially that in realistic circumstances I can’t be bothered doing. I definitely overpromise and under-deliver when on MDMA, but I never look back and think, oh I definitely shouldn’t have done that, like I maybe would in the past with alcohol.


PP: What sorts of reactions do you hope to avoid?

E: I’m aware that when I’m on MDMA, my perspective is off. My awareness of time, how quickly I’m speaking, how quickly I’m moving, how much time has passed – those things are really off. I once had a friend very upset with me for not coming to find her, and I swear it had been 15 minutes, but it had been two hours. I always try to be conscious about what my partners and friends need when they’re on MDMA.

I have occasionally had too much MDMA. I’m asthmatic, so I’m really good at not panicking when my body is telling me to panic. If you’re someone who has had asthma attacks before, you get practised at calming yourself. I’ve never been at risk of a panic attack or anxiety attack when on MDMA, because I’m practised at calming myself. I have seen other friends panic, and the things that I do in an asthma attack has helped them.

Something I do is get them to breathe in as I press into the palm of their hand, and breathe out as I release pressure, because getting physically back into your body when your brain is going really fast forward can be hard.


PP: What do you do if you feel any of those unwanted reactions coming on?

E: With MDMA for me, there’s two different kinds of unwantedness. There’s my body doesn’t feel ok, and my brain doesn’t feel ok. And when my body doesn’t feel ok, it’s about how do I make it feel better. Sometimes my skin feels a bit funny when I’m coming down, and I find a shower or a bath or something that’s a nice feeling on my skin helps a lot, or someone patting my head, or anything that brings positive body feelings can be really good.

If brains are feeling a little bit messy, you need to always have good people around you. And hopefully within your circle there’s always someone that hasn’t taken drugs, or someone’s on a different timetable to you, so they’re in a better place to help you. And also, never be afraid to call an ambulance. Medical help is ok.


PP: How do you avoid any of those reactions happening?

E: If they’re new drugs, always start with half. If they’re in a cap form, always start with half. If they’re in a bag, go with half of what you’d normally go with. Always test run any new version. Unless someone has taken something from that batch before, I will always go half before I go whole because you never can predict how that new batch is going to work. To mitigate the risk of a bad response, you always reduce what your body has to respond to.


PP: What do you do to look after yourself the next day or after the fact?

E: Don’t ask too much of yourself emotionally, your emotional range is limited, so if you leave yourself in a comfortable, happy place. Do whatever makes your life nicer and easier if you can.

Ideally, I try to stay home the day after, and stock up on comfort food. I tend to have a comedown in bed with my partner, watching TV, with dumplings. There’s a routine to it now, and there is comfort in that routine, and there is effectiveness in it. It always throws me off when I don’t get to stick to it.


If you’re planning on heading to Mardi Gras this year, keep your eye out for the ACON Rovers and the Mardi Gras Medical team. We’re there to help you have a good time.

*Names have been changed.