Drug use surveys show that the number of people doing ecstasy over the past 10 years has remained stable at about two percent of the population. But Joseph Palamar doesn’t buy it. An associate professor of population health at the New York University, Palamar — a self-confessed former party person himself — stays plugged into drug usage trends in the United States. Part of that effort involves knowing as much as possible about the people who are using recreational drugs. And based on new analysis of results from the 2007–2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, he and his colleagues have some unexpected insights into the types of people who are rolling.
According to a paper Palamar and his colleagues published October 6 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, in which they examined survey results from 332,560 people between age 12 and 34, ecstasy users are more likely to be young adults — between the ages of 18 and 34.
The number of people from 18 to 34 who use ecstasy rose 31.5 percent — from 23.2 percent in 2007 to 30.5 percent in 2014 — while the number of people from age 12 to 17 who used ecstasy fell by 42.9 percent — from 16.8 percent to 9.6 percent. Additionally, the data revealed that 65.9 percent of ecstasy users have above a high school education. The data also showed that more ecstasy users are doing other drugs, with a four-fold increase in the number of ecstasy users who report taking assorted tryptamine drugs — DMT, AMT, and Foxy Methoxy (5-MeO-DiPT).
Palamar says knowing more about the people who use ecstasy — that they’re mostly educated young adults — could help him and others engage with drug users in a more productive way.
“Since most ecstasy users are college-educated, I don’t think they’re going to be as receptive to common drug scare tactics as a lot of other people,” Palamar tells Inverse. “They probably just don’t believe everything you tell them.”
But Palamar does more than simply interpret data; he keeps his ear to the street. That’s why he questions the data that show only two percent of people use ecstasy. One of the major reasons he sees for this disparity? Simple ignorance.
“A lot of people appear to be under-reporting because they don’t know that Molly is ecstasy,” says Palamar. Molly, the powdered and supposedly purer form of MDMA, has become more popular in the club and electronic dance music — EDM — scene in recent years, but it was only added to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2015 (which is also why, to avoid confusion, Palamar’s data for this study stop at 2014). This basic breakdown in information has led people to believe that different forms of MDMA are actually different drugs.
“We have this young generation who maybe have heard of ecstasy from friends or in health class, then this ‘new’ drug called Molly comes around and they don’t know that it’s ecstasy,” says Palamar. “That’s a major issue.”
Fortunately, this information breakdown is manageable. As Inverse has reported on previously, Palamar conducts research every year in which he tests people’s hair for substances at clubs and compares the results with the drugs the people report taking.
“I think those findings might inform harm-reduction,” he says. “We’re reporting biological outcomes to people: This is what we’re finding in your hair. You think you’re using ecstasy, but you’re testing positive for bath salts.”
Regarding the other drugs that people know they’re taking, like DMT, AMT, and Foxy Methoxy, Palamar says it’s simple: Drug users are more likely to try other drugs.
“DMT is becoming particularly popular among ecstasy users,” he says.
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