Ecstasy has been thought of as a slightly dangerous drug, from a medical standpoint. However, socially, it was thought of as benign, the “hug drug.” Now a new version has appeared: speed in disguise.
I remember a moment when I and my co-workers considered, with a chill, what would happen if crystal meth, also known as speed or crank, ever hit the black communities in Oakland, in which gun violence had historically been most prominent.
When the Oakland kids first started mentioning doing Ecstasy, or “poppin’ pills” as they called it, we joked that the “hug drug” might end up ending gang warfare for good: Guns traded in for glow-sticks, gang colors replaced by rainbows, kids forgetting to fight and suddenly feeling an urgent desire to share their feelings. It was always generally perceived as a happy pill, one that led to earnest heart-to-hearts in a warehouse stuffed with beanbags; one you didn’t mix with alcohol, because all you needed was an open heart and a big bottle of water.
But, Ecstasy redux, known as thizz by the artists and marketers of “the hyphy movement”—i.e. the rap music of Bay Area artists like E40 and Mac Dre—and by the gazillion record labels and club parties with the word thizz in their titles, is a much more sinister drug, both in its chemical makeup and the way it’s taken. By 2006, The Beat was publishing numerous pieces by detainees who mixed thizz with alcohol, marijuana and cough syrup. They would tell of popping handfuls of pills at a time (one boy wrote that he’d taken 80 pills over the course of one week). They’d write about guns going off at parties because someone was “off a pill”; they’d write about nightmare trips from pills they’d taken without really knowing what was inside; a 16-year-old who calls himself Al Boo Boo wrote that thizz destroyed his life, in a piece called, appropriately, “Thizz is Not What It Is.”
Local journalists have been aware of the hyphy movement and its relationship to Ecstasy for a long time. Last year, for example, The East Bay Express featured a thorough cover story on the new trend. In it the reporter took note that the drug on the street were much “speedier” than she remembered from her own club days. But her concerns about its effect on health were limited to ER visits by people who had OD’d, of which there were very few. On the other hand, ER visits related to young people driving recklessly or shooting off guns at parties were off her radar, even though Highland Hospital has treated record numbers of young shooting victims. Many of the automobile-related injuries are suffered in local “sideshows,” a big part of thizz culture. One boy told me the hospital should be called the Highland Hotel because he and his friends spend so much time there.
The Ecstasy these kids are taking is basically speed, and it’s as devastating in its own way as its more vilified cousin, crystal meth.