Keeping Punters Safer: Spotlight on MDMA

In the event organising game – alcohol and other drugs are facts of life.

Our site features advice on adopting a harm-reduction approach to events and provides tips on how to implement a drug management plan.

But what about being prepared for specific drugs? What’s there to know and what should you look for? Our Spotlight On series dives into specific substances and shares important information, ensuring your event is safe and a banger.

Our first piece is about MDMA; also known as MD, ecstasy, E or Molly. MDMA is one of the most popular drugs in Aotearoa, particularly at festivals or EDM events. It’s a psychoactive (mind-altering) stimulant that people use to feel energised and connected with those around them.

MDMA quick facts:

  • Can come in powder, crystal, or pill form.
  • MDMA is sometimes sold containing fillers or other drugs are falsely sold as MDMA. That’s why your event should provide free drug checking services to punters.
  • Learn more about MDMA here.

MDMA effects

  • People on MDMA generally become more sociable and talkative, dance more, and appear to be having an enjoyable experience.
  • People tell KnowYourStuffNZ volunteers that MDMA is cheaper than alcohol ‘with fewer calories and less unpleasant after-effects.’
  • Provides people with heightened sensory perceptions and a 4–6-hour energy boost.
  • May cause some people to have lowered inhibitions and increased sexual drive.
  • Not associated with violent behaviour.
  • On MDMA, people tend to sweat a lot more and can become dehydrated. They will often drink lots of water following use.

On the ground views of MDMA

Wendy Allison is the Managing Director of KnowYourStuffNZ (KYSNZ). KYSNZ has offered more than a hundred free drug checking events in Aotearoa since 2016 and provides factual, non-judgmental info for people who intend to consume drugs.

According to Wendy, MDMA is the most consumed drug KYSNZ volunteers observe at events, making up approximately 50-70% of the samples brought to them.

Drug checking is legal and free in NZ. Pictured: KYSNZ volunteers check a person’s sample at a festival

“The more mainstream the event and younger the audience, the higher proportion of MDMA brought to us,” she says.

Etienne Marais is one of the country’s most experienced music event managers. He’s helped pull together a laundry list of big events including The Big Day Out and the 11,500 person EDM staple, Northern Bass.

“MDMA crowds are usually happy and easy to manage. Most problems come from impure or ‘fake’ products in the place of actual MD,” he says.

“MDMA use has never been higher and is extremely popular…in the 18-25 age bracket.”

Why do people take MDMA?

Aside from the obvious, people take MDMA to have fun, there are a variety of reasons why people take it.

Glen Hoult, an event risk and specialist team manager at St John’s, says MDMA is known to foster feelings of empathy and closeness.

Due to MDMA providing people with heightened sensory perceptions, he says it significantly increases people’s enjoyment of the repetitive nature of EDM, particularly “the deep concussive bass lines.”

“Packed dancefloors can create an impulsive community feeling.”

What to look out for when punters take MDMA

  • Some substances sold as MDMA are actually synthetic cathinones (bath salts). These drugs can have more unpleasant and unpredictable effects than MDMA.
  • Because MDMA can make people more sociable and can increase sexual feelings, people may be more likely to get into each other's space. This can lead to discomfort for those on the receiving end, or even breaches of consent.
  • Medical staff often witness people on MDMA experiencing disassociation, or detachment from themselves. This can lead to illogical or disorganised thoughts and risk-taking.
  • Adverse health effects from MDMA include jaw clenching, fast or irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure and hypothermia (overheating) which results in excessive water consumption.

Keeping punters safer from MDMA harm

  • To start with, we suggest building your event’s drug management plan using our step by step guide.
  • Ensure medical, security and management staff understand what drugs are circulating and are trained to identify people having trouble.
  • Security staff should be trained in non-confrontational approaches to intoxicated persons, including how to intervene where there seems to be unwanted touch or advances.
  • Organising drug-checkers like KYSNZ to attend your event can save lives. Such organisations check punters’ substances and provide information about dose, expected response, answer questions, and watch out for signs people need help.
  • For outdoor events, provide sunscreen and water stations around the site and ensure shade is available. Consider shading and/or adding sprinklers to the dancefloor so people don’t overheat in the sun. 
  • Provide warm, comfortable chill spaces for people if they are feeling overwhelmed. Consider having it staffed by a psychedelic first aid team such as PsyCare or DeepSpace. Have processes in place to identify and channel people having difficult experiences to this service.

See more harm reduction advice and information at The Level