Ecstasy and the Rise of the Chemical Generation


Richard Hammersley, Furzana Khan and Jason Ditton


Will be published by Harwood Academic Press early in 2001.



The back cover  will claim…


They could be your grand children.

They could be your children.

They could be you.


Using drugs is normal for the chemical generation. And the drug that defines them is ecstasy. This book about ecstasy users’ lives is based on the authors' research - in one of the biggest government funded projects ever undertaken - but allows the chemical generation to speak for themselves for the first time.


Over fifty per cent of young British people use drugs, a quarter of them regularly. Drug users are no longer a mad, bad or immoral minority. The people in this book are ordinary, decent, family-loving people, with normal lives, normal problems, and heart-rendingly normal aspirations.


But this study shows what happens when normal people use ecstasy.


Through their own words, we hear how they first started using ecstasy, how they use it in different ways, why clubbing and raving are so important, how good sex is on ecstasy, how they chill out, how they come down, what problems they have encountered and how and why they quit.


And what happened to these normal people when they used ecstasy? Nothing. Yet.


This path-breaking book ends by trying to answer the question on the lips of every member of the chemical generation: what are the long-term effects of ecstasy? Because we can't answer them, the authors claim, we are failing in our duty to our children. Just telling them not to take ecstasy  is as alienating as it is pointless.


"Compulsory reading for anybody who cares about the future of society."


Richard Hammersley is professor of psychology at the University of Essex

Furzana Khan is a research and information development officer

Jason Ditton is professor of criminology at the University of Sheffield


Contact: ,


A few “tasters” of the book’s contents follow:




As the final touches are being put to this book in the earliest days of the 21st century, the 1990s seem, in retrospect, to be a curious decade. We had fully expected it to be a “decade of the stimulants” in the late 1980s, and so it turned out to be. Ecstasy, the stimulant which is the focus of this book, had a more curious decade than most drugs. The early 1990s saw a celebratory endorsement of it, as bars across the middle of England closed, and promptly reopened as alcohol-free clubs. By the middle of the decade, alcohol had crept back onto the scene (it has been provocatively suggested that the so-called “alco-pops” were introduced by the drinks industry not to ensnare children with their sweet taste, but instead to wean Ecstasy users back to more conventional and more dangerous drugs), and unofficial self-organised raves were being broken up more frequently by the police. The tabloids rubbed their hands with glee as club deaths could be laid by them at Ecstasy’s door. By the late 1990s, things fell into perspective. The Chemical Generation, or, Generation ‘X’, had not migrated into the depressed generation that some had foretold. Hundreds of thousands of doses of Ecstasy are believed to be consumed each week, yet the death rate has not risen, and for many of the deaths associated with Ecstasy (at least in the media) it remains unproven that Ecstasy caused death.


This book reports two of the three separate studies of the use of Ecstasy undertaken by the authors during the 1990s. The major study (which is reported in the five main chapters) comprised quantitative interviews with 229 Ecstasy users, 22 of whom were interviewed qualitatively and in depth. These interviews took place between December 1993 and June 1995. In early 1999, we managed to trace 7 of the 22, and re-interviewed them.


In 1994, we studied the information needs of 38 young Ecstasy users. All 38 took part in one of six discussion groups, and 21 of the participants were later interviewed in depth. This is reported in the Appendix.


This book is not aimed exclusively at an academic audience. Quantitative analysis is dealt with lightly in the main text, and more space that would otherwise be appropriate is given to the words of the 22 users we interviewed with a tape-recorder to hand. However, our main quantitative findings have been validated by the scientific peer-review system, and references to these published articles are given where necessary. As we were making final changes to the book, in January 2000, the clubbing magazine Mixmag published the results of a large survey of its readers’ drug using habits. The only major differences we noticed between those findings and the ones in this book were that ecstasy use seems to have become even more common. For instance, more of the people who replied to the survey had taken ecstasy the previous month than had taken cannabis. Also, cocaine seemed to becoming more common again.



The Contents of the book


Chapter One: Introduction - Getting into Ecstasy


1.1 Getting the large sample to complete questionnaires

1.2 The small group that talked to us on tape

1.3 How they got into Ecstasy

1.4 Getting others into Ecstasy



Chapter Two: Types of Ecstasy User and Ecstasy


2.1 Typologieses of Ecstasy user

2.2 "Bouncy" E or "gouchy" E?

2.3 Consumption and tolerance

2.4 Bingeing



Chapter Three: Uses of Ecstasy


3.1 The right mood and the right place

3.2 Clubbing and raving

3.3 Sexstasy

3.4 Chilling out and coming down



Chapter Four: The Role of Ecstasy


4.1 Taking other drugs

4.2 The Ecstasy lifestyle

4.3 Problems with Ecstasy

4.4 Quitting Ecstasy



Chapter Five: Ecstasy - Impressions and Reality


5.1 What did they know?

5.2 Where are they now?

5.3 Where are we now?


Further Reading


Appendix: The information needs of Ecstasy users

Now, some slight excerpts from each chapter….



Chapter One: Introduction - Getting into Ecstasy



"It was magic. All your muscles relax, and you felt this great surge of energy..." (Phil)


"One of the best nights of my life, and I've been sort of hooked on the feeling ever since. I had an amazing night!...the next thing I knew, I was in the middle of the dance the middle of the dance floor on my own...I just had this uncontrollable urge to dance, and I just spent the rest of the night going 'Give me more! Give me more!’...” (Gael)


"I didn't really know exactly how it was supposed to make you feel. I knew it was supposed to make you feel happy, but that's the only thing I knew about it. I never asked. I just took it, and that was that...It didn't make me communicative: I think the opposite. I just felt, that I've got thoughts, but I don't want to speak. I was just happy not talking at all...Ecstasy makes you sort of sit there with a big smile on your face, not talking..."  (Sandra)


"The first time I ever took didn't work. It was about the 4th or 5th one that I took before it...but to start with, I only took a wee bit. I never took a whole one for a while..." (Agnes)


Chapter Two: Types of Ecstasy User


A staple in drug research is the classification of users into types. Below we outline why we had great difficulty with this. As did members of our small group:


"...every kind. I don't think there's a particular kind of person. How would I describe an E user? Just your average person..." (Kirsty)


"Och! Don't know. They vary. Any type. Anybody..." (Phil)


"I don't really think there's a... it's completely widespread across all sorts of groups and classes and sexes and the age groups..." (Liz)


"...students take it, so do academics, so do lots of folk, so do criminals, so do junkies, so do drugs workers..." (Richie)


"people that come from a not so good up-bringing...and then you've got your people that have gone to private school..." (Danny)


"...full-timers and part-timers, you know, people that do it all the time and people that don't..." (Kath)


"...those that take it, and take tons of it, and those that take it in control..." (Gael)


"...people that are into rave music, and, you know, people who aren't..." (Iain)


" get your sort of younger generation, you know, young folk, late teens, early 20s sort of crowd...and then there's the sort of older ones..." (Stuart)


"'ve got your dealer that takes it every get the occasional user who takes it every now and then, and you get your guys that take it every month..." (Euan)


Chapter Three: Uses of Ecstasy


Perhaps because of the success of its initial marketing, Ecstasy rapidly gained a reputation as something of an aphrodisiac – even to the extent of being dubbed “the love drug” in the British media. Aficionados later detected an ambiguous effect in this respect, and the love drug thereafter became “the hug drug”. What did members of our small group think of combining Ecstasy use with sex?


"'re much more sensitive to someone touching you, and you basically feel as if you're orgasming all the way through it, and then if you have an orgasm, you go onto this level never experienced before..." (Gael)


" enhanced it, definitely. just let go an awful lot more, and, like, your sense of touch and everything....everything is exaggerated..." (Morag)


"Aye! makes it a lot better!..I don't know. You just feel really horned up. You're like, 'Here! You!'...Grab! It's just like you love folk more: you fancy folk more..." (Moira)


"Men seem to say that it's better, even better for them. To put it bluntly, they find that they can have sex for a lot longer on Ecstasy...em...a lot longer..." (Liz)


"Aye. It...enhances your performance...just like staying power for the guy..." (Stuart)


"It's like everything's in slow motion with E. I'd say it was quite good. Aye, it's different..." (Agnes)



Chapter Four: The Role of Ecstasy


Due to what we think is flawed questionnaire design, people who use illegal drugs are typically depicted in a [RH1][J2]way that concentrates solely on their drug use. The resulting picture is all of use and frequency of drug use, effects of consumption, and problems stemming from “abuse”. A natural consequent assumption is that all such “drug fiends” are atheistic predatory criminals, with no other interests than their drugs. The reality for young people in Britain today – as recently chronicled in a recent path-breaking book[1]  is that drug use has become “normalised”, not least because drugs are consumed by normal people. To start, then, what part does Ecstasy play in the life of the users we questioned?



"'s a part of it. I do other things..." (Euan)


"Yeah, but I would only say that it is a part of my social life..." (Naomi)


"I use it as part of my lifestyle..." (Iain)


"Yeah, well, I suppose it's part of the club scene... part of my lifestyle..."(Liz)


"it's a small part of's only part of growing up..." (Phil)


Yet, for at least one of the small group (although perhaps not for ever), Ecstasy was somewhat more important:


"Yeah, it's a large part of it...and I think that if you took that away from me...I'd have a really shitty life..." (Fiona)



Chapter Five: Ecstasy - Impressions and Reality




Evening Times, 28.02.90.


Over the period that we were researching, the popular media waged a sustained campaign of vilification against Ecstasy. Before we move to finding out where our small group has got to, a reminder of some of their views. The one issue that they were almost universally condemnatory about was coverage of Ecstasy use in the media. Part of the reason was the perceived overreaction of coverage:


"Erm...I think the tabloid press has had a complete overreaction and moral panic about it..." (Liz)


"'s overblown, and most of it is negative, it's very negative...'Killer drug'...bla! bla!..bla! dehydrates you and kills people..." (Willie)


"A bit hysterically, yeah. Em...I think it's just sort of...yeah...they exploit cases of like, maybe, of like terror or whatever, and they put it in a bad light. They make it into some sort of panic thing to sell papers..." (Naomi)


Another part was the apparent hypocrisy:


"I think the way the the it's disgusting. I was reading a thing, and it was saying that, like, Britain was a Brewery know. And the problem for them is that the young people are not going out and getting pissed every night. It means that the breweries are losing loads of money...Yeah, the young people are going out and taking E, and the breweries are losing wads of cash. I think the papers are on their side, so they make it like 'Death and Evil', and 'Bad' they scare monger people into going back to getting pissed and keeping the breweries happy..."



"Well, it's a good story, you know. It's sex and drugs and rock and roll. Eh? It sells papers, but it's sensationalised and it's trivialised...Ecstasy is just the new demon, and it's the same old hypocritical crap..." (Fraser)

[1] Parker, H., Aldridge, J. & Measham, F., Illegal Leisure: The normalisation of adolescent recreational drug use, Routledge, London, 1998.