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Festival Culture Surrounding Psychedelics

By Kayla Lupedee

Music blasting through the speakers, bright lights circling the crowded bodies, everyone rolling with the music. A sense of gravity loosening its grip on people’s arms and legs, they feel weightless, like they’re floating through the festival. And a lot of that is all thanks to drugs. 

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festivals are a trend on the rise with psychedelic drugs as their sidekick. Not only are young people attending the festivals for the fun of the music, but they are also experiencing a new wave of emotions and visuals through using psychedelics, like MDMA (molly/ecstasy) and LSD (acid). 

“When I’m rolling, I feel like the music controls me,” said a University of Tampa senior who requested to remain anonymous under the name Joe. “You kind of just move to the music and your body responds to it really well.”

According to Scott Husband, associate professor of psychology at UT, psychedelics primarily affect the serotonin in the brain. 

“When serotonin is dysregulated, which these drugs do, the networks of neurons go haywire and lots of weird sensory things can happen, like image trails or distortions in seeing and hearing,” said Husband. “Because of the sensory effects of psychedelics, sometimes music can sound particularly intense or be very emotional. You may hear layers of sounds that just aren’t distinct in a non-drug state.”

EDM festivals, like Sunset Music Festival and Electrical Daisy Carnival (EDC), among many more, are new hotspots for people to try out psychedelic or hallucinogenic drugs. Some UT students who have attended EDM festivals said the atmosphere is the perfect place to experience rolling on molly or tripping on acid with no judgement from others. 

“When you’re at a music festival like those, you’re in a community where everyone is doing whatever they want and everyone is accepted for whatever they’re doing,” said a UT junior who requested to remain anonymous under the name Sarah. “People even have signs that say ‘anyone is welcome here,’ so that’s the best time to try it out because nobody is going to get mad at you for it.”

And at that point, some wonder why only try one? Sarah said she takes part in taking a combination of MDMA and LSD at the same time, which coined the term “candy-flipping.”

“My friends were experienced with it and had done it before, so I tried it, too,” said Sarah. “Doing both, you’re a lot more awake and alert than if you were just on molly. You’re so much more vibey and into the music and dancing.”

But not everyone’s body reacts the same way to these drugs. Where one person feels happy and sees beautiful sights while on acid, another experienced her worst trip. 

“When I tripped acid at a festival, the whole time I wasn’t even thinking about the music,” said Joe. “I was just really in my own head about a lot of shit going on and it made me really paranoid.”

Husband said these drugs create a change in emotions, which could be either pleasant, otherwise known as euphoria, or unpleasant, which often leads to panic attacks. 

The appeal of using these drugs at EDM festivals is primarily for the feeling of happiness and carefree vibes during the performances, according to the students who have used them. Some users say the music feels like it is in their soul and experience a strong wave of love and appreciation for those around them while rolling on molly. 

Physical touch is also a powerful sensation while rolling, which is why people often wear articles of clothing with sensory details like fur. 

“Touching things and being touched in any way is just the most amazing experience,” said an anonymous source who will be referred to as Paula. “Even if it is just holding somebody’s hand, it feels so awesome.”

People walk around with big furry coats or fake grass for everyone to touch as they pass by. One student even said she has a head massager that she brings along to festivals because of the enhanced feeling. 

“People go around massaging each other’s heads,” said Paula. “If you see somebody getting their head massaged, you know they’re rolling. It feels amazing.” 

Where alcohol is often used at parties and concerts, it’s not the festival-goer’s top choice of intoxication. Since the festivals last so many hours and take place over a course of several days, users think their bodies react better to using psychedelics rather than drinking alcohol. 

“If you try to drink for that long, it is just a recipe for disaster,” said Laura, who requested to stay anonymous. “One of my friends usually will drink alcohol instead [of using molly], and he is always on a way different level than I am.”

Although there is a positive appeal in using psychedelic drugs at EDM festivals, there are still unfortunate side effects and a comedown if the users overdo it.

“My worst experience was taking too much molly because it made me sick,” said Paula. “One time at EDC, I rolled a bit too hard on the first night. I was throwing up and my eyes were barely open, but within 30 minutes I was good again and ready to be back in there.”

She said strangers at the festival continued to check up on her, which solidified the acceptance and love from everyone around, despite not actually knowing each other. 

“Ecstasy can lead to dehydration and a potentially delirious state when your body’s electrolytes become imbalanced,” said Husband. “This can be potentially life-threatening and has led to several deaths recently even in young, otherwise healthy college-aged people, [for example] in 2010 and 2016 at the Electric Daisy Carnival.” 

Molly also causes initial sweating severely and a chattering jaw. Many people bring binkies, or pacifiers, to the festival in order to keep their jaw from shaking. Others just simply chew gum. The day after using molly, Paula said she often feels sad or depressed. 

“I definitely take one day at a festival where I chill out and don’t take any drugs,” said Paula. “I go sober on the last day to give my body a break. I went to one recently sober and I still had the time of my life.”

Although it is not necessary to experience a festival on drugs, it definitely enhances the experience, according to UT students. Since music festivals are like any other large social gathering, people often resort to using drugs to “help them feel more social and immersed in the experience,” according to Husband.  

“Obviously you don’t need to do them…When I go to something small like a show at the Ritz, I won’t use molly, but sometimes I do wish I was tripping,” said Laura. “But it’s still nice to experience it sober, I don’t mind.”

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