The rapid growth in demand for ecstasy can be directly linked to its insidiously cuddly reputation. Since users only have to pop a pill rather than snort a line or inject a dose ecstasy isn't perceived as being nearly as dangerous as cocaine or heroin. It has also gained a reputation as being a "safe" drug that brings few side effects. But the little pills, which are sold for up to $40 each, can have a devastating impact: although users often experience feelings of extreme joy and contentment, they can suffer from dizziness, severe dehydration and even brain damage. "There's a notion that ecstasy makes you feel good, that there's no downside," said U.S. customs commissioner Raymond Kelly. "But there's plenty of horror stories."
That it is safe is only the first misconception surrounding the new "it" drug. While still popular with black-clad, street-smart city kids dancing to techno music at all-night "raves," ecstasy has now begun to infiltrate the suburbs as well as college frat houses and dorm parties from Oregon to Virginia. "A lot more people are doing E these days," says TIME senior writer John Cloud. "So law enforcement agencies are cracking down." Unfortunately for anti-ecstasy forces, adds Cloud, the same characteristics that make ecstasy so popular among pushers and partygoers it's easy to hide, disguise and consume also make it very difficult to track down the culprits.