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420 Festival: A Gateway Gathering?

Raver culture meets a stoner holiday at a controversial party tomorrow.


Pot meets electronica and ecstasy.
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By Bryan Le


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Today's the day when stoners take to parks to enjoy the grass and celebrate the counterculture. But in recent years, April 20 has also heralded the 420 Festival, a massive 10,000-plus all-night rave and carnival, seemingly a far cry from the laid-back, sometimes political gatherings that previously characterized the day. The festival combines raver culture (and drugs) with stoner culture in a way that has some critics worried.

Parties where thousands dance to electronic music all night have long been associated with ecstasy, a drug that's been linked to hospitalizations and deaths through dehydration and overheating, as well as poisonings through contaminating substances in dodgy pills. Ecstasy, or MDMA, causes the brain to release a huge amount of serotonin and depletes the supply in the process, resulting in a big high followed by a big low. “Taking MDMA on a frequent pattern can lead to depression and a 'need' for other resources to feel better,” Trinka Porratta, a private drug consultant, tells The Fix. “It can also lead to boredom with MDMA and thus they move on to a variety of related tryptamines, phenethylamines or other exotic drugs for new highs and new experiences.” As a result, critics argue, regular pot-smokers who attend the 420 Festival to celebrate marijuana may sample a variety of other substances there for the first time.

The reverse may also be true: ravers drawn to the event by the music get into marijuana culture, and sources complain to The Fix that ravers are being "indoctrinated" into pro-medical marijuana politics while high on a cocktail of drugs. But pot isn't necessarily new to ravers: “Marijuana is one of the things that might help level out, or slow down, the rollercoaster of [MDMA's] side effects. Not everyone experiences "ecstasy" when taking MDMA," says Porratta. "Some have panic attacks, soaring heart rate, etc., and feel very scared. It would not be unlikely marijuana would be one of the things they would resort to for relief from that agitation." The fifth annual 420 Festival takes place tomorrow, Saturday, April 21, in San Bernardino County, California.

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