Photo/IllutrationMDMA pills in the shape of the face of a Buddha are displayed at the Shikoku Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare in Takamatsu. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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A Tokyo man’s early experiences with MDMA, the synthetic drug known as ecstasy, put him in a state of uninhibited euphoria that enabled him to easily chat up women at his favorite club.

MDMA became the fuel for the nightlife of the man who lives in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward. But he later learned why ecstasy is also called a “gateway drug.”

The man soon dabbled in harder stuff. Eventually, he found himself divorced, unemployed and in prison.

“I never thought I’d be hooked on (drugs) that much,” he said.

The arrest of actress Erika Sawajiri over suspected MDMA possession in November has put a spotlight on the increasing use of ecstasy in Japan, particularly among young people.

According to a National Police Agency report, 42 individuals were arrested or targeted by police in cases involving MDMA and other synthesized drugs between January and June in 2019, nearly twice the number from the same period a year earlier.

About 43,000 MDMA pills were confiscated by police during that period, almost 90 times the total for all of 2014.

In one of the largest busts, a German who arrived at Kansai Airport was caught carrying about 10,000 MDMA pills in a suitcase in November.

The majority of the drugs were smuggled into Japan from the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, France and other European nations, the NPA said.

Once here, the ecstasy is distributed by dealers, such as a Tokyo woman in her 20s who agreed to talk to The Asahi Shimbun about her past drug-dealing days.

She said she took orders via social media from brokers working at night clubs in the Shibuya and Roppongi districts of Tokyo. She would go to the clubs, make eye contact with the brokers to confirm the customers, and then talk to the clients.

“It’s hard to get caught because the music is pumping so loud and clubs are dimly lit,” she said.

Her main customers were in their late teens to 30s, she added.

She also mentioned the case against Sawajiri, 33, who is accused of violating the Narcotics Drug Control Law.

“Each pill was sold for 5,000 yen ($45.60),” the woman said. “The capsule type apparently found in Sawajiri’s home is called ‘pure’ and is of high purity. I sold it for 7,000 yen each.”

Also referred to as “batsu,” MDMA is simply swallowed to get the person high. The effects can include heightened energy and hallucinations.

“Users have little sense of guilt because they don’t need to use a syringe like they do for stimulant drugs,” an investigative source said.

The man in Nakano Ward said he was encouraged by a friend to take MDMA at a Shibuya club about 20 years ago. About 15 minutes after he swallowed a pink pill, he felt drunk and happy. The sensation continued over the next few hours.

“I felt uninhibited, and it became easy for me to talk to women,” he recalled.

He kept taking the drug and hitting on women at the club.

“I used it in a light-hearted manner like I was taking a supplement,” he said.

The man also started to use marijuana and cocaine.

One day, he obtained white powder from one of the dealers. It was methamphetamine, and he became addicted to the stimulant.

He was arrested around 2007 on drug charges, but he couldn’t kick the habit, resulting in a second arrest and a prison sentence.

He was fired from his company and got divorced. The man, now 46, has remarried, but he said he is still tempted to start using again.

Although MDMA is called a gateway drug, ecstasy itself can cause serious physical and mental health problems.

In August 2009, a woman who used ecstasy with a former actor died after losing consciousness.

“Continued use would lead to an increased dependence, resulting in dabbling in stronger drugs like cocaine and other stimulants,” said Masahiko Funada, section chief of the Department of Drug Dependence Research at the National Institute of Mental Health.

(This article was written by Chihaya Inagaki and Yuko Kawasaki.)