Synthetic drugs Developments in the use of MDMA (ecstasy) and other synthetic drugs in Flanders (Belgium)

Research Period

1 January 2003 - 31 December 2004


Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek



Key Words

synthetic drugs, ecstasy, MDMA, identity, ethnography


There is no fundamental research on drugs subcultures of users of said 'new' synthetic drugs available in Flanders. From a methodological point of view as regards the analysis of the group of synthetic drug users in particular work will be done from a multi-disciplinary standpoint. Symbiosis of criminology, social and cultural anthropology (ethnography) and epidemiology leads to exploratory research and participating observation. By the group of new synthetic drugs we mean the amphetamine-like ecstasy which is pharmaceutically ranked in group three 'stimulants and amphetamines' and its varieties and forms of appearance para-methoxyamphetamine, hereinafter called PMA ; para-methoxymethylamphetamine, hereinafter called PMMA ; 3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine, herinafter called MDMA, methylenedioxyamphetamine, hereinafter called MDA and Gammahydroxybutyrat, hereinafter called GHB.

In our working hypothesis the use of synthetic drugs by this group of users can also be understood as an attempt to break through the borders of time and space. Time and space of the nation, time and work of the community, of religion. This group of synthetic drugs users designs another time by way of corporality, ritualisation of the body, by means of the ritual as body performance. The body forms the scene in which a whole new interpretation is given to both spatiality and temporality.

The basic rituals within this subculture, namely the ritual use of drugs and the dance, are being studied. After all the peer leaders of the drug culture involved do not speak up in the familiar public and social space but on the contrary they oppose against it withdraw to the once-more-reclaimed territory of drug culture.

Emphasis is on the study of the group and not on the individual. Data are collected through participant observation. Data from participant observation are completed by data collected with semi structured interviews.

In view of the great mobility of the synthetic drug users' group and considering the extent to which most of the modern means of communication are handled by the group, the project will study the geographical setting of Flanders emphasizing the metropolitan areas of Antwerp, Gent and Brussels. During its activities and experiments of present-day juvenile subculture the group of synthetic drug users tends to limit itself not to one city, one party or one nightclub only as used to be the case in earlier drug subcultures.

Valorisation: publications and lectures

  • DECORTE, T. (ed.) (2005), Ecstasy in Vlaanderen. Een multidisciplaire kijk op synthetische drugs. ISD-reeks n° 2. Leuven: Acco. How to order?
  • VANOVERMEIRE, J. (2004), Radicalisation of pleasure and experience of identity within the ecstasy culture (pp. 195-216). In DECORTE, T. & KORF, D. (eds.), European Studies on Drugs and Drug Policy. Brussel: VUB Press.
  • VANOVERMEIRE, J. (2004), De radicalisering van genot. Bouwstenen voor een analyse van de ecstasycultuur?, Panopticon, 25(5), p. 30-46.
  • VANOVERMEIRE, J. (2004), Reflectie en radicalisering van maatschappelijke tendensen binnen de subcultuur van ecstasygebruikers. Verheviging van genotbeleving en strooptocht naar kicks en sensaties, Ethiek en Maatschappij, 7(1), 46-62.
  • VANOVERMEIRE, J. (2004), Radikalisierung der Vergnügens - Bausteine für die Analyse der Ecstasy-Kultur, Abhängigkeiten, 1(4), 63-69.
  • VANOVERMEIRE, J. (2003), Processes of acquisition of identity within the ecstasy-culture as a semi-autonomous field. Presentation at the 14th International Conference of the ESSD, Gent (België), 2-4 October 2003.