Photo: Las Vegas Review-Journal
Whether you personally drop them or not, drugs are as much a part of EDM culture as Red Bull and glitter. From to the tragic suicide of superstar DJs, drug abuse is part of the scene’s glow stick-lit underbelly.
Looking for some perspective, I sought out Justin Hoffman. The nephew of iconic ‘60s social activist Abbie Hoffman, Justin offers a unique insight into dance music and drugs.
Hoffman is literally a Top Ranked DJ (for boxing promoter Top Rank) and EDM insider (former music director at Las Vegas nightclubs Tryst and XS). He’s also a former heroin addict who is the founder of the , a transformational recovery center in Las Vegas that helps addicts recover after undergoing ibogaine treatment in Mexico.
The controversial hallucinogen is a psychoactive drug derived from an African shrub that’s illegal in the US, but has been used for treating drug addiction around the world, including Mexico, where Hoffman first took it after seeing a Vice documentary.
Mandatory: Electronic music and drugs have always been linked since the days of underground warehouse parties and illegal raves. What’s the correlation?
Justin Hoffman: Music and drugs just go together. Dance music is about moving your body and drugs make your body feel good.
That’s pretty open-minded for someone who runs a rehab center.
Hoffman: The drugs aren’t the problem. The abuse of the drugs is the problem. The problems arise when you have someone covering up pain or emotional issues with these drugs.
So you’re not anti-drug?
Hoffman: Well, I’m not pro-drug, but I’m not anti-drug… I think there’s a deeper issue than using the drug itself. Drugs should all be legalized. I think we should be following the (decriminalization). You can buy heroin, crack, or whatever you want and all the money goes to rehabilitation rather than law enforcement.
What were your thoughts upon hearing of Avicii’s death?
Hoffman: I booked him here in Vegas. I had heard he had some anxiety issues. They would have to go get him to come down from his room right before a show, but he was easy to work with. Shy, quiet. A nice guy. It’s a tragedy.
What contributes to a young man like Avicii whom seemingly has it all, to lose his life in such a tragic way?
Hoffman: I don’t know the specifics, but in my experience, this type of thing always go back to past trauma. Most people who have addiction have pain in their past. I don’t know what it was for him, but I didn’t do drugs until I was 26. I had just smoked pot. Then, I tried heroin. My depression seemed to vanish. I felt all-powerful, like I could deal with anything and that’s what got me in trouble. I had other friends who tried heroin and were like ‘ok, never again.’ I always wondered what the difference was between me and everybody else. Then, I did ibogaine which released the trauma. I found out that I was abused when I was three years old. The medicine erased the trauma by exposing it to me.
I’m sure the jet set lifestyle of a DJ can be a dangerous path for someone inclined to addiction.
Hoffman: As a DJ you’re always in a party atmosphere. Everyone’s drunk and high. Girls are everywhere. So if you want to be a party animal, it’s there for you. For me, I always focused on the music and production. I treated it like a serious job. That was how DJ AM did it. He was my sponsor for five years. I’m pretty sure Laidback Luke doesn’t get fucked up before a show. But, I have seen a lot of scam artists who go on-stage and are so shit-faced that they can’t speak. They think it’s funny posting shots (on social media). It’s all fun and games until it starts weighing on you…and then you don’t have a liver anymore.
How would you have treated someone like Avicii?
Hoffman: All our clients go down to Mexico for a week and take ibogaine. That removes all the drug withdrawal symptoms. Detoxes you completely. Ibogaine heals the trauma, allowing you to go back to that part of the brain and see it, so you can process it. Then, you come to my house (in Las Vegas). We start in the early morning: work out, do chores, go hiking at Red Rocks. There’s private yoga, qi gong, tae chi instructors. We learn about Buddhism, have mediation groups, eat nothing but organic food and we enjoy ourselves with everything Vegas has to offer.
What’s the cost on all that?
Hoffman: Seven thousand for the ibogaine Mexico (trip) and $15 thousand for the month at my place (Holistic House) with everything included (room and board).
Most people will never be a world-class DJ, but they will continue going to music festivals and doing drugs. What’s the fine line between recreational drug use and needing help?
Hoffman: If it becomes a daily issue. If you’re doing drugs and drinking to the point where you’re so inebriated that you can’t enjoy the show or dealing with a hangover for the next week you should ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’ I think MDMA is an amazing drug. It can also be used with PTSD, depression. Ketamine is now being used by doctors for anti-depression. If drugs are used properly in a responsible manner they can be life-changing.