Do you take drugs? I bet you do. You look the type. I see you, with your mostly-put-together life and sensible grown up job, popping a few pills every other weekend in a doomed attempt to cling on to your bohemian youth. And if you don’t take them, you’ve probably got a mate who does. A couple of them probably take shedloads. At the very least, you’ve been lectured by a suited-wearing twat outside a Soho bar at two o’clock in the morning. That dull, meandering story he insisted on spending the best part of fifteen minutes telling you about the time his mate went to a supermarket in his onesie? Drugs. The nice gay couple who gave you a hug, said you had a ‘beautiful soul’ and wanted to wish you an absolutely amazing night? Drugs.
Drugs are everywhere. Not everyone takes them, but everyone know someone who does. Gone are the days when chemical highs were the preserve of a rebellious counter-culture. Now they’re a respectable middle-class hobby, like photography or ultimate Frisbee. In fact, if anything there’s probably less of a stigma attached to drug use than there is to playing ultimate frisbee. (I hate ultimate Frisbee.)
All of which makes it increasingly bizarre that the UK’s drug laws remain ludicrously out of date, and based on a series of seemingly random criteria rather than any real proper science. Successive governments’ inability to do something about it has always been damaging, but its made all the worse by this week’s announcement from the EU drug agency detailing the 280 potentially harmful new drugs that they’re currently monitoring. That’s new drugs. Like, ones that weren’t even invented when you were at uni.
Now, this isn’t really news to anyone whose been to a music festival in the past decade, or who followed British youth’s brief, passionate and utterly batshit fascination with Mephadrone (or, ‘Meow-Meow’, to use the oh-my-god-it-sounds-like-Chris-Morris-made-this-up moniker used by tabloid journalists and NO ONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD). The internet is responsible for many things, not least making it incredibly easy to buy and sell ‘stuff’. This ‘stuff’ includes a multitude of items, including a variety of substances designed to get you completely and utterly spannered. If it can get you high, chances are that someone has made powder of it and sold it on Silk Road to the guy who runs your local tattoo parlour.
Now, this is all very well. Those of you of a more libertarian persuasion may welcome this new and unregulated cyber-capitalism that gives everyone what they want without being subjected to interference from the pesky arm of the state. But the problem is that most of these drugs are, put simply, crap. Moreover, a considerable number of them are actually very dangerous.
Cannabis, MDMA and even heroin are, in the short term, not actually that bad for you. Granted, The Spin Alley doesn’t advocate using them as a part of your healthy balanced lifestyle. But, at the same time, smoking the odd joint is unlikely to result in having bits of brain dribble out of your nose. These drugs are made much more dangerous than they ought to be by drug prohibition, which causes an unregulated market where buyers can never be sure of what their purchasing. Consequently, there’s not an awful lot to stop drug dealers cutting substances with all those things your school’s police liaison officer warned you about (talcum powered, arsenic, ground up Chinese orphans). As a consequence of the relative unavailability of decent illegal drugs, many users resort to buying over-the-counter substances (the sort marked ‘plant food – not for human consumption) in the mistaken belief that they’re safe.
The simple fact is that law cannot keep up with an international drug trade that is both resilient and incredibly resourceful. The end result is a drugs market that is impossible to control or regulate, and leaves drug users of dealing with the small but real risking of death every time they want to get off their schwede. Instead, a growing chorus of academics is calling for legalisation and regulation of the safest drugs (cannabis, mushrooms, LSD) in order drive users away from more dangerous and less tested alternatives. The solution sensible and has real backing, but is unlikely to get much traction in a environment which sees politicians avoiding sensible drug debate in fear of provoking the tabloids’ attack dogs. Unfortunately, despite the EU’s realisation that this is turning into a bit of a problem, there seems no real appetite to actually do something about it. Instead, it seems we’re going to have to get a lot more comfortable with the idea of Britons sticking plant food up their nose to get their kicks.
Alex is a writer and media professional who's based in South London and gets quite grumpy with anyone who says mean things about life south of the river. He once had a couple of pieces published by the Guardian, which he stills likes to mention when talking to attractive girls (with frustratingly limited success). He watches a reasonable amount of telly, goes to the theatre a lot, and spends far too much time on Twitter. His most notable journalistic achievement was breaking the news to Dick (from 'Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow') that Michael Jackson had died.