Drug Culture And Denial

Around 100 years ago, the British government produced two well researched reports on opium and cannabis, drugs that were grown and used in India. They pronounced that each substance was relatively harmless when taken in moderation, that they were important to local cultures (opium was also important to the revenue of the Indian government, which sold it to China), and that their growth and preparation should remain under official control, including quality control. They were not prohibited.

How times change! In the aftermath of Clare Short’s public dressing-down for inviting a rational debate on cannabis use, the Anglican priest and social reformer Kenneth Leech wrote to NSS bemoaning regressive changes since the 1960s. As we saw in the intense moral panic over the death of Leah Betts, drugs operate as a signifier of pure evil in the worlds of politics and the tabloid press. While there are, in parts of the country, policies such as harm reduction–which imply acceptance of widespread use–a language of debate that frankly embraces the pleasures, as well as the dangers, of drug use is–as Leech pointed out–unwritable. The desire for drugs is the love that dare not speak its name.

Yet this particular love is all around us. Its devotees or analysts acknowledge its mysteries in guarded tones, fearful of unwanted media interest or even official intervention. There’s a real problem here. Why should people incriminate themselves? Will Self, introducing his collected journalism (Junk Mail, Bloomsbury, 12.99 [pounds]), is understandably defensive. Yes, he has in the past taken whatever’s going, but no, he isn’t going to paint himself warts and all. As for joining a more general debate about drugs, well, that is too constricted by hypocrisy.

Sarah Thornton in Club Cultures: music, media and subcultural capital is equally careful. She positions herself to one side of the culture built around a synergistic relationship between drugs and music. At the most journalistic point in her text, she acknowledges the consumption of half a tab of E in a London club–and then says nothing about the impact of that experience or any other, and next to nothing about the pharmacological-musical connections that drive the culture.

Nicholas Saunders, by contrast, has a mission to explain precisely this connection. He starts his handbook Ecstasy and the Dance Culture (from Nicholas Saunders, 14 Neal’s Yard, London WC2H 9DP; 9.95 [pounds]) with a brief history of his own experiences before moving into the wider culture and pharmacology of MDMA, its derivatives and substitutes. It’s a clear, confident text (albeit with a footnote system devised by a devotee of chaos theory) that mixes “useful” information, including an impressive bibliography, with a strong cross-current of personal accounts, some very negative.

Saunders is happy enough with his own and most others’ experiences of E, but he knows the dangers of aggressive criminality and/or contamination. He wants at least an interim “Dutch model” of tolerance and testing, backed by clubs with free water and chill-out rooms. In other words, not legalisation as such but legalised toleration or harm reduction, in which quality is controlled and sale–if not production itself–is policed.

The reasons for all this lie in the section on the dance culture, “contributed by Mary Anna Wright”, whose interviews with DJs show the music’s close connection with drugs. The case is clear. Most young people go to clubs or raves; most of them take drugs; they know that official campaigns are hypocritical nonsense; drugs should be quality controlled.

So why do so many young people rave on? Club Cultures is a commendably brief academic companion to Saunders’ exploration of the dance culture. The “summer of love” didn’t just happen, and Sarah Thornton looks hard at the pre-history of rave, noting the developments of recorded dance music (often against the furious opposition of musicians, who, even in the 1920s, feared for their future in an age of DJ culture). Using, but twisting, the now antique language of “subculture”, she examines the ways in which young people adopt the dress and musical vocabularies of “authenticity”.

They create for themselves imagined communities of the like-minded, by excluding a notional “mainstream”. Its borders-peopled by the mythical Sharon and Tracy, dancing around their handbags–are threateningly fluid for the elitist insiders, who react with defensive connoisseurship. Club Cultures’ insistence on the complexity of media intervention in this process, and young people’s reactions, is timely and useful.

Discounting her understandable defensiveness about the chemical aspects of the scene, Thornton’s account pales by comparison with the enthusiastic missionary work of Nicholas Saunders. Yet there is enthusiasm here too, and an important implicit argument about the feminising of popular culture through the foregrounding of dance and the subordination of music and drugs to this end. In contrast, the masculine individualism of “rock” and its criticism fetishises the individual creator, and the use of drugs a form of inspiration.

Male authority is too often stuck in this psychodramatic pharmacology. So it’s refreshing that Will Self argues that his own belief in this Faustian narrative left him a useless junky at 21. Of course, the rest of the story doesn’t match the unhappy beginning, and his concern with drugs policy and its surrounding discourse is not that of a habitual non-user.

Sometimes the tone is a bit prim; maybe Self was trying to hit the house style of a wide variety of papers and magazines. But when he relaxes, or when he’s excited, the prose flows and coruscates. Drugs are routinely the subject of these passages. He gets to hang out in crack houses and talks to drug-dependent prisoners, reviews books on drugs, genuflects before the self-proclaimed junkie William S Burroughs (my word, Mephistopheles will be looking forward to seeing him again) and discusses with Martin Amis whether or not smoking dope aids the writing process.

Whether or not it does–and whether we are dealing with individual inspiration or mass consumption–the use of stimulants, depressants and psychoactives is utterly routine within our culture. We had better get used to the idea. We may have “progressed” too far for a return to the liberalism of British policy in India; but we–by which I mean Clare Short’s shadow cabinet friends–should look again at those Victorian values.

External resource on ecstasy abuse: http://www.rehabinfo.net/ecstasy-abuse/

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Key Signs Of Drug Abuse

As her friends figured out, Lucyna is smoking marijuana, an illegal drug. She is one of millions in the United States who abuse marijuana and other illegal drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 23 million people age 12 and older have used illegal drugs during the past year.

Like Lucyna, abusers take drugs for nonmedical purposes and end up impairing their physical, mental, emotional, or social well-being. The major illegal drugs of abuse are:

* Cannabis: marijuana

* Depressants: alcohol, barbiturates, and tranquilizers

* Hallucinogens: LSD and PCP * Narcotics: heroin and opium

* Stimulants: crack/cocaine and amphetamines, including methamphetamine and ice.

Each of these drugs affects the user’s feelings, perceptions, and behavior. People abuse these drugs because of their psychoactive or mind-altering properties. All these drugs also affect users physically. When Lucyna smokes marijuana, for example, her reaction time slows down. She may not realize she is slower because the drug alters her sense of time and movement.

Know the Risks

Anne and Serena decided to get more information on the health effects of marijuana and other drugs of abuse. Here are some facts they learned:

* Cannabis – Marijuana (grass, pot, weed, dope) increases the heart rate and causes red eyes, and dry mouth and throat. Because marijuana blocks messages going to the brain, it alters perceptions and emotions, vision and hearing. Users have difficulty keeping track of time. Their short-term memory decreases. They can’t carry out complex tasks well, such as driving a car, because their concentration and coordination decrease. Marijuana increases the appetite, resulting in weight gain. With chronic use, both males and females can have lower fertility. Chronic female users can sprout facial hair and. more body hair, and develop acne.

* Depressants – These drugs depress or slow down the central nervous system, calming the user and causing sleep. Depressants alter judgment and are addictive. Alcohol is a depressant. Producing effects similar to alcohol, barbiturates (barbs, downers) include phenobarbital, amytal, nembutal (yellow jackets, nembies), and seconal (reds, red devils). Non-barbiturates produce similar effects. These drugs include methaqualone (quaaludes) and tranquilizers such as benzodiazepines (Valium, Librium). Users develop a tolerance and must take more of the depressant each time to produce the same effects. Combining alcohol with other depressants is dangerous and can be fatal.

* Hallucinogens – These unpredictable, mind-altering drugs affect a person’s perception, feelings, thinking, self-awareness, and emotions. Taking lysergic acid (LSD, acid) can result in panic, confusion, anxiety, terror, and hallucinations. This can lead to serious injury. Phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust, crystal) can cause bizarre behavior that can be combative, wide mood swings, and speech problems. Use of PCP by teens may interfere with hormones that regulate their normal growth and development and can interfere with the learning process. Hallucinogens increase the heart rate and blood pressure and can cause muscle tremors, convulsions, coma, as well as heart and lung failure.

* Narcotics – Opium-based narcotics are derived from the juice of opium poppy seeds, but now there are synthetic ones as well. Narcotics relieve pain and cause sleep. All narcotics, including opium (Dovers Powder) and heroin (junk, smack, brown sugar), are extremely addictive. Users of narcotics develop a tolerance and must take increasingly large doses to get the same effects.

Heroin is responsible for most narcotics abuse, quickly building tolerance, and physical and psychological dependence. Withdrawal symptoms, such as vomiting, severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, and runny eyes and nose, begin four to eight hours after the last dose, so users always want more of the drug. The risk of AIDS infection is high because users inject heroin with a syringe. Their syringes and needles may not be sterile. One-third of AIDS cases are related to IV use.

* Stimulants – These drugs include crack, cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine (speed and ice). Cocaine and crack are highly addictive. Cocaine is a white powder that comes from the leaves of the South American coca plant. Users call it coke, snow, blow, toot, nose candy, or flake. Crack is cocaine that has been chemically changed so it can be smoked. Both drugs decrease appetite and cause sleeping problems, a runny nose, erratic behavior, sweating, anxiety, and tremors. Cocaine and crack stimulate the central nervous system and increase blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. This can lead to swift death from a heart attack, stroke, brain seizure, or breathing failure.

Methamphetamine is speed; ice is the crystalline form of methamphetamine. These share many of the same health effects as crack and cocaine: excessive activity: increased pulse rate, blood pressure, and body temperature; sleeping problems; loss of appetite; sweating; and confusion.

Keep Your Eyes Open

If you think someone is taking drugs, look for these warning signs:

* Red eyes, constant runny nose, or sniffles * Changes in friends, especially if the new friends use drugs * Rapid mood swings * Withdrawal from family, former friends, school, former activities, hobbies * Being vague and secretive about friends and non-school activities * Unexplained weight loss or gain * Loss of coordination, attention, or balance * Smell of burnt marijuana on clothing * Unusual sleep patterns * Stealing or borrowing money from family members or friends * Cutting classes, dropping grades

What You Can Do

If you think a friend is using drugs, get involved and be active. Talk to your friend about your concerns. Try to remain calm, factual, and honest when speaking about your friend’s behavior and its day-to-day consequences. Let the person with the problem know what you have learned about drug abuse.

Your friend may deny using drugs or that there’s a problem. Realize, though, that most people with drug troubles really want to talk it out if they know you are concerned about them.

Find nearby sources of help. Write down some treatment referrals and support groups, and give this information to your friend. Health agencies, schools, community mental health centers, and other organizations often provide short-term counseling. Discuss your concerns with someone you trust – a counselor, friend, parent, social worker, teacher, or someone from the clergy.

Protect yourself! Refuse to ride with someone who’s been using drugs. Avoid parties where getting high is the only reason for going. Be wary of a date, friend, or anyone who is trying to get you to take drugs.

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Talking To Your Child About Drugs

Recently a friend called to ask me what I thought who has taken drugs years ago should say to their kids if they asked about it. I hadn’t given it much thought as my 9-year-old son hasn’t asked yet, and right now is happily negative about drugs. He believes what he’s told at school and even on TV–that drug taking is creepy and for losers, not the kind of thing a budding pro hockey star would do.

So I thought for a second. The only thing I knew I wouldn’t tell him is that I had “experimented” with drugs. for I was not wearing a lab coat. Then I added that you can’t control your children’s future decisions, that all you can do is raise them well and accept that they’ll make up their own minds, yadda yadda.

But I detected a kind of defeat in my answer, an offhand resignation that is, when you’re talking about the future of your child, inappropriate. (Interesting how we say “inappropriate” these days when what we mean is “wrong.”)

So I thought about it some more. I knew I didn’t want to lie to my son, didn’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend I was innocent in this area when I wasn’t. So I called two wise friends and asked what they thought. They, like me, had smoked marijuana on and off in college and. like me, had stopped. We all just grew out of it.

“You should lie,” said the first, firmly. “If you tell them you took drugs, you’re giving them implicit permission. You’re still here and fine. so they can smoke pot and be fine too.”

“Don’t lie,” said the second. “Tell them you tried it and didn’t like it.” Mmmmm–a semi-lie. And one that suggests that liking it is the criteria by which to judge. My friend said this is what she’d told her daughter, an independent sort. who had rolled her eyes.

What caught my attention about my friends’ advice was not that they disagreed but that they had such different tones. The first friend was unalterably opposed to drug use and tailored her strategy to preventing it. The second friend was more temporizing, more accepting of the inevitability of independent choices.

She sounded more like me. And I didn’t like the way we sounded. Then I got some data that stopped me cold.

Drug use has doubled over the past four years among kids ages 12 to 17. The reason is debated, but a recent study from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests it may not be so mysterious.

The study showed that teenagers who know their parents once used marijuana and whose parents directly or implicitly communicate that marijuana is relatively harmless are at greater risk of using drugs. What’s more, 46 percent of parents expect their children will try drugs; 40 percent believe there is little they can do about it. Whereas teenagers far less likely to use drugs are those whose parents teach them unambiguously–that it is wrong. Joseph A. Califano, the antidrug crusader who heads the center, said that children of baby boomers are being let down–by parents who cannot or will not teach with conviction that pot and other drugs are dangerous.

This may sound stupid, but it hadn’t quite occurred to me that my attitudes would shape-profoundly–my son’s actions. I wasn’t aware of how accepting I was that kids make their own mistakes, how I assumed that if I had smoked marijuana for a short time with no ill effect, then so could he.

But maybe he couldn’t. Maybe he’d find it a gateway to other things. And anyway–it’s wrong. Once, we viewed drug taking as a victimless crime, a personal choice. But who after living through the past 30 years in America could think that now?

One psychologist had good advice, I thought, for parents whose kids put them on the spot. Make it clear that drug taking is one area where you expect them to do what you say and not what you did. Make clear the dangers–remind them that even experimentation is dangerous, stupid, and bad. What will I tell my son’? I’ll tell him that I did it, that I liked it for awhile and then I didn’t, and that I was wrong to do it.

So this is where I finally come down: Don’t be a fatalist, don’t cede authority. Realize that what you think colors what your children think. Ambivalence is just another way not to decide, not to take responsibility. It’s also a kind of pathetic way of trying to be cool-which is sort of a low ambition for a person in one’s forties. yes? We ought to get over that one.

I guess what I’m saying to myself and other boomers is this: Get over it. You did it; it was wrong.=Be an adult and say so. It’s one thing to be ambivalent about your own choices. It’s another to be ambivalent about your child’s.

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