Lunchtime Roundtable: Drug Education

Friday March 7 2014
by Pepper

Roundtables are where we basically just sit and chat. Today the HVNGRY writers talk about their thoughts on drugs, and drug education.

Pepper: We're not open enough about the reality of drugs with teenagers. It's very easy to say "Drugs are bad, don't do them, this is what can happen to you", but we need to acknowledge that many teens are going to use drugs in their life time. Sharing the effects, proper dosages, and likelihood of serious consequences with teens is likely to be a more effective way of promoting a healthy life, than trying to scare them away with horror stories. Most teens are aware that marijuana's actual effects/consequences are much lower than the picture adults tend to paint for them, so they will assume that what they hear about other drugs may not be accurate as well. By being honest and open about the truth of these substances, we can prevent serious damage from occurring due to plain ignorance or doubt.

Kathy: Harm minimisation education is, imo, better than abstinence education. For pretty much everything, including drugs. So using harm minimisation philosophy for education means giving real, honest information about drugs, and saying "if you do happen to do drugs (which we aren't advocating, just acknowledging it's a possibility), here's how to take care of yourself/ your friends to make sure any potential harm from the drugs is minimised as much as possible". I think this especially means kids should know how to get help, and that it's safe to get help and a way better idea than waiting for things to go bad. I guess what I'm trying to say is drug education = yay good! But we need more for teens, and it needs to be more honest.

Natasha: We need drug education, but it needs to be factual and not propaganda. Does anyone remember methcon? A guy came to my high school and just scaremongered! I was not impressed. I was thinking of writing an article about drugs but its hard to do it without looking like you're advocating them...

Pepper: I don't discourage drug usage because I philosophically believe the certain drugs can be beneficial to some people in the right mindset and setting. However, I am not going to suggest that people try these drugs. I think the best way to communicate about them is to point out the positive and negatives in your perspective, the scientific facts, and also speak from your experience. Non-scientific people who talk about drug usage (but have never tried them), I find to be a bit hard to believe.

ALSO: It is hard to make blanket statements about drugs because each one and each person is different.

Natasha: Yeah. I mean I am of the standpoint that certain drugs are fine in moderation. I like some drugs a whole lot. But I don't want to take the flack for being the one encouraging someone's teenage kid to try acid you know? I cannot stand nonscientific people trying to lecture others on drugs they've never tried.

Unless it's meth... Then... You know...

Pepper: Meth, heroine, cocaine, etc. are not mind-expanding substances. They also have seriously detrimental effects on your body, whether they kill you or not (and they may). There is a massive difference in the effect these drugs have vs. psychedelics like LSD/mushrooms, and also marijuana. Ecstacy/MDMA can also kill, but seems to fall between these two categories. There's definitely no way I want to tell teenagers to try acid, but if they're going to, I definitely would like them to know that if they get into a bad feeling, it's NOT going to kill them, and there are simple strategies for getting yourself back to a higher plane. I dunno.

Natasha: Exactly. The amount of times I've had to explain bad trips to people and when not to do acid/shrooms and how to have a pleasant experience is a testament to how little people know.

Kathy: About the scaremongering methcon guy at highschool, that's exactly my experience too and is precisely why we need honesty and transparency about drug education. I know when I realised how much of the drug education I'd been given was exaggerated propaganda, my first response was "shit if that wasn't true, I'd don't know if anything they said was true; better try for myself to find out!" And I know I wouldn't have trusted those people if I'd needed help.

Pepper: That's exactly what I was referring to earlier. You smoke weed ONCE, your realize that whole spiel about it is absolute BS. Then you extend that logic to other drugs, and if you're not the smartest tool in the shed, that can land you in BIG trouble.

Kathy: Oh just a side note thought, I know we're an international writing base but from an NZ perspective I think we need more of a focus on teen education around huffing and sniffing or drinking solvents rather than meth etc, I don't think all that shit gets mentioned that much but is much more accessible and causes more deaths here.

Pepper: Well, luckily, I think we're going to have substantial number of articles on the topic, I think, so we can cover that as well as the "fun" drugs.

Natasha: That is true. Back in high school my friends did a whole lot of nos and one friend got an amyl nitrate habit...

Pepper: I huffed ether before I had access to decent drugs. I am not a dumb person, but this was incredibly stupid and due to having NO DRUG EDUCATION.

Kathy: And I had a friend who accidentally OD'd on no doz (caffeine) pills and had a seriously bad time. Which you just buy at the supermarket. Drugs are not just the illegal stuff. Oh, speaking of which, legal synthetic highs! Some of that shit is fucked. I've worked in adolescent mental health and that chemical sprayed cabbage can ruin children. Sooooosososo much worse than weed, education on that is also needed.

Pepper: That stuff is AWFUL. It's illegal in the States.

Natasha: I smoked synthetic highs for a bit when I was in a bad place and I'd wake up and my flatmates would offer me some and God, that was so stupid. Worse thing I have ever done and one of those flatmates is still recovering mentally from the use.

Bay leaves smell like legal highs and I cannot put them in cooking because the smell gives me headaches now. I had some seriously fucked up times on synthetic highs. Not being able to tell up from down, vomiting...

Pepper: Yikes, that's horrible. See, my whole attitude about these things is (and feel free to disagree with me here), a lot of kids are going to try drugs. If we can inform kids to make the right choices about which ones they try, rather than trying to force them away from drugs, we might be able to prevent people from dying or sustaining permanent mental/physical damage.

Natasha: I definitely agree with you!

Luey: Loving all the discussion so far. I studied neurochemistry at Berkeley and spent the last year doing neurochem research in Japan. I plan on doing a Ph.D in pharmacology soon.

Needless to say I'm pretty stoked about drugs. Indeed, fascination with the incredible phenomenon of psychoactivity is what drew me to neurochem. The consumption of understandable bits of chemical matter that can influence conscious experience is a tantalizing hint toward the relationship between mind and matter, the fundamental question of science. Furthermore, the experiences you have while on drugs are genuine experiences derived from your own brain, not the drug itself. It's a form of self exploration, not the creation of something artificial. It is no wonder that drugs are too enticing for young, naturally curious beings to resist. We can safely operate on the assumption that teens will use drugs as long as they are available.

This is my personal justification for harm reduction education, the practical and humane alternative to condemnation. Straightforward and honest advice derived from both science and experience can help prevent unhealthy relationships with drugs. That being said, those who walk the poison path will inevitably stumble. The least education can do is make sure they don't drop dead, empowering them to learn from their mistakes. So yes, I am an educated proponent of drug education for teens as I have done a fair bit of drug educating myself and have personally seen it prevent harm and save lives.

Pepper: Awesome! That's really good to hear. Some formative experiences I've had as a young adult come from experiences I had on LSD, and I feel that these things are valid parts of my human experience. There are ways to have healthy relationships with drugs, and it's with the help of rationally minded neurochemists, neuropsychologists, and other folks that we can arrive at a point where that may be possible for people who want to try it.

Luey: Definitely, experiments with medicinal psilocybin are underway and have shown promising results.

Natasha: Yup, I started taking LSD every so often when I was 16. That first trip left me feeling clear, inspired, curious and full of racing thoughts. I engaged with my creative side in a way I hadn't before, even as someone who was always drawing and writing and playing music. I had a new appreciation for the small things. Every trip after that has been a wonderful insight into my own conscious and I am so glad I decided to take it that first time. I am a big supporter of having your first trip be with close friends and out in nature rather than at parties full of people you don't know which I've seen a lot of young people take to. But I know psychedelics aren't for everyone and have seen some of my more severely mentally ill friends grow LSD habits and have terrible trips and dangerous trips. Hence -- why we need honest drug education!

Disclaimer: HVNGRY does not and will never advocate the use of illegal substances. This roundtable is for starting an open conversation about the realities of drug use and drug education. Join the discussion by leaving a comment, or feel free to email if you've any concerns.

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