This article was deliberately written in a
light tone because I think the 'Just Say No' approach to drugs just
makes them sound even more thrilling. But for one of the best pieces I've
ever read about the dark side of drugs, about the shame, loneliness and
self-hatred behind addiction, see
Crystal Meth, HIV and the Gay Community
by Jean Malpas.
Go straight to the
drug tips section
Nation safer clubbing guide
with help from Matt Southwell, Grainne Whalley, Monty Moncrieff, Cathy
Gillies, Andria Mordaunt, and numerous anonymous clubbing friends of
are cool and drugs are great / But leave you in a dreadful state.
They keep you up for hours of fun / But then
you don't know what you've done…
Sorry for the silly rhyme, but there's
something about drug use that brings out the bad poet in everyone. Before we
say anything else, let's say this: drugs are fun. That's why people take
them. This applies to a pensioner supping Guinness in the pub as much as to
All societies use them, and always have done,
though specific substances may be more or less permissible. The human race
has always 'self-medicated' to escape the stress of everyday life or seek a
glimpse of the divine. Native Americans were chewing the hallucinogenic
peyote cactus 5,300 years ago. The book of Genesis tells of Noah getting
blind drunk on wine and having to be put to bed by his long-suffering sons.
Even wild animals seek out hallucinogenic plants to chew on.
But drugs are dangerous too, particularly to societies
that are not used to them. Especially if
your immune system is down and you're taking other prescribed drugs.
In recent years our society
has been flooded with new chemicals, and we may be using them
unwisely, more like
swigging neat vodka than sipping a Chardonnay.
just say 'whoo!'
way to minimise the harm caused by drugs is to maximise the pleasure people
get from them," says Matt Southwell of the Dance Drugs Alliance, a self-help
group that campaigns for clubbers. "No one goes out in the evening intending
to end up in A&E - it's not a good look! If you are having fun you are also
less likely to be experiencing damage."
It doesn't help that the law and much of society continues to regard the use
of anything other than tobacco or alcohol as wicked and/or sad. The Just Say
No attitude to drugs is a slogan that turns off the very people it tries to
target. Government policy is muddled. Home office policy recommends training
bouncers to spot drug casualties in clubs. But the law gives the police
powers to close clubs that 'knowingly' allow drugs to be consumed on the
premises. So all the bouncers are put on the door to do searches.
what a difference an E makes
dance drug scene has changed unrecognisably over recent years. In the late
80s a new and wildly popular substance came along - MDMA or Ecstasy. It was
quickly 'legalised', not in the sense of being made legit, but in the sense
of being brought under legal control by banning unlicensed raves. Crusties
became clubbers overnight.
This had the unintended effect of turning an underclass into part of Cool
Britannia, to the extent that a commons committee is recommending
decriminalisation, and the home office has just put out an
uncharacteristically whizzy pamphlet on Safer Clubbing, complete with
Grainne Whalley, one of the pamphlet's authors, says: "We have moved in one
decade from a counter-culture to Smiley faces being used in ads for the
Alliance and Leicester." She mourns the solidarity of rave culture. "People
use drugs now in a more isolated way, and that causes health problems in
itself. Your best health asset is your mates."
Now every weekend an estimated 750,000 Britons pop an E. This has brought
health problems in its wake. These aren't usually of an acute, fatal nature,
despite tabloid headlines: there have been a total of 80-100 E-related
deaths since the drug arrived, which compares pretty favourably with the
figures for alcohol or driving.
the menace of mixing
Grainne continues: "The real danger is that we're now seeing a culture of
poly-drug use. People are used to 'fixing' themselves with medications, and
we're seeing much more mixing of uppers and downers, people taking Valium to
come off E, or coke so you can drink without getting sloppy."
This 'combination self-therapy' can have unpredictable and dangerous
effects. Your body builds up tolerance, meaning you need to spend bigger
bucks for your buzz, but that doesn't mean your liver or brain cells do.
One of the more dangerous new arrivals on the club scene in recent years is
that ancient and legal drug, alcohol. Brewers saw their profits vanish with
the E generation swigging nothing but Evian and Lucozade. So they started
packaging alcohol like E - in fluorescent-coloured Bacardi Breezers, or
added to caffeine-based mixers that keep you going like Red Bull.
"The arrival of caffeine-and-alcohol drinks into club culture in the early
90s was a health disaster," says Matt Southwell. "'A' and 'E' counteract
each other's effects, so the temptation is to take more of both, but they
are also both fierce dehydrators - and it is overheating that is the cause
of most club deaths." A and E could land you in A&E.
drugs, sex and HIV
Given the way it's caught, some of the most
enthusiastic drug-guzzlers are inevitably people living with HIV, in
particular, though not exclusively, gay men.
Some HIV drugs - see
Q&A - greatly magnify the effect of dance drugs,
and fatalities have happened. Caning it all weekend and then staggering into
work on Monday is enough to damage anyone's immune system, let alone if you
only have 200 T-cells to spare.
"There's two different things about the gay male scene," says Monty
Moncrieff of Project LSD. "Gay men tend to go on using drugs well into their
30s and 40s - so there's a longer timespan in which to do damage. And we
tend to treat ourselves like machines - there's a big ethos of being able to
'handle your drugs', so people conceal problematic use from their friends
and may seek help too late."
In addition, of course, you're more likely to have unprotected sex if off
your face. "But we have to be careful here," says Grainne. "Drugs don't make
you fuck without condoms. People take drugs in order to lose control. You
may have taken a conscious or unconscious decision to drop your normal
safer-sex behaviour, and are using the drugs to make you feel OK about it."
Matt recommends that if you do drugs regularly, try and draw up rules for
yourself - eg only use at weekends, don't mix certain drugs, or go home at a
certain time. Take responsibility for your pleasure.
Party on! Drug tips from Positive Nation
a lot of good advice out there coming from clubbers that had never been
collected together properly. So here's the dope on having a good time while
A grand crack in the pub, but not
necessarily with other drugs.
E plus alcohol = dehydration.
E plus alcohol plus caffeine (e.g. Red Bull) = dangerous dehydration.
E plus alcohol plus cocaine =
burn-up. Alcohol plus cannabis = the 'whirlies', projectile vomiting.
A pint an hour
No, not beer but water. That's how much
you need. Take regular glugs, don't drink it all at once. Overdoing
water is as bad as underdoing it - the salts flood out of your blood
suddenly, which is what killed Leah Betts.
Ask a friend
Thinking of trying something new? Don't
just swallow it and regret it later. Ask friends who've done it before.
Same applies to new 'brands' of E etc. They may be much purer than what
you're used to.
Your kidneys are protesting. Especially
if you also take indinavir. Take a break and get some water now.
Bag it or lose it
Wear one of those leather or velcro wristbands or a bum-bag. Inside, in
waterproof change bags, put (separately) your drugs, your HIV drugs,
your paper money, and your cloakroom ticket. If however, you tend to
lose accessories in backrooms, better to leave nearly everything in the
coat check and stick your ticket and a tenner in your shoe…
Vital. Chill out and rehydrate. If
you're the type who gets locked into dance nirvana and loses track of
time, try a pre-set buzzy alarm watch or get friends to check you out at
If you're on E or acid in particular
your pupils dilate and disco lights, even candles, will make you wince.
Seek out the darker corners or wear Ray-Bans à la rockstar. Everyone
will think you're a poser but you won't get a headache.
The runt of your crew? Girl not boy?
You'll probably need less to come up than your ox-like mates.
Buying and using
Yes, it's illegal (see disclaimer
below), and depending on the drug, can still carry quite harsh
penalties. From both a health and a legal point of view, try not
to buy drugs in clubs/from strangers: you are more likely to be under
surveillance and you won't know what you're getting.
What goes up, must come down. Plan
to feel washed out. It's OK. All parties have to end. Go home, have
a warm bath, drink chamomile tea, don't drink alcohol, try and
force down a few carbohydrates (ReadyBrek is good), and get a goooood
long sleep. Learn meditation (not if you're still tripping, it will make
See Bag it. Stick at least one in your
little wrist bag, especially if you plan to have sex on the premises. If
you are off your face you're much less likely to stop the action to get
one from the toilet or whatever. Think positive: if you don't
have a condom, that hunk may not want to screw you…
Dance the buzz down
Coke comedown? Restless? Paranoid?
Dance. Your anxiety is caused by too much adrenalin. Burn it off. (But
see heartbeat, below)
Dance the pill up
Think the pill isn't working? Dance. The exercise will metabolise the
drugs quicker, natural endorphins will bring on the high, and you won't
be tempted to double-dose.
Causes many a bad night. Check the time
when you take your drugs: if you've eaten recently, it could take an
hour before they kick in. Also caused by 'bouncer paranoia' - necking
everything before you get to the club, in case you're searched.
In one survey 85 per cent of Scottish
clubbers admitted to driving home still trolleyed at one time or
another. Don't. It is an offence, the police do check, driving on dope
or acid will make you paranoid. Take a taxi.
Beforehand, eat complex carbohydrates
(pasta, potatoes, rice) to give you the energy to see the night through.
Afterwards, try sugary porridge or bananas to replace vital energy and
Feeling shaky and paranoid due to a
sudden E/acid upsurge or a coke comedown? Smile at people, even if you
don't want to. Some E'd-up fool will smile back (or even give you a
sweaty hug) and you'll feel in touch again.
Hats and bandannas
May be the height of fashion in your crowd, but will make you overheat
much quicker. Put the Kangol in the coatcheck and save it for the
If it's like a tight band round your
eyes, it's another sign of dehydration. If your limbs are stiff
and aching too then you need to rehydrate fast, and maybe need sugar and
salt too. Have a Lucozade or a caffeine-free Coke.
Will speed up anyway if you're dancing
and on stimulant drugs. But if it's pounding away like a jackhammer (150
per minute and over), especially if you feel dizzy too, then you're
dangerously overheating. Take a rest now, go the loo, stick your
hands in cold water, rub ice cubes on your neck, have a soft drink,
stand by the air-conditioner.
HIV drugs - interactions
It's the protease inhibitors, mainly,
and especially ritonavir, that bump up the levels of other drugs. See
'Q&A' page xx. If you're on ritonavir you will need less E, Viagra, GHB
and many other drugs than other people to get the same high, especially
in the first month or two after you start taking it. Bad point:
fatal overdoses have happened. Good point: you're a cheap night out.
HIV drugs - taking them
Take a dose to the club - see Bag It.
You may not end up at home! Take your evening dose before you go out,
even if it's a bit earlier than usual. If you do miss a single dose,
don't panic, most HIV drug regimes are fairly 'forgiving' of single
misses. DO NOT stop taking your drugs for the whole weekend: in
studies, it is breaks of two days or more that are most strongly
associated with treatment failure.
If you walk outside into a December
night, all sweaty and glowing, you'll get very cold very fast. People
have died waiting for a bus. Pack a cosy top and hat in your bag and
slap them on as you emerge.
See paranoia. You lose all sensation,
you don't know where you're body is, you feel like you're turning to
wood. Try not to worry, it will last about 30 minutes hopefully, find
somewhere quiet to sit or lie. Remedy: use ketamine very sparingly and
don't take it in mistake for cocaine (they look the same).
Location, location, location
"Drug effect = drug plus setting". Check
out where you are before you start - is this the kind of place you want
to feel off your face? Try any drug that's likely to make you either
anxious or crashed-out at home first. If you must take GHB or ketamine,
do them with friends in case you pass out…
Lube, lube, lube
If you do sex in clubs, yes, you try to
use condoms, but if you've taken a decision not to, at least bring and
use lots of lube. Most drugs open up the superficial blood
vessels, including the ones in your genitals and ass. If you think (or
hope) you're going to be a serious slut, lube up beforehand.
Most drug deaths are caused by mixing
drugs rather than single drugs. Example: one drink of alcohol and one
little bottle of GHB = four GHBs. Find out the drug you like best and
plan to stick to it.
Limited budget? On benefits? Decide how
much you're going to spend. Don't go out with cash or credit cards
(they're safer at home). Post some money to yourself on Friday and
you'll have it back, unspent, Monday or Tuesday.
In case you haven't got the message from
all the other tips, this has caused by far the majority of the estimated
80-100 E-related deaths ever recorded (to put this into perspective,
it's estimated that 750,000 Britons take E every weekend).
Pace your drugs
Don't bring either more or less drugs
than you think you'll need, and take them in halves or quarters over a
period. Go to a quiet part of the club and check your 'buzz'. See
No you're not going mad, yes, it will
stop, but it can completely ruin you and your friends' evening.
Particularly associated with the terrifying 'bad trip' of acid, but
different flavours of fear also affect users of other drugs, especially
cannabis - being very stoned can be as unpleasant as an acid trip. If it
happens to you regularly, you aren't pacing your use, you may be taking
a drug that doesn't suit your personality, or you really do have mind
problems that would be better dealt with by expert help than by getting
like sweat, if there's plenty, at least
it means you've got fluid to spare. If it goes dark or you want to pee
but can't, get some water now.
Don't take with Viagra. Can accelerate a
mild buzz into a scary take-off, but don't worry, it won't last long.
Watch out for cigarettes - it's almost explosively flammable. Leaking
bottles will cause nasty skin burns.
Needs an article in itself. We all know
the consequences of long-term use of tobacco and alcohol. Most of the
others haven't been around long enough to really know. Some experiments
have suggested that 40-year old regular E-users have the brains of
70-year olds, but have recently been disputed. So have ones which link
cannabis with long-term mental problems. All we can say here is: most
problematic drug use is caused by using the drug to try and stave off
the inevitable effects of the same drug: bingeing on coke to avoid a
coke comedown, for instance. Accept and deal with your comedowns, and
you'll be in much less danger.
Not good, especially if accompanied by
weakness, nausea, shivers. You may be dehydrated and losing salts. You
may also have come up on something stronger than you're used to and be
panicking. Get off the dance floor, get to a friend, get a soft drink,
chill out, hopefully you'll be OK. Different from 'speed gurns' (see
Well, you know the long-term risks, but
have you thought about how antisocial it is smoking on a crowded dance
floor? Throw your hands up at the Steps chorus (yes, we've seen you,
Miss Thing) and you'll have someone's eye out. If you're a nicotine
addict, use cigs as a way to have breaks.
E does this too - you have too much
dopamine in your body and it makes you grind your teeth, grimace and
weave your head around. You look silly, you have taken a bit too much,
but you're probably not in danger in the absence of other symptoms.
Biggest danger is damaging your teeth or tongue. Chew gum or suck a
It's generally better if you do than if
you don't - the latter may mean you're running out of fluids to sweat.
The worse overheaters are coke and crack, which close down the blood
vessels so you can't sweat.
Can happen for several reasons. A sudden E or acid upsurge can make you
feel nauseous. Moving will help. Swallowed speed can irritate your
stomach lining terribly, specially if you haven't eaten. Cannabis makes
the room spin round, especially if you are already drunk too. Throwing
up during your comedown means you've really overdone it - you're
short of essential sugars and salt. Try sipping isotonic drinks or
Up your bum
See lube, above. Also: do not snort
drugs while you've got something up there. One of us knew someone who
sneezed with a big toy up his ass and ruptured his bowel. Ouch, and very
May enable guys to fuck while buzzing
when normally they'd have lost their hardon, and therefore have unsafe
sex. On the other hand may make using condoms easier (less of the
marshmallow-in-a-slot syndrome). You'll only need a quarter as much, at
most, if you take ritonavir. Do not use poppers at the same time or, if
you must, at least make sure you're next to something you can sit down
on in a hurry (oh grow up).
LASTLY: 'Think through the buzz'.
the key mental attitude you need in connection with all of the above.
Try and cultivate the ability to keep a small portion of your mind
detached and sane while the rest of you is on Planet Zircon. Every now
go to a chill-out area, allow it to take over and ask: "Am I OK? Am I
buzzing? Where am I? How do I feel? When did I last have a drink? Do I
feel dry, faint, anxious, sick? What's the time? Where are my mates?"
That way you will both spot trouble before it happens, and not be
tempted to take more than you should.