I’m sitting there, on the Royal Mile, in a bright red and slightly broken camp chair. My sign says “LETS TALK ABOUT DRUGS, BABY!” with “DRUGS” in bright red marker. I’m yelling as welcomingly as I can that I am looking for open and honest conversations. A couple of teenagers hear me and dare each other to approach this loud American screaming in the streets about drugs. They faff about for a bit, evenly matched in a battle of peer pressure and ever aware of the fact that I’m openly watching them. “We can ask you anything?” says the braver of the two. I assure him that I will answer honestly to anything they ask. “What about black tar heroin?” he dares me. I’m not sure if he is daring me to admit if I’ve done heroin or daring me to acknowledge what an extreme example he’s given me. Either way, I decided to uphold my promise to him and his equally underage friend.
Ignoring the fact that they would actually be very hard-pressed to find the black tar variety of heroin, more commonly found in the Americas and coming mainly from Latin America, I give them the knowledge that I believe anyone thinking about heroin, seriously or jokingly, should know:
The people most vulnerable to an overdose are first time users and relapsing addicts because they are more likely to overestimate their dosage, thinking they want a great big first time or that they can handle the same amounts they did when they were using.
The youths take this surprisingly seriously, with my mention of overdose reminding them of the sobering reality of heroin.
Perhaps it's my natural nurturing and motherly temperament (a joke there for those of you that know me) or that fact that my counterpart Ryan looked like a homeless hippie skeleton, but this interaction was one of many I had with young people during our Edinburgh drug chat campaign.
I do not claim to be an expert in illicit drugs, or even legal ones. I come from a unique background when it comes to cannabis, with a higher-than-average knowledge of the industry in the US. I took an in-depth psychology class at university called ‘Drugs in Society’ that covered the official medical stance on legal, illegal, medicinal, and recreational drugs. In 8th-grade health class, we were all given a rundown of the different dangerous drugs and how they would ruin our lives via the D.A.R.E program (Drugs Are Really Evil?). I’ve also tried my fair share of them. I’m not about to have one blog post I wrote in my 20’s come back and ruin my bid to be the first president of the Republic of California, so I will just leave that last statement as is. All that being said, I know much more now that I wish someone had told me honestly when I was feeling the invincible and experimental effects of youth.
Two bike-riding youths spotted me and my psychedelic sign near the Pleasance Dome. They greeted me with a brash “Aye, you know where to get Mandy?” Like most of these interactions, the first contact was a test, probing whether I was actually as open as I claimed to be or if I was just another anti-drugs lecturer in disguise. These boys looked in their teens, their limbs stretched thin by growth spurts and their faces marked with pimples. I told them I did not and asked if they had ever tried MDMA before. One admitted he hadn’t with a casual “Nah, man.” The one that asked me where to find it simply said “Once. It was crazy.”
I sagely warned them that the biggest thing to worry about with MD is what substance it is cut with. I explained the difference between caffeine (the best option as the comedown is mild and your body is already used to small doses), cocaine (hits harder and feels like a coke comedown), and speed (hell in little white crystals). The boys listened with growing interest and after my little speech one of them braved the question “How do you know which one you have?”
You don’t know until you take it. And then it's too late to choose.
The more open and honest I was with them, the more candid and comfortable they were with me. They asked me about comedowns, hydration, prices. They asked me about other drugs like speed, ketamine, mushrooms, and LSD. They wanted to know the nitty-gritty details of drug use. They wanted to know what I’d experienced versus what was fear propaganda. They wanted to know how to experiment and keep themselves safe.
It should be noted at this point (or perhaps sooner since now you probably think of me as some female Lucifer, tempting the youth with their own damnation) that I never told them to take illegal drugs. I never advocated for recreational use. I prefaced everything with:
I can’t tell you what to do. I can only tell you what I wish my friends and I knew, and how to stay safe.
After an in-depth chat about speed (if it is the drug of choice for long haul truckers that should tell you all you need to know), ketamine (it is horse tranquilizer and at some point, you will find yourself in a k-hole believing you are a stoned racehorse), and everything cannabis (you may think you want the highest amount of THC possible, but I promise you that will lead to memory problems, anxiety, and paranoia), the boys gave me a fist bump and departed.
These young people (and the many others I do not have space for in this post) were explicitly looking for one thing: open and honest conversation. They want adults to treat them with respect, listen to them, and tell them the truth. This isn’t a new revelation. Just a cursory glance at what young people are doing these days, from lobbying for gun control legislation to climate change marches, shows us how they are screaming out for change.
I know that the subject of drugs, especially in relation to youth, is a complex and controversial topic. I’m not advocating for giving every young person a class on how to properly shoot up (who is???), but rather opening the conversation. Young people are curious and telling them to blindly “NO” to everything doesn’t work. All that does is alienate them, belittle them, and push them to experiment with drugs without knowledge that could keep them safe. I’m advocating for education and communication, and in these bleak times, that is our best defense.
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