Thursday, 4 November 2010

My Chemical Romance

(May 2009)

Hooray!! Exams are over and the season to wreak havoc is upon us. As I write this I still have a considerable amount of revision to get done before next week, but that should not taint the subject of this piece. I am in surprisingly good spirits despite everyone around me celebrating their lack of commitment and responsibility by intoxicating themselves.

Drugs. Has there ever been a more vague word? The word could be referring to any of the hundreds of thousands of chemicals, man made and naturally-occurring, that grace this planet. However, when people use the term it is usually in relation to chemicals that are used for recreation: for fun.

Part of the reason for voicing my opinion on this subject springs from the recent re-classification of Marijuana. In 2004 it was moved from a Class B to a Class C, which includes other drugs such as Ketamine and GHB. It is now a Class B once again, along with drugs such as Amphetamines and Ritalin, due to the fact that apparently the ‘dope’ gracing our streets nowadays is “stronger” than the stuff circulating in the swinging Sixties. This may be very true, and several friends who are partial to the Green stuff have confirmed this. However, it is very hard to prove something like the chemical composition of illegal plants when there is no system to regulate them.

I am sure the Government would rather just be safe than end up in twenty odd years with a huge NHS bill to pay for the hundreds/thousands of adults developing mental illness on account of excessive use in their teen years. Another colossal blanket statement I heard uttered on the news was that “young people are more at risk of taking drugs because drugs are cheap.” HA! I do not consider fifty pounds for one gram of what is, in reality, only ~10% of Columbian origin to be cheap! The goods available on Camden Bridge are often a variety of cooking herb and the hassle that is required to sequester the more clandestine substances is not symptomatic of a society where our children cannot move for drug pushers.

I also take exception to the abundance of ignorance that exists in relation to illegal drugs. I, being a biochemist, am aware of exactly what happens to the body when certain chemicals hit our blood and brains (although, I still struggle with the equation of a line). Friends of mine have sent me into apoplectic frustration when they make comments such as “drugs make you thirsty and so you drink so much water you die”. I doubt your average punter has any clue as to the effects of most substances and more should be done to educate people: giving them unbiased information with which they can make informed, adult decisions.

 What so many people forget is that alcohol is a drug, one to which Britain is hopelessly addicted. In every form of media, it is referred to in isolation from the big, bad drugs, many of which are just as harmful or even less harmful than alcohol.

“Do not mix drugs and alcohol”. This is sound advice as ingesting a cocktail of chemicals (whatever the type, be it prescribed, Boots-bought or otherwise) is never wise given the risk of drug interactions. Does this mean we should not mix alcohol with alcohol? Probably, as mixing one’s drinks can often lead to a hangover bad enough to make you wish you were Muslim.

When you compare the data of the Two E’s (ethanol and ecstasy) it is quite clear that from both a medical and social point of view, Ecstasy is ‘better’ for you. At the mention of Ecstasy people have the nineties-painted stereotype of sweaty, water-swigging ravers hugging each other and chatting bollocks to strangers. But compare 10 deaths per annum from Ecstasy to 22,000 related-deaths from alcohol. Admittedly, there are many, many more ethanol users than that of ecstasy but I am sure if you calculated deaths as a percentage of users alcohol would come out worse.

There is no heart, liver or cardiovascular disease associated with MDMA (ecstasy’s chemical name) and absolutely no negative social impact from it either. All the brawls, vomit, glass and kebab detritus are from alcohol abusers. Again, I am a hypocrite. I do enjoy a tipple or two but I have NEVER caused a fight, eaten a kebab or dirtied the street in anyway in my drunken state.

Currently, medical research is underway to examine MDMA as a tool in psychotherapy and marriage counseling on account of its effects which induce an increased empathy for one’s peers, breaking down barriers that years of resentment could have built up. Indeed, shortly after its creation by Alexander Shulgin in Germany, it was being used as a “truth serum” in WWI (to no great success).

I have tried and tried, to no avail, to find research papers that describe the long and short-term effects (both on the body and on the brain) of LSD. It seems the only risks associated are ‘flashbacks’ (rare in any case) and impaired judgments whilst under the influence, exactly like alcohol. Oh, and one shouldn’t take it if pregnant because it may cause uterine contractions. Not really an issue for most: any woman considering any drugs while pregnant is pretty unwise.

Whatever be your poison, moderation and balance is key. People who think that taking one pill a few times a month is worse for you than heavy drinking several times a week are gravely mistaken. However, if the bi-monthly pill is having an effect on your work/life/relationships/health then it is time to stop.

For a lot of people, exercising moderation is beyond them, hence Britain’s binge drinking epidemic. But for now, exams desist, spirits are high (pun completely and utterly intended) and I bid you a fantastic summer.

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