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Part four: Drug experiments during a pandemic

  1. Hayley Murray
    "This project, like all of her work, reflects her position that people who use drugs are the experts and that their personal stories are to be valued above all else."


Hayley‘s Lockdown Drug Use Diaries

 

How does corona affect the drug scene? Are we engaging in more experimental, and by default, riskier behaviour? In this Poppi series, drug researcher Hayley Murray investigates and shares the users’ perspective on how they cope with their drug use during corona. This time: experimenting amidst a pandemic.

Pandemic: A time for experimenting with your
ABCs and 123s

Wearing your cutest mask, waiting in line, and hearing your favourite song might be the closest thing resembling ‘going out’ this year. And while some of us may be itching to be partying in clubs and bars, some of you seem to be embracing the comforts of home to get high. Specifically, high on drugs not yet tried before: GHB, DMT, 2CB, and ETH-LAD. Compromised of a series of letters and numbers (and a gorgeous cadence) have earned these drugs amongst countless others, the cheeky, descriptive umbrella term of ‘alphabet soup.’ Are we looking to shake ourselves out of a pandemic induced funk with new drug experiences? Is this uncertain time actually making us feel safer? Or are we feeling curious and opportunistic during a phase of so much regulation? Your tales of experimenting with new drugs during the pandemic will be theme of this post in my series of drug use during corona.

 

 

Post quarantine play

 Kris, 32, spent fourteen sunny days in June in quarantine with his partner. It was a challenge; but so was emerging, healthy from isolation, only to be met with the dreaded message that reported cases were going up, resulting in tighter restrictions.  

Kris recalls: “It was like, ‘Oh fuck, I was really looking forward to seeing my friends after those two weeks and now I can’t!’” The frustration of longing to let loose with friends after isolation and not being able to was certainly felt. Kris knew he could still celebrate the end of his quarantine, he just had to be openminded. When his partner suggested that they have a private party, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try something he always wanted to use in an intimate setting: GHB.

Granted Kris had used GHB, a popular recreational downer, once before at an after party, but in combination with other substances and fatigue, the euphoric and sedative effects were barely felt. But this second time was different. It was just him and his partner, alone at home. He felt a sense of curiosity: what will this drug feel like when taken on its own? It turns out this experiment was so pleasurable that he decided that from now on, GHB would be used only in the privacy of his home, not at raves.

 

Safe spaces

Taking drugs is never without risk, but doing so in the privacy of your home may reduce some of the risk. Beyond the obvious of there being no fears about spiked drinks, no unbearably long bathroom lines, no unsafe ventilation, no being overcharged for water, no drunk people invading your 1.5 meters of personal space, the home is simply a more controlled environment than the club. You are in charge of the lighting, the vibe, the crowd and the music (Mariah Carey on repeat? Obviously.) Being able to control your physical and social environment – the ‘setting’ – of your substance use is an essential factor (along with your mindset – the ‘set’) in creating an enjoyable drug use experience. And it seems that in creating these safer spaces in your home, it has encouraged some experimental behaviour.

Nikita, 31, tried DMT, a naturally occurring chemical in living organisms and powerful hallucinogenic, twice during the pandemic. She is interested in psychedelics and held the reasonable view that you should feel comfortable in your own skin before tripping. DMT, specifically, she believes “makes a mark on your identity”, so she made sure that she felt like her mental health was sturdy enough to handle such an intense and strong visual-inducing substance. Plus, she knew she was only going to try this drug at home so…
what better time than now?  

She knows someone who makes the drug at home and like any good entrepreneur, they ardently promoted their product and she matched their enthusiasm: “I wanted to try it so much, good or bad, I just wanted to try it!” For 10 euros, she got enough of the drug for around half as many uses. This friend also tossed in the use of their vaporizer and a few short instructional videos (other dealers, take note!) tailor made for Nikita to watch to help her prepare for the experience. This way, she could a) feel more prepared for what was going to happen the next day and b) not have to be busy with using instructions and harm reduction tips right before she was to start smoking. Nikita recalls that first DMT experience as great: she was able to see her ego defragment and traveled, boundlessly, to places she’d never been before. Heck, places she couldn’t make up if she tried. She used it again three months later at her home and enlisted some friends to be trip sitters. Contributing to the success of her trips, and things she will continue to do in the future, is to create a chill and quiet atmosphere, to have a few trusted friends around to share her experience with and to keep her grounded after.

In fact, Nikita’s careful preparations for her experiment were so well done that both of her trip sitters decided to try DMT, on the spot, also for the first time. (I’d like to take a moment to give thanks to all the designated drivers who, upon seeing me take a drink, didn’t think, “Hey, that looks fun, I also want to try…hold my keys!”)

I spoke with Tony, 36, one of the trip sitters, and discovered that this mystifying and elusive substance had also earned a spot on his “drug bucket list”. However, Tony has avoided psychedelics due to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and was concerned this drug might trigger a psychosis. His decision was made partly because as a trip sitter, he saw first-hand how short the trip was, reassuring him that he would have less time should his thoughts spiral downwards, and two, he was already in a
safe setting with people he trusted.

While this may seem like a “spur of the moment choice,” he explained to me that when he hears of a new drug, he first researches it to understand what can be expected in terms of pleasure and risk, and then adds it to his “to try” list. DMT was on that list for over three years, as “always something to try out in the far future.” Like any good trip sitter, he did his research on the drug to know how to best help the user. Armed with this refreshed knowledge and the first hand witnessing of what a DMT high can look like, he acted.
Or should I say inhaled.

However, one person I interviewed felt the opposite; that this was precisely an unsafe time to be experimenting. Koos, 44, was wary for several reasons. One, the first aid attendants that he has come to rely on and see as a symbol of safety and a source of care at parties and clubs are, of course, absent from the home. Second, should he needed medical assistance, a hospital would be the last place he would want to be, not for the increase risk of infection, but for the additional strain he would add to the
already burdened medical system.

Curiosity + safety = ideal conditions

Mathijs, 30, a self-identified control freak, always preferred the relatively reliable effects of cocaine and speed. Psychedelics scared him after an unfortunate experience of mixing LSD and space cake. (Surprise, surprise, space cake shows up and ruins the party…again. Who keeps on inviting space cake?!). Recently, a close friend tried a psychedelic substance for the first time and when he heard how positive and profound this experience was, he felt encouraged to consider on his own personal exploration and, “dive into a different world of drugs that would accompany his meditation, broaden my horizons, and a growing personal awareness.” He landed on 20 mg pills of 2CB, a drug in the psychedelic family that users say gives both open and closed eye visuals and the energy and desire to dance. Let my favourite visual, if you will, give you an idea of this drug: if stimulants, empathogens and hallucinogens were all items in a Venn diagram, you could expect to find 2CB in the center. He planned the trip with five friends: two other first timers and two trip sitters. This preparation, alongside testing the pills before using, ensured that their experiment “went perfectly.” A second trip is
already being planned.

 

Opportunistic  

Way back in April, Hyram, 24, experimented with a lesser known psychedelic called ETH-LAD. It is similar to LSD in terms of giving the user distorted visuals but is significantly more potent and complex. His motivation to try something new? It was Kingsday, the best party day of the year and he had this legal, new psychoactive substance lying around his house, so why not go all out with a dose of “let’s see what happens!” Spoiler: it was “intense!” But it was apparently worth it, as this experienced user now classifies this particular drug as a “holy grail item.” Contrasted with Nikita’s thorough planning, Hyram’s adventurous tale speaks to how common spontaneous and opportunistic drug experimentation can be, particularly in a time of omnipresent rules.

Is it a coincidence that the drugs being experimented with are, by and large, psychedelics? Perhaps the predictable highs of conventional party drugs have become boring, or maybe experimental drug users are more susceptible to trying trippers. One thing seems clear: for all the limitations this pandemic has imposed on us, it has been fruitful time for those willing to seek out new experiences.

If you have something to offer this discussion around recreational substance use and quarantine, which trust me, you do, please get in touch with me via Telegram @sharewithpoppi  or sharewithpoppi@gmail.com.
Your anonymity will be guaranteed.

For those of you who already have shared with me: you are great, thank you.

Check back in with Poppi’s blog regularly as, with your help, I’ll continue to explore what this new reality means for recreational substance use(rs) in the Netherlands.

 

 

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