University, the epitome of New Zealand’s binge drinking and drug culture. Some of you who are reading might be in your first year and don’t have much experience with substances, illicit or not. Or you could be a seasoned fourth-year sesh gremlin who has smashed back more gear in their time than rebel sports. The reality is that for some of you, this year will be the year where you first experiment with drugs or alcohol. We can talk about alcohol all we want but to be quite honest I want this to be more focused on MDMA, or gear as it is colloquially called. All I ever see about MDMA is news articles about police raids obtaining “dangerous party drugs that could easily kill” which probably doesn’t help anyone get educated about the substances they’re taking every weekend. This stuff just isn’t talked about in an educational and mature way, and this is an opinion piece based on my experiences on how we could change that.
You really don’t have to venture far on a night in town or at a party before you run into someone who is on MDMA, or trying to source it. Before I go off on a tangent, I ought to inform those who don’t know what MDMA is. It’s a class B psychoactive substance that is commonly used by party and festival goers all over the world. It usually comes as a pill or in powder form and can be taken orally, snorted, or even up the bum (yikes). Consuming it will result in effects such as altered sensations, increased energy, euphoria, empathy, as well as pleasure. These effects can last for up to 6 hours after taking it, which usually takes around 30 minutes to kick in. However, these effects occur because MDMA triggers a large release of three different chemicals in the brain. One being dopamine, which causes increased energy and activity. Norepinephrine, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people with heart and blood vessel problems. Serotonin, which affects mood, appetite and sleep. It is associated with the cause of emotional closeness and elevated mood. It’s the reason why you have those “I love you bro” moments on the hill at Rhythm and Vines. However, there is a list of short term adverse effects that can come from it such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite. Those few days afterwards where you may feel sad, unmotivated or just overall depressed is what everyone calls the ‘comedown’. The levels of the feel-good chemicals in your brain get massively depleted after the use of MDMA, which is why you don’t quite feel happy for a couple of days after.
In my time at University and festivals, I have seen a lot of people do a lot of MDMA, during this I’ve wondered if it’s actually not that dangerous to take, which has encouraged me to research about it and learn about any possible adverse effects. Adverse effects from abuse consist of permanent damage to serotonin receptors, which can cause a loss of effects felt by the user. I’ve seen mates who have gone through a rough time because of their continued use. It just astounds me that doing MDMA regularly is the norm while not knowing anything about it. Why didn’t I know about these effects earlier? Why does no one talk about the aspects of party drugs? Wouldn’t education go a lot further than prohibition?
I was never taught about drugs in my high school health science classes, well I kind of was to the extent of weed. All I was ever taught about that was if you smoke it you’ll get addicted, it’ll ruin your life and you’ll become a bum. So don’t do it. That sort of carry on. But I think there is a critical flaw with that style of teaching, we get told everything is bad, so don’t touch it. But there’s that one cunt who will always do it anyway and say it’s all good, then tell his mates it’s all good and they try it and so on and so forth. This definitely happened with my group of friends with MDMA. Anything we’d been told in some form of education suddenly goes down the drain as soon as someone tries something, realises it’s not going to end their life as they were probably taught in year 11 health science, then suddenly all their mates are doing it because it’s actually fine. A key flaw here is the fact that only a handful of us will take the time to do proper research on the drug as I’ve noted in my time. It’s clearly something that isn’t talked about enough for people to know about the dangers of doing it frequently, otherwise, I wouldn’t see people doing it as recklessly as they do.
So, essentially the problem is broken down like this. In high school we were never properly educated about drugs. We just got told to stay away from them, didn’t learn about any effects of what the drugs actually do when used. Someone will try something and will realise it won’t kill them and will just keep doing it while not being properly educated on the substance. Another factor on why I think drug use among young adults in New Zealand is high is because of the peer pressure environments and egos that can arise from it. Some people just straight up think they’re the man if they can slam a gram in a night, which is very clearly a high dose as the recommended dose rates according to rollsafe.org are 1.5 mg/kg, and a maximum of your weight + 50mg if you’re looking to push things. I could tell you hand on heart right now that I’ve never seen anyone adhere to these guidelines. I guess you could argue that someone only taking a cap (100mg) and calling it a day is adhering to it, but who really goes on one of these websites and weighs out an exact dose for them to take at a party or festival. For festivals, the general attitude is “oh I’ll take either 1 or 2 grams and we’ll just see how we go”. Bit fucked isn’t it? Anyway, we’ve established that breathers and breatherettes will eat it like dinner, so what can we do about it?
As I’ve said, this needs to be talked about and not just in the old fashioned “it’s bad don’t do it” way. There needs to be proper education being given about this stuff and it should start in high school, I know people who did it in high school and I doubt they knew anything about it apart from it making them feel good. There are many aspects of it that need to be talked about, you can’t just tell people not to do it and not give them any information. People are going to do drugs regardless of the law, and will do more damage to themselves if they haven’t been educated about it properly or at all. Education needs to start when we’re in high school, get it in our heads from a younger age so it stays that way. Or even university, I wouldn’t mind having some sort of health class where you could be educated in-depth about substances. The approach needs to go from “don’t do it, you’ll ruin your life” to “drugs are bad BUT if you do somehow end up in this situation, here is what you need to know to make a rational decision about doing them”. These bits of information that should be given to us should consist of the following; Desired effects, the stuff that you should expect to feel on your high, adverse effects both short term and long term, correct/recommended dosages, what to do if something goes wrong, how to stay safe with it, knowing your limits, and one of the biggest ones; testing your stuff. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, but I think it is easily one of the most important. There is an organisation in New Zealand called Know Your Stuff and they do free substance testing for those at festivals who want to see what is really in their gear. Their tests often turn up awful substances such as bath salts, methamphetamine, paint, washing powder, just shit stuff really. We should be taught fully about this stuff, we should be taught about what this stuff does to us if we choose to take it, we should be taught to test for what’s really in the shit we put in our bodies. We have failed in proper drug education in this country and you only need to venture to a regular party to see the evidence.