This piece was originally published on VICE France.
The first time I did drugs recreationally was nine years ago, on the 21st of November, 2011. I’m certain of this fact, because I’ve taken note of every single time I’ve done drugs since that first experience.
As a clubber, drugs have helped me to shed inhibitions and overcome trauma. They’ve allowed me to explore my senses, and what some people might call alternative dimensions. Yes, they can be dangerous, but mostly – and for the majority of people – they’re just fun. I’m neither ashamed nor proud of my drug use, I’m just stating the facts.
In 2012, I left France to live in Berlin for a year, which is when I started going to clubs and experimenting with drugs. I was young, naïve and a bit overexcited, so I began making lists of the clubs I’d been to and the music I liked, worried that one day I might forget these precious memories. Initially, I wrote them down in a notebook, but as my drug use became more frequent I moved the data to an Excel file.
My method was simple: each time I used a psychoactive substance recreationally (besides weed – which I don’t like – and alcohol), I noted the date and the drug, plus where I was and who I was with. If I was at a party spanning two days, I’d count it as two events. I took it so seriously that I’d text myself in the middle of the night to remember what I’d taken. For that reason, I think my data is pretty reliable – I’d say around 97 percent accurate .
The author's Excel table.
My project fits within a larger trend of people using data to understand themselves – for instance, apps that measure your sleeping pattern, count your steps or track your calories. After nine years, I’m left with a matrix of 226 rows and 13 columns, which is both fascinating and a little pointless.
Using my data, I can confirm I’ve taken ecstasy 81 times in my life, MDMA 74 times, ketamine 45 times and 3-MMC (or metaphedrone) seven times. I also know that I’ve tried LSD, 2C-B, 4-MFP, mephedrone and dexamphetamines (ADHD medication). I can plot charts and see the statistics laid out in front of me.
Pie chart showing the author's drug use by type of drug. "Champis" is "shrooms", "Autres" is "others".
On average, I’ve done drugs every 14-and-a-half days since I started tracking my use. That sounds like a lot, but the figure is inflated by festivals and parties spanning multiple days. I was in Germany 22.6 percent of the time, and in the Netherlands another 20.4 percent. MDMA and ecstasy have been my favourites, but my consumption changed a lot by season – I used psychedelics mostly at summer festivals, while my cocaine consumption peaked in the winter. Since I noted who I was with, I can also delve back into a surprising number of memories that I would have otherwise forgotten.
Although my data is pretty reliable, there’s one major flaw. If I were to do this again, I wouldn’t just log when I did drugs, but also the quantities. When I started this project, I was more concerned about how often I was using rather than if I felt the effects or not. That means I’ve conflated the times I scraped a few crumbs of ecstasy from the bottom of a baggy with wild New Year’s Eve parties where I indulged a lot more.
It might seem unimportant, but it does skew my data. For example, if you just saw the graph plotting my consumption over time, you’d think I used more drugs in 2019 than in 2012, but that’s not the case.
Even though I still take a sip from a bottle of MDMA-water from time to time, I rarely do big quantities these days. It’s a bit like my alcohol consumption – I used to drink a lot in high school, but now I'm in my thirties I’ll have a drink nearly every day, but nothing more. The frequency has increased, the quantity hasn’t. In this sense, my data is misleading.
I thought about this a lot and, short of bringing a micro-scale with me on a night out, I think I’d use a “TripAdvisor system” – I’d rate my drug use on a scale of one to five stars, one for a small dose with little to no effects, five for a 12-hour trip with multiple doses.
Frequency of consumption of different drugs by season. Graphic by the author.
Between the rows of data, I can also see the shape of my own life. There’s a first peak of intensity in 2012, marking my Berlin “Summer of Love”; there’s a period of stability and low consumption between 2013 and 2015, followed by a calm phase between 2016 and 2017, when I was in a serious relationship. And then, in the summer of 2018, there’s the end of my relationship and an issue with workplace harassment, which led to me going to three festivals back-to-back and on a long, drug-fuelled holiday in Berlin. The pandemic and the end of partying as we know it is also visible on the charts, starting in May of 2020.
Seeing the data has helped me understand my own drug use. In these particularly stressful times, when many people are struggling and doing drugs to cope, I can only encourage them to develop their own tools and take an honest look at their consumption. Being mindful of when I used helped me space out doses and keep my habits casual.
The silence surrounding drug use makes people hide their addictions and contributes to dangerous behaviour. Maybe that’s why I’ve kept recording my consumption for all these years – so I can’t lie about it, to others or myself.