This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
The UK takes a lot of drugs. In fact, a 2019 study analysing the cocaine intake of 75 European cities found that London easily beats out all other competition, huffing up around 23,000 grams a day, or roughly eight tons of coke a year. We're also among the top users of MDMA and ketamine globally.
This, obviously, is nothing to be proud of. On a macro level, drugs like cocaine fuel deforestation and the climate crisis; on a micro level, they're really fucking bad for you: in the UK, hospitalisations and drug-related deaths are way up. Also, cocaine turns you into a dickhead.
Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who a) while sober, will admonish anyone for even thinking of picking up, so concerned I am about the environmental effects of supporting the global drug trade, and b) will buys drugs immediately after my second drink and completely forget about the environment and the danger posed by whatever I've just ingested. But what, exactly, are these drugs doing to me? To my heart rate, my diet, my quality of sleep and how much I move around?
I slung on a FitBit and went on a little drug odyssey to find out, taking one drug per evening (over the course of a couple of weeks, I'm not a psychopath) and recording the results.
DISCLAIMER: Obviously don't try this at home. Recreational drugs can be incredibly dangerous and we don't encourage anyone to use them.
Honestly, I didn't even mean to take any pingers that evening, but after a solitary brandy and coke I was overcome with Friday Feeling, so decided to go for a dance. I got into a taxi with a few tins, dropped a half and I was away.
Calories burned: 465
Distance travelled: 3.61 miles
Hours slept: 0
Heart rate: Resting – 62; Average – 78; Max – 144
My heart rate peaked at 144 bpm at around 1AM, which makes sense, because this was roughly the time I started earnestly banging on about London's tech-house club nights being "just as good Berghain, if not better actually".
Over the night I managed to burn 465 calories and walk the equivalent of three-and-a-half miles, which – and I'm no doctor! Evidently! – kind of feels like a positive thing?
Unfortunately, I also didn't sleep until Sunday morning, which cancelled out any – in retrospect – wildly optimistic hope I had of benefitting physically from taking ecstasy.
Medically speaking, I am an idiot. I know you shouldn't rely on a downer to counteract an upper, but in this case that's exactly what I did (FYI, if you've been drinking loads – and/or using opiates – do not under any circumstances take benzos to help you sleep; all those depressants piggybacking each other in your bloodstream is not a good thing).
When I woke up, still vallied, I ordered myself a big pizza and poured myself a glass of red wine.
Calories burned: 68
Distance travelled: 0.53 miles
Hours slept: 10 hours, 20 minutes
Heart rate: Resting – 62; Average – 64; Max – 91
As you can see, my heart rate basically remained at "man frozen in ice for 5,000 years" levels for the entire time I was measuring. I think the spike of 91 must have been from how excited I got when the pizza arrived. Also: no idea how I managed over 1,000 steps – I guess I must have gone to the shops for more wine a few times.
In conclusion, the valium had exactly the effect I would expect: it made me mostly do nothing. But it has made me do one thing: fret quite a lot about the potential dangers of putting my heart under this kind of pressure every time I use vallies to bring me down off pingers.
Is there anything better after a heavy one than watching Galaxy Quest while also doing ketamine? If there is – if you genuinely believe you have a better option for me than trying to concentrate on Alan Rickman dressed as an alien, while finding it increasingly difficult to judge the distance between my hand and my wine glass – I do not want to hear about it.
Calories burned: 251
Distance travelled: 1.7 miles
Hours slept: 8.18
Heart rate: Resting – 64; Average – 63; Max – 104
Although my stats show I'd walked a lot and burned a lot of calories that day, I'm pretty sure that from the moment I started taking ketamine I basically became a human blancmange, fixated on the ethics of what the Galaxy Quest team are forced to confront when asked to help save a load of aliens from a dickhead alien warlord.
Stats-wise, I slept my full eight hours, which is good. Considering I barely moved, I'm not sure how my heart rate reached 104 bpm – so I suppose that's a little worrying? That said, more worrying is the fact that ketamine is famously worse for your bladder than your heart, and I had to take a ludicrous number of bathroom breaks during Galaxy Quest.
When you're feeling down, is there anything more restorative than pints with the lads? Come to think of it, a frosty one or two, shared among friends, might even be better for the soul than watching Galaxy Quest while trying to pull yourself out of a K-hole.
Until, that is, about five or six pints in, when everyone gets too pissed and decides they need to get the packet in. In this particular case, it turned the whole thing into a bleak, humourless downward spiral, where the sole focus of the night became not just drinking and having fun, but who had the coke, how much coke was left, how are you taking the coke, here's the coke, don't make it look too obvious I'm handing you the coke, and lastly: we're running out of coke, shall we get more coke.
Calories burned: 435
Distance travelled: 4.87 miles
Hours slept: 5 hours, 19 minutes
Heart rate: Resting – 56; Average – 65; Max – 135
The coke-taking started at around 8:45PM, which made my heart rate skyrocket to 135 bpm, and also probably accounted for a good number of the 10,726 steps I did that day. Mostly from walking around the pub, but also tip-toeing around my friend's flat, trying not to wake up his girlfriend, while stage-whispering about coke.
I did manage to get to sleep, for a whole five hours, from 3:43AM to 9:02AM, meaning I was late for work before I'd even woken up.
Other than the lack of sleep, my erratic heart rate and the increased number of steps, the main worry with coke isn't some freak heart attack (although that is also a worry), but how frequently I'm doing what is a very powerful drug. Seeing my heart rate spike the moment I took it, after five or six pints, shows it's not to be fucked with – and yet I fuck with it pretty much every weekend.
§ § §
With drugs, as with pretty much everything we enjoy consuming, ignorance is bliss. I wasn't completely ignorant to the fact that drugs are bad for you – that's fairly well known – but was of the fairly common thinking that: I'll be fine.
Seeing graphs detailing the real-time effect on my heart, however, highlighted an inconvenient truth akin to realising that your large Domino's pizza and garlic dip contains more calories than you need in an entire day. That truth being: keep at it, and I probably won't be fine at all.