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Sorry, Getting Fucked Up When You're Ill Does Not Cure You

Doctors of 200 years ago may disagree, but using drugs to sweat out the illness is nothing more than an old wives tale.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB
Photo: age fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

Everyone has a friend who claims that going out and getting on it is the perfect cure for feeling less than 100 percent. The "Miracle of the Sesh" is a topic discussed in smoking areas, on couches at the afters, in Reddit forums and on Facebook harm reduction groups, the general idea being that lots of alcohol and drugs can somehow rid your body of a cold or flu. That you might wake up the following day feeling shitty, but, importantly, no longer actually ill.


I asked users of one Facebook group what they thought of the idea and got varied responses, but a number of them had only positive things to say:

"I've been ill as fuck and had a nice line of K and felt right as rain many times."

"Have been multiple times where I’ve gone into a night with a massive cold or something, and it’s sort of vanished??"

"I felt so shit before a sesh, had been ill for days and got invited to a mate's. Neck a couple of magic beans and I felt right as rain. The powers of the sesh."

But does getting fucked up really do anything other than prolong the inevitable? Surely battering your body with various poisons is only going to make you feel massively worse in the long-run.

The doctors of 200 years ago might disagree. Laudanum – opium mixed with wine or water – has been called the "aspirin of the 19th century" and was used in Victorian England to sort out all sorts of illnesses, from coughs to sleeplessness. Heroin was once marketed in place of morphine for pain relief, and between the 1880s and 1920s pharmacists advised using cocaine to relieve vomiting in pregnancy and toothache. Your nan might have even recommended you drink a hot toddy or three when you've felt under the weather.

Of course, medicine has come on a bit since we stopped sending orphans up chimneys. But some of the recreational drug users I spoke to didn't completely rule out the idea that very bad stuff could, in fact, be good for you. There was certainly a vague idea that drugs will "clear out" your system.



"I once had a cough for nearly four weeks, got on pills and it disappeared," said April*. "Similar things have happened since (if I'm bunged up it seems to 'clear me out'), always wondered if anyone else had had this!"

"I think there's a lot of anecdotal evidence especially about spending time with a female friend called Mandy, where if you have a cold, then her companionship for the evening means that the next day you feel a lot better," said Kelly* of the apparently restorative effects of MDMA. "Also, many things give you energy and make you less tired, so while you're involved with them you can feel better."

"I think it really depends on the person," said Ben*. "Because stimulants like MD can raise body temperatures, and usually that's what kills off viruses and whatnot when your body is trying to recover. It can be a double-edged sword, because it can run a course on your immune system recovering from what the drugs did. I can't say something like that has made me feel better. I got sick and stayed sick when I used MD."

Many others pointed out that it's not that drugs and alcohol cure you, obviously; it's that they just temporarily make you not care about your illness.

"What goes up must come down, in my view, depending on the substance," said a moderator of a harm reduction Facebook group. "Some can make you feel better temporarily – an example could be someone is feeling groggy and tired from being ill, and so does a line [of cocaine] and feels better for a few hours due to the alertness, only to feel worse than before when they inevitably come down. The same can be said for weed, opioids and others."


Thing is, these were all just theories based on anecdotal evidence. I needed a professional opinion.

That professional, Henry Fisher, Policy Director at Volteface – a policy innovation hub that explores alternatives to current public policies relating to drugs – basically just laughed when I rang him up to ask about the Miracle of the Sesh. He was, unsurprisingly, ready to debunk the idea.

When it comes to cocaine, he said, there’s no way drug use would stave off a cold or cure it. "It’s a vasoconstrictor, which means it might open up your airwaves to some extent and help you to breathe, but it’s going be a very minor and temporary fix to a bigger problem, because you’re staying up later, your body is exhausted and you’re not fighting the infection properly," he said. "If you’re taking stimulants like cocaine, you’re less likely to eat, so you might not eat as much food, and when you’re ill it's important to eat and drink proper fluids."

When it comes to MDMA, Fisher believes the "sweating out the illness" idea is a bit of an "old wives' tale". "If you have the flu or something, you’re already uncomfortable and sweating anyway," he pointed out. "Being hotter isn't necessarily helpful to you. If you’re in a hot, sweaty club or rave and you’re already feeling under the weather because you’re ill, you’re going to be even more susceptible to picking up other bugs because you’re surrounded by others, so if anything you’re going to compound the problem."


Let's also not forget the framework surrounding a night out: "It might be warm when you’re on your night out, but when you’re on your way or coming home, if it's 3AM and you’re sweaty, you’re going to get cold very quickly and be really vulnerable."

While you might think this is pretty obvious – drugs plus illness equals a world of pain – Henry says many of the same arguments apply to alcohol, too" "It might make you fall asleep or be more relaxed, which a lot of people struggle with when they’re ill and they’ve been in bed all day, [but] alcohol is certainly not going to help you fight any infection."

Photo: VICE

So where does this miracle myth – which, think about it, is truly stupid – stem from? Henry suggests that, firstly, coincidence plays a role – "a lot of colds and flus only last a couple of days anyway, so by the time you’re going out you’re likely on the mend" – and, secondly, that the psychology of the sesh could fool you into thinking you're getting better: "If you do something like go out, that might cheer you up, and that could make you feel better when you’re not."

Often this would only be short-term, obviously. Endorphins and drugs in your system only last so long, before you have to deal with psychological, emotional and physical effects of your night out.

"It's all masking the fact you're ill, so you’re less likely to eat fruit and veg and take on fluids," said Henry. "It comes down to three factors [when you’re going out]: you’re not resting, eating properly or drinking water, all of which are needed to fight any kind of illness, whether it’s flu or a chest infection."

So there you have it: the Miracle of the Sesh, predictably, is bullshit. Going out when you're ill is, ultimately, only going to make you feel much, much worse.