Alongside opioids like Percocet and OxyContin, Xanax bars have been stars of the US rap scene's recent obsession with prescription pills. Since the death of Lil Peep in November, 2017 from the "combined toxic effects of fentanyl and alprazolam" there's been something of a backlash against Xanax in the rap community – Lil Pump says he's off it, Vic Mensa's called out Future for normalising its use, even Lil Xan says he's quitting – but that's yet to trickle down to all those British kids in bucket hats and creole earrings for whom Xanax is the drug of choice.This is an issue. There's a reason that, in the US rap scene, post-boom, Xanax seems to be starting to bust: it's much more dangerous than many people assume it to be.Prescription drugs seem safe because they’re legitimised by a medical seal of approval. In the UK, Xanax and other benzodiazepines – or "benzos" – are only a class C drug when misused, while weed is class B and heroin class A, further creating an illusion of safety.
What sets this drug trend apart is that, judging from what the teenagers I've spoken to for this piece have told me, much like with North America's prescription opioid crisis, Xanax use is pervasive among kids from every kind of economic background. The only common link is that users may suffer more from anxiety in their day-to-day lives.Benzodiazepines like Xanax work by suppressing the output of neurotransmitters that interpret fear, which is why they are prescribed frequently in the US – where over 5 percent of the adult population take them – for anxiety disorders and pain relief. "With Xans, you’re back to being a normal person. You're not having panic attacks, you’re not being anxious and you can get through college," explains Dan.For someone with moderate to severe anxiety, the effects of a benzo are like dropping slow motion into a soft blanket taut enough to catch you gently in motion. The anxious thoughts, if you still have them, hardly make a dent. You just don’t care.
"When you listen to music on Xans, or you make music on Xans, or you listen to music which is about Xans, it's really romantic. But the reality of Xanax is not. Xans invite you in with, like, a kiss, and then sucker punch you in the face."
If you're hugely fucked up on Xanax, the internet slang to describe your state is "bartarded". As James Nolan wrote on VICE last year, users post videos and stories of themselves being "bartards" online, "half as cautionary tales and half as boasts". Often, these stories involve someone taking Xans and waking up hours or days later with no memory of the trail of destruction they’ve left behind. Blackouts are common – and, in fact, sometimes a goal.Kristallo once collapsed in public – something he has no recollection of – and was told afterwards that he was repeating the phrase "I need a Xan" over and over. "I've lost bank cards on Xans, I’ve, you know, gone through weekends where I haven’t remembered a single thing because I've blacked out on them," he says. Anna*, who takes Xanax for anxiety, but whose friends use it recreationally, told me: "My friend plans with his other mates to try to blackout before the end of the night. I do think, 'You could have just stayed home,' because they don’t remember any of it."
"This specific corner of sesh culture is equal parts nihilism, banter and bravado: it’s showing how hard you are via how fucked up you can get, how many substances you can get away with taking and in which settings."