Drug Experts React to People's Stupid Holiday Drug Stories
Buying drugs! Overseas! Is not a good idea!
Photo: Roman Samborskyi / Alamy Stock Photo
For some people, a holiday isn't a holiday without a subsequent week-long existential comedown. Whether it's a weekend city break whose enjoyment relies solely on the whims of Berghain's bouncers, a weeklong Ibiza getaway or a three-month slog on the sleeper trains of Eastern Europe, if you're that way inclined, it's likely you'll try to score something or other along the way.
But when you're in unfamiliar surroundings and potentially unaware of the culture and laws around using recreational drugs, is there ever a safe way to do so?
The answer, clearly, is no. If you want to stay out of trouble and potential harm, don't bother with drugs in a foreign country, unless wildly over-paying to give yourself a nosebleed sounds like your idea of fun.
Of course, rationality quickly goes out the window once you've had a couple of drinks, and people do things they really shouldn't do. So, if you are going to buy and use drugs on holiday, you should at least know the risks and how to combat them as best as possible. To give you a rundown of every country's attitudes towards narcotics would be pointless, because overwhelmingly their attitude is "don't do them, they're illegal" – plus, there are already decent resources available for that – so instead we asked some people about their experiences of using drugs abroad, and then asked some experts to tell us what exactly they did wrong, in the hope it will teach you how to be less of an idiot.
Enter Chris Brady of harm reduction organisation The Loop, and Rowan Sol of Facebook group Sesh Safety.
"I went to Ibiza with ten of my friends. We bought coke, ket and pills from a friend of a friend who was working out there at the time. He'd been getting the same stuff all summer with no problems, so we knew it was all relatively safe. We'd been out for two days, drinking, barely eating and alternating between ket and coke, when I started to lose my vision and my breathing went weird. The lads got me to hospital pretty quick. I was on a drip for a few hours and walked out the same day, thankfully."
Chris Brady: Using drugs in combination increases and can magnify the risks involved. Alex has been up for two days, living on a diet of alcohol, ketamine and pills, and the longer you sesh, the more chance of problems. Rest, food and hydration are always important, but especially when you're away for a weekend like this. Using on consecutive days will increase the risks of negative consequences, so it's important to take a break. Taking MDMA two days in a row will see you experiencing less feelings of euphoria and just getting the stimulant effects due to serotonin depletion. Buying from a "trusted source" might protect you slightly, but remember that, mostly, the mate of a mate who is sorting you out is at the bottom of a long chain of people.
Rowan Sol: If you intend to use drugs abroad, it's really important that you obtain full medical travel insurance. You should anyway, but even more so if you're engaging in such high risk activity.
"I travel pretty frequently, mostly around Europe, and I'm generally quite reliant on weed. I've brought weed on flights with me before, but it's always a pretty scary experience. I tend to try my luck with street dealers. In most places, I just loiter around near a main train station or touristy area and eventually find someone."
Obviously, international drug smuggling is always a hard no. Similarly, approaching random people in the street and asking if they have any drugs they can sell you is a plainly terrible idea.
Chris Brady: A concern I would have for Dan is that if he is prepared to take the risk of getting nicked for smuggling drugs due to his reliance on weed, could he be thinking about maybe cutting down or taking a break?
"My boyfriend and I were travelling around Eastern Europe, stopping over for one night in Prague, but we saw a techno event we wanted to go to. Once we were inside, a guy offered us some pink pills. We took one each straight away, but an hour-and-a-half later we weren't feeling it at all. The pills eventually kicked in when we got back to our hostel a few hours later – no euphoria, we just couldn't sleep and felt kind of spaced out. I cried basically the entire eight-hour train journey to Budapest, on a major comedown."
Chris Brady: The pills Sarah took clearly weren't MDMA, and from the length of time before they took effect, it sounds like it might have been a more dangerous substance, such as PMA. She also started with a full pill, which in itself is risky due to the very high strength and purity of some ecstasy tablets these days. The Loop have recently tested pills containing 300mg of MDMA, and if Sarah had ended up with these types of pills and taken a full one she could well have experienced a negative and dangerous reaction.
Rowan Sol: Amphetamines in Eastern Europe tend to be cheap and potent, and methamphetamine is also much more readily available. There are also less harm reduction facilities and attitudes prevalent [in the region], so it is even more important to take care. Ultimately, the same rules apply abroad as at home: if in doubt, leave it out; reagent test where you can; and be aware of potential dangers.
"My friend and I went to Thailand recently. Usually we'd take cocaine or pills if we were out partying, but after we asked around a few people told us it's really dangerous to try to get them in Thailand. Neither of us had tried shrooms before, but we were given some and ended up buying more and doing them a few times. We also managed to pick up some weed, but only from other tourists, not dealers."
In backpacker hotspots, some cafes and shops openly offer magic mushroom shakes, or "happy" weed-infused pizza. But the law in Thailand metes out anything from hefty fines to long prison terms for the possession of marijuana. According to the UK government's travel advice, you can risk the death penalty for having more than 20g of class A drugs on as you try to leave the country, so – as if it even needs to be said – don't do that. Most serious traffickers "only" get life imprisonment, but it's not uncommon for tourists to spend time locked up for a pocketful of pills, or fined heavily for being in possession of a gram of cocaine.
Chris Brady: While magic mushrooms are physically one of the safer drugs available, there are still risks involved. Using any psychedelic drug in a strange and unfamiliar environment can increase the risk of a bad trip. If possible, get a "trip sitter" – someone not tripping – in case of problems. Anyone considering mushrooms should educate themselves on what they actually look like beforehand, to avoid being ripped off, or worse, poisoned.
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This article originally appeared on VICE UK.