What We Learned About Drugs in 2014

Here's your scratch 'n' sniff guide to what really went down in the world of drugs this year.

by Max Daly
15 December 2014, 7:00am

The eyes of an ecstasy, ketamine and speed user on a night out in Amsterdam

​Remember the CCTV camera that refused to film anything but sunsets after it was sprayed by MDMA vapour from an unknown passing drone? Or the multiple pile-up caused when a lorry full of bugle jack-knifed on the Silk Road?

Hmm. Me neither. Propaganda, myths or completely making things up are all de rigueur when it comes to drug stories. This year we've been told that ​cannabis is as addictive as heroin, Stephen Fry is ​responsible for the misery in Mexico and that Breaking Bad ​created a crystal meth epidemic in Europe. In the drug zone, everyone is under some kind of influence, whether it's journalists with an agenda to chase or scaremongering politicians with votes to win. Or you. On drugs.

So, for some end-of-year clarity, here is your scratch 'n' sniff guide to what really went down in the world of drugs in 2014.

Guests at the launch of The UK Psychedelic Society

​Fake Sheikh reporter Mazher Mahmood's humiliation at the trial of Tulisa Contostavlos in July and in a Panorama exposé in November was a long time coming. For years this complete arsehole has been writing stories making out that various celebrities are drug dealers when they are not, just so he can look good and be mysterious on the back of ruined lives.

Tulisa was accused of cocaine supply after an elaborate Sun on Sunday sting last year, in which Mahmood pretended to be a jet-setting movie mogul. He offered Tulisa a chance of the big time, bombarded her with booze and promises – if only she could get him some cocaine. In the end, drunk and eager to impress, she capitulated and the story, "Tulisa's Cocaine Deal Shame", was on the front page.

But, in a ruling that will hopefully put an end to this stupid sport, the judge decided that Mahmood, the chief prosecution witness, had lied in court. Now Mahmood faces charges of perjury and entrapment and I sincerely hope he goes down.

It's clear from the Panorama documentary that Mahmood, who comes across as a giggling, snidy sonofabitch, used similar tactics to sleaze baggies out of other victims, such as the actor ​John Alford, who got nine months for two grams of cocaine, and Page 3 model Emma Morgan.

What is amazing is that for decades Mahmood not only hoodwinked his targets but also the police, the CPS, judges and the public into thinking that these people were big-time drug dealers deserving of a lengthy prison sentence. You would hope that the era of the bullshit drug sting is dead and buried.

These suits are your new weed dealers

​When idealist drug legalisers campaigned in the 60s and 70s for the human right to freely take drugs in the quest to broaden the mind, many did not think they would be alive to see widespread legalisation of weed in the US.

But as state by state decides to legalise marijuana and reap the taxes from the green dollar, some tokers have seen their hippie dreams turn to dust. In the brave new world of ganja capitalism, pot peddlers are more likely to be venture capitalists than hippie co-operatives, and I suppose this was inevitable. Marijuana has become a commodity like anything else.

The people behind ​the Bob Marley brand of weed are not a collective of expert Jamaican Rasta growers, but a team of white, Yale-educated private equity guys from Seattle.

And in November there was a massive trade convention in Las Vegas that attracted hundreds of investors and venture capitalists all after a slice of a business that is expected to be worth $20 billion by the end of the decade.

Could be E, could be cat laxatives. Very hard to tell with stock photos. (Image ​via)

​In the late 2000s most ecstasy pills contained mere remnants of MDMA; they were nearly all BZP. Not happy with that, kids on council estates in places like Blackburn started popping 20 a day in stairwells and on street corners alongside cans of cider. Other more nerdy types started fiddling around with research chemicals and people started buying an E substitute, mephedrone, over the internet – the rest is history.

But now it's a different story. Tests on pills confiscated at festivals and clubs since the summer have revealed that ecstasy purity in the UK is at its highest for a decade. The average pill now contains 100mg of MDMA, about five times as much as they did in 2009. MDMA powder is also becoming more potent.

Health workers are worried that people used to necking three weaker pills a night could end up overdosing on the harder stuff. At one two-day festival this summer there were nine cardiac arrests from MDMA and deaths from the drug have been rising.

On online drug forums, ecstasy users discuss the easy availability, especially over the web, of pills containing more than 200mg of MDMA, such as Chupa Chups, Nespressos, purple and orange Magnets and red Bugattis.

(Image via ​Imagens Evangelicas)

​The Home Office has for a few years now been smugly batting away accusations that its drug policies are imperfect by robotically quoting "falling drug use figures".

Whenever a report has landed on David Cameron's desk providing overwhelming evidence that his drug policies are ruining lives, killing people and wasting taxpayers' money, the response has been the same: "Drug use is falling. Our policies are working." If it ain't broke, don't fix it is the kind of theme at play here.

But in July this stance started looking a bit wobbly as the government's own statistics revealed that – after several years of falling drug use – annoyingly, for them, it had started to rise again, particularly among the young. As have the number of drug-related hospital admissions and deaths. So what do they say now?

I've noticed since then that the Home Office's usual drug policy rebuttal statement, "falling drug use" etc, activated in the face of any well-researched evidence about drug policy from around the globe, has changed to " long term falling drug use shows our policy...". Very clever. It seems they're hoping this is a blip so they won't have to read those big reports containing complicated things like evidence.

But how long can this soft-shoe shuffle, the refusal to accept some stark truths about drugs, carry on if drug use keeps rising? Probably forever. When cocaine use was rising in the early 2000s, the only policy change for Blair was to get chummy with Britpop, Britart and Cool Britannia: the cocaine trade's biggest customers.

Nancy Lee, who died after prolonged ketamine abuse at the age of 23

​In March, ​a 23-year-old woman named Nancy Lee died at her mum's home in Brighton after five years' intensive ketamine abuse. An investigation into the circumstances around her death revealed a hidden world of heavy end ketamine use that is so different from its usual reputation as a wacky post-club hallucinogen for intellectuals.

In cities like Brighton and Bristol, teenagers are taking so much K that their internal organs are collapsing. A rising number have been forced into bladder-stretching operations and removals, while others have been driven to suicide. This year official figures revealed that ketamine was the fastest rising drug in the UK.

Although 2014 witnessed a big K drought (sparked by a new law clamping down on suppliers in India), offering people who'd been snorting ten grams a day the chance to sort themselves out bit, undoubtedly supply will return.

​When Stephen Fry went on the promo rounds for his new autobiography, the hook was that he had snorted lines in Buckingham Palace, the House of Commons and in virtually every private members club in the country. Which is fine. But when he was questioned about it he said it was OK because his coke taking did not harm anyone apart from himself – which was a dumb thing for such a clever man to say.

He was fried alive in the media. Did he not know that the drug trade leaves a bloody trail from Dalston to Bogota, said some commentators, although I think blaming him for the horrors of a prohibition-fuelled global drug trade is a bit naïve.

But as Fry, those two spliff-smoking One Direction lads, and the X Factor ketamine face bloke found out, in the UK, if you are caught taking drugs or admit taking drugs, you will be reviled. The reason this doesn't really happen in America, where Miley Cyrus and Rihanna are always going on about drugs, is that over there no one pays that much attention to the Mail when it starts moaning about it being a bad influence on young people while shoving the offending pot smoking images right in the faces of... young people.

In America, one of TV's favourite father figures, Bill Cosby, stands accused of doping and raping young women who trusted him, because he was one of TV's favourite father figures. Intoxicants have always been tools of persuasion, intimidation and sex exploitation. This year, the Cosby allegations aside, we got a grim reminder of that on the streets of Britain.

In November, two gangs of Somali men were convicted of the systematic exploitation and rape of vulnerable teenage girls as young as 13 in Bristol. Some of the men groomed the girls by pretending they were their boyfriends and giving them free khat and skunk. They turned one of the girl's flats into a crack house. Soon, the victims were required to perform sex acts in order to receive the money, drugs, alcohol and gifts they had been bombarded with before.

The Bristol case arrived on the back of an investigation into a paedophile ring said to include MPs and celebrities, who'd meet at drug-fuelled sex parties in Westminster during the 80s. Then, in August, a report was published into widespread child sexual exploitation of over 1,000 girls in Rotherham, south Yorkshire.

The investigation revealed a familiar modus operandi to many of the grooming cases that have come to light in the last few years: drugs are utilised to control isolated young girls, many pf whom had been taken into care because of traumatic childhoods. This year it dawned on us that all the time we were worrying about the overblown scare story of drinks being spiked with Rohypnol or GHB in pubs and bars, easier targets were being picked off at will in the back streets.

​This year saw a rise in violence, health emergencies and even lockdowns in prisons – because of inmates' new obsession with synthetic cannabinoids. Drugs like Black Mamba and Spice, as illegal on the inside as they are on the outside, have taken over the heroin substitute Subutex as the drug of choice for a rising percentage of Britain's 80,000 prisoners. This is because – unlike other illegal drugs – it does not come up in prison drug tests. It's also dirt cheap for family and friends to buy on the streets. But unlike the usual drugs, such as the heroin and cannabis that inmates have been managing to smuggle into prisons via French kissing, corrupt screws or getting it thrown over the wall inside dead pigeons, chemabis is far from soporific. It's unpredictable, potent and addictive.

The drug, as the Chief Inspector of Prisons has found during virtually every jail visited this year, has been responsible for heating up the notoriously combustible prison drug market and scores of inmates have been badly injured as gangs struggle to dominate the market. On top of this chaos, which has caused one prison in the Midlands to be on lockdown for some months now, some prisoners have been physically and mentally collapsing as a result of caning these nasty concoctions, created in China by spraying rancid research chemicals on bits of grubby foliage.


More from VICE:

​What We Learned About London in 2014

​Narcomania: Max Daly's VICE Drugs Column

​The Worst Types of People I Met While Working in a Crap Pub

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