A primer in harm reduction:
As a society, we tell our kids from a pretty young age that drugs are dangerous. In school we give them the dry clinical facts about the harmful effects of each of the drugs; alcohol, cannabis and other illicit drugs. This information is useful but it ignores the reality that many kids will eventually drink or use other drugs. Our society is schizophrenic – it preaches against drugs but glorifies drug use in popular culture. Teenagers and young adults are prone to both peer pressure and risky behavior. I’ve always maintained therefore that it’s even more useful to give them practical harm reduction knowledge.
I’m a lucky dad, so far my kids (a young adult and a high schooler) have shown very little interest in “partying” of any form. Nevertheless, since they were young teenagers I’ve given them “the talk” periodically, saying “if you are going to do it, here’s what to do avoid major harm”. These are some of the points I stress to them:
- All drugs are dangerous: Yes, some drugs are undoubtably more dangerous than others (heroin, meth, cocaine, alcohol, etc. ) but all drugs are dangerous if abused and/or taken in the wrong setting.
- Do not ever mix drugs. Period. There is no way to do this safely. The danger of overdose or accidently causing fatal injury whilst in a state of impairment is real.
- Some drugs like alcohol, opiates and cocaine/meth can easily and quickly kill you. The danger of overdosing is very real, especially if don’t know what you are doing or are already “impaired” and prone to take too much.
- Avoid parties or gatherings in which the main purpose seems to be getting extremely F’d up as quickly as possible. This is very prevalent amongst young people because of adolescent bravado and, well, they have absolutely no idea what they are doing. You will therefore experience heavy peer pressure to partake in an extremely stupid and dangerous activity. The only sane to do at this sort of gathering is to remain totally sober…but then you’d be babysitting hordes of F’d up morons so, again, avoid.
- Golden rule: if you don’t know how a drug affects you, take a small dose first and wait to see how it affects you. You will be able to tell fairly quickly with alcohol or anything that was smoked. If you ingest a substance (mushrooms, pills, edibles, etc.) it will take much longer than you think for the effects to kick in. Wait; never impatiently take more “because it’s not working”.
- Avoid hard alcohol and spirits and above all, cocktails. Hard pass. It’s very hard for the inexperienced to judge how much alcohol they are ingesting with spirits – and impossible for almost anybody to gauge when drinking cocktails.
- Never drink shots. Ever. See the rules above. They are dangerous, stupid and generally taste like shit.
- Weed is not benign. Sure, if you smoke bud, you can’t overdose per se, but you can get so high you put yourself in dangerous situations. Most modern strains of cannabis are way too strong which means you can still get mega high if you take just one puff “to see how it hits”. If you live in a country with legal cannabis dispensaries you can control, to a large extent, the strain and potency of the weed you are smoking. If you are taking a hit from a random joint being passed around, then obviously you can’t.
- Weed edibles are a different thing as they are metabolized by the liver. The effect is stronger and it’s not unknown to cause psychotic breaks in some. The possibility of taking too much by accident or inexperience and remaining really, really high for up to day is common, which sounds extremely unpleasant. Knowing that, why bother?
- Psychoactive drugs (mushrooms, etc.) should only be used for therapeutic reasons. They are generally non-addictive and the effects are such that almost nobody is running out to do more the next day. Remember that the high will, in most cases, last a long time. Never take theses drugs to “party”. Your state of mind and setting are very important if you do partake. Make sure you are with a sober person whom you trust.
- If you take a too high dose of psychedelics, remember it’s like sky-diving or scuba diving. You have to take responsibility for yourself to ensure a good experience. Lean into it and don’t forget, it will eventually pass.
- It’s well known that drunk or “impaired” driving are obviously very dangerous for the drunk person as well as innocent bystanders. If you know you will partake of any substance, even just a little bit, make arrangements beforehand to ensure that you will not drive or ride in a car whose driver is high/drunk. Make sure that you and your pals are taking taxis or public transportation.
- Another huge, but under-reported, cause of death and injury is something I like to call “dumb shit you do when you’re F’d up”. When more than a little drunk or high, people often make bad decisions that put them in harm’s way, whether it’s hooking up with a very dodgy person, picking fights with the wrong dude or, as happened recently, thinking that dropping acid and doing a backflip on the rail of the upper deck of a concert venue was a good idea. RIP. Know that this could easily be you.
- If you are the sober one, but your friend is wont to do dumb shit while F’d up, do what you can to keep them out of trouble. There is a limit, however, to how much you can or should help. Your F’d-up friend can easily drag you into dangerous situations if you’re not careful. Don’t expose yourself to danger because of another person’s bad decision-making.
- Drugs bought from street dealers: Do I need to state the obvious? You literally do not know what is in them nor the potency. It might contain a deadly overdose of fentanyl, for all you know. In what universe does this sound like a good idea?
- Remember that if you do get high or drunk – you can’t maintain that state for an extended period of time. Your body and mind need equilibrium, and getting nonstop F’d up upsets this balance. If you abuse any drug intensively over a longer period of time you will pay a terrible price when your body and mind inevitably break down. This includes all those trendy “plant medicine” type of drugs. We’re meant to experience reality and live in the moment, not check out completely. Newton’s 3rd law applies here, folks: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Trust me, you do not want to experience the “reaction” to an extended period of substance abuse.