Class A drugs are "safer than alcohol" and the risks and dangers involved in taking drugs are no more than "scaremongering", according to students.
Experts have raised concerns at the attitudes students are taking towards illegal substances, particularly the party drug MDMA. Many young people are deeming the Class A drug as posing little risk if "taken in moderation", according to a survey published on Tuesday, with one saying: "By and large experiencing the drugs alleviates much of the fear associated with the unknown."
"MDMA, the whole class A mentality is wrong, if taken correctly and in the right situation it can enhance an experience," one student said. "[It] is only dangerous when people take it too far which is the same for alcohol, binge eating etc."
- UEA student
Another added: "The only way you can have a true and valid opinion on any drug is to test it yourself. Whilst I have never believed that any of the drugs I have taken are harmful, after taking them I can now say that in my opinion they aren't harmful and are rather enjoyable when taken in good measure."
Despite half of students saying they worry about the potential risks of taking illegal drugs, nearly two thirds of students (61%) have taken them, while 53% of these have tried ecstasy, research by student newspaper the Concrete revealed.
The survey questioned 334 students at the University of East Anglia about their drinking habits and drug usage. Out of those, 200 had tried cannabis, 110 MDMA and 59 cocaine. Other drugs students had tried included ketamine, amphetamines, LSD and heroin.
"I find that after trying [drugs] they are nowhere near as bad as the scaremongers tell you they are. It has given me an open mind in terms of what I find acceptable now."
- UEA student
Dr Kostas Agath, medical director for drugs treatment charity Addaction said it is wrong to think there is "such thing as a 'safe' substance".
"Even when we assume that a drug is pure, which it rarely is, users still run the risk of a whole list of problems - from depression to cardiac arrest."
Agath said Addaction did not condone "scaremongering" about the dangers of drugs but wanted people to make informed choices.
"In our experience, even users who feel they know all about a certain drug often don't. There are so many new drugs appearing on the market - often existing substances whose chemical make up has been shifted this way or that - that it's all but impossible to keep track of what they 'do' or how they interact with other substances, such as alcohol.
"By the time the research is finally in, all kind of problems could have been caused," he added. "Just look at mephedrone, which proved to be very addictive even though people saw it as a 'safe' or 'preferable' option when it first appeared'."
"The ones I have taken are safe if used safely, properly in moderation and you know what your taking. Just like alcohol really. It's just stupid people that fuck it up and suffer, which is what the lawmakers and media focus on."
- UEA student
The majority (81%) cited fun and curiosity as the reasons for taking illegal drugs, with nearly 64% saying they had had a "good" experience.
The majority of students who had tried drugs said their attitude had changed as a result. One student said they were "very anti-drugs" but said "[when] I tried them [I] felt they were something, just like drink, that could be fun if taken properly."
Another added: "The prohibition tends to make people believe they are terrible, life ruining substances that aren't good for you. But in moderation they can be enjoyable breaks that don't interfere with your academic obligations. Besides, getting high at home with some friends and eating too many Doritos is nowhere near as dangerous as being blind drunk on Prince of Wales at 4am."
"When I was younger I believed they were illegal for peoples protection, now I realise they are not, and shouldn't be illegal, and some (not all) could be very beneficial in medical treatment and psychotherapy."
- UEA student
A spokesperson for the young person's drugs charity Hope UK told HuffPost UK: “There’s no denying that taking drugs can be a positive experience – otherwise no one would bother. It is also true that using drugs ‘wisely’ can reduce some of the risks. What no one can guarantee, however, is the purity of the drug they are taking - or what their own individual physiological and psychological response might be to that drug or its additives."
"MDMA - I can now see how it could help people get over depression and work as a therapeutic tool through bringing up repressed memories, and it has given me a new appreciation of music. Cannabis - I now understand why many people working creatively swear by it to help them in the creative process."
Hope UK added: "Cannabis has long been associated with the onset of mental health problems in those with a predisposition. Long-term use affects memory and concentration – not the best thing for university students.
"Ecstasy and other stimulants can cause panic attacks, confusion and anxiety. A university education is expensive these days and it’s hard to understand why students would risk their ability to learn by taking unnecessary risks with their mental and physical wellbeing.”
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