Legal highs give a snapshot of drug decriminalisation. And it's not all that pretty

University students of the class of 2011 were privy to the rise of mephedrone

Share

I am about to break a rule of thumb. Along with my dreams (spooky), my favourite supermarket (Waitrose) and my going bald (yuck!), I promised myself I wouldn’t resort to regaling strangers with tales of “my university days” and “the drugs we did” in this column. So I’m sorry.

But it seems relevant today. Last week it was announced that the UK has the largest market for legal highs in the EU; nearly 700,000 Britons aged 16-24 have experimented (in their bloodstream) with one form or another. It’s a common line, repeated with varying levels of menace, but the new synthetically produced legal highs – like the just-banned N-Bomb – bear roughly the same relationship to vintage predecessors –herbs like Salvia – as a bungee jump does to a mild bout of trampolining.

For six months, my time at university crossed over with the arrival of mephedrone, a legal MDMA substitute. Things got zanier in a number of ways. But what was most noteworthy, if we’re being sociological, was the almost total disappearance of any taboo over drug-taking. The fact that mephedrone looked quite a lot like cocaine, and seemed to produce a similar effect (down to the facial calisthenics), didn’t appear to put a whole lot of people off. Instead, an entire cross-section of university life – bookish types, jocks, David Guetta fans – could suddenly be found of an early AM having similarly inane conversations about how much they just adored poetry, each other, or David Guetta.

Other people will no doubt remember things differently. But thinking back on it, these six months - before the drug was banned – rattled my identikit liberal mindset.

For one, I did a double-take on legalisation. While tabloid coverage of the mephedrone craze focused mainly on the risk of death, the less extreme side of the story – that people who wouldn’t have touched illicit chemicals began hoovering up legal ones with gusto – went largely unreported. (In Bristol, the drug was so mainstream a tall man wearing a large cardboard sign saying “mephedrone dealer” wandered into local folklore).

It’s true that the hothouse lifestyle of university campuses is hardly the wisest place to conduct experiments with legalisation. Nor is it the most representative.  Nonetheless, after the radical unwiring of one or two people I care about, and the widespread normalisation of drug culture, I’d be wary of any attempt to decriminalise our current crop of so-called ‘psychoactive substances’.

The “war on drugs” has failed, and cataclysmically. Perhaps legalisation remains the best solution for society as a whole – but, at least through my anecdotal periscope, it won’t result in nirvana. British people like to boogie, and aren’t too good at stopping.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For once, Kerry Katona had the right idea

Dom Joly
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick