So the pandemic brought lots of online activity around my research. This included a fab chat about undertaking illicit drug research through a Sociological lens, with the fantastic Matthew Wilkin of The Sociology Show.
We would like to invite you to participate in our new Virtual Summer Reading Group, with a focus on ‘utopian and dystopian worlds’ 😊
Our first reading is a short story by E.M Forster called The Machine Stops, first published in the Oxford and Cambridge Review, November 1909. Forster tells the tale of a mother (Vashti) and her son (Kuno) who live in small ‘isolated’ cells on a strange, possibly post-apocalyptic future Earth-world. Their needs – food, shelter, entertainment, even the artificial air they breathe – are provided by The Machine. The Machine is never fully explained, only hinted at. Kuno proves to have a rebellious spirit, venturing out to discover whether life (still) exists outside of The Machine. Will he survive, and what will he find out?
Interested? Try this!
ii) Think: You can use our “Things to think about” suggestions (below) as guidance when you read if you find them helpful. Otherwise ignore.
iii) Chat: Come along to our virtual meet up at 2 o’clock Thursday 16th July 2020 to hear us discuss the reading. You can add your own thoughts (via chat text or verbally) to the discussion. You can also participate in the SRG forum online: https://tinyurl.com/ybvtvcht
Things to think about
We chose this story as it has some uncanny links to our present situation, the Covid crisis 2020. Have a think about some of these questions:
Sign me up
When: Every other Thursday at 2 o’clock starting on Thursday 16th July 2020
Where: https://tinyurl.com/yct7dfum (click on this link, then join us in the Webinar room)
By who: Us! Karenza and Tom will be running this group
For who: You! Any student is welcome
If you have any questions, please email Dr Karenza Moore
This is my first post in two years, and a positive one it is too. Today sees the launch of my co-authored report commissioned by The Beckley Foundation, and written with Hattie Wells and Amanda Feilding.
Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA is an innovative report mapping how a strictly regulated legal market for MDMA products would work for both clinical and recreational use. It draws on decades of scientific evidence to closely details the risks and harms associated with MDMA use in the context of prohibition, whilst setting out the benefits of alternative policies for a safer future.
You can download Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA here
Hope it gives you food for thought.
Given my appreciation of the power of listening, I was honoured to be asked by the great David Edmonds of Philosophy Bites fame to discuss ‘dance culture’ in a booth in the Sage Publications London office one evening last summer.
If you’d like to hear some social scientists talking about their research and teaching passions, please visit Social Science Bites.
If you would like to hear me doing that too, please visit here.
The UK’s relationship with our European neighbours is the topic of increasingly heated debate as Thursday 23rd of June looms. The UK “referendum on Europe” is at times even usurping our enduring preoccupation with the weather.
Whatever the outcome, I am sure we as drug researchers, practitioners and concerned others will continue to find ways to work collaboratively around shared concerns which transgress national borders and boundaries, such as the health and wellbeing of all.
The EMCDDA is developing estimates of the size of drug markets across the European Union based on data provided by National Focal Points, which in the UK is Public Health England. One way of estimating market size is to collect survey data on quantities of substances used by different groups of people who take drugs. The EMCDDA’s European Web Survey on Drugs focuses on seven countries across Europe, namely Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Latvia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Please spread the word, get involved, and make your views and experiences heard.
In honour of the recent establishment of the Institute of Social Futures, Lancaster University, I revisited my PhD thesis: Versions of the Future in Relation to Mobile Technologies, awarded in July 2004!
Twelve years on, it is immense fun to read an ‘old’ future imagined by the young people who participated in my focus groups with much humour and hubris at the beginning of the heady decade that was the 2000s. These youngsters will be hitting their thirties right about now.
They imagined a future where mobile phones had video cameras and (pre-social media as we know it now) ‘life recording’ devices that would capture all one’s memories for posterity.
Far more prescient than I had ever imagined!
I have been reflecting on the debates surrounding the recent passing of a new drug law onto the British statute books which comes into effect from 1st April 2016. This new law, which will act in parallel to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, effectively bans all substances (with the exception of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine) with a ‘psychoactive effect’ on ‘normal brain functioning’. It criminalises possession with intent to supply, with no clear boundaries (as there are not with social dealing of ‘traditional’ street drugs’) as to what will be ‘simple’ possession as opposed to possession with intent to supply. You know my opinion on novel psychoactive substances (NPS), cheap and nasty drugs producing potential acute/chronic harm. But that doesn’t mean I think a blanket ban of ALL psychoactive substances is a good idea, or that it will work any better than our current ‘creaky’ drug ‘control’ system.
Where has this Psychoactive Substances law come from? We need to decipher its emergence if we wish to understand how we have arrived at this slightly ridiculous but also highly problematic situation. It is worth reflecting on the emergence of so called ‘legal highs’, or what are now referred to as ‘novel psychoactive substances’ (NPS) by the scientific community. Drug histories are always useful in understanding drug presents and futures.
In 2009 we first heard talk of ‘mephedrone’ or ‘M-Cat’ in clubs and at afterparties (Measham et al 2010). At that time there was growing user disillusionment with purity of illegal drugs. In the UK in 2009 there was, as one of our interviewees put it, “a dire drug drought” characterised by low purity MDMA tablets (Smith et al 2009). The mean mg of MDMA per ecstasy tablet decreased from 52mg in 2007 to 33mg in 2008. To put this figure in perspective, around 80mg of MDMA is considered to be an ‘active dose’ whilst extremely potent 320mg MDMA pills are now available via the dark web. Moreover from 2007-2009, fake pills containing already banned substance BZP were rife, and cocaine purity had dropped to less than 10% (FSS 2010).
Given this situation, by 2009 dance club-goers were among the first to add mephedrone or ‘M-cat’ to their polydrug repertoires, especially among those in the gay club scene in South London (Measham et al 2011). Those dance drug-takers that could afford it switched from ecstasy pills to ‘purer’ MDMA crystal/powder (Smith et al 2010). Although mephedrone was banned in 2010 by the UK government, its use continues, and many more ‘legal highs’, notably potent ‘herbal smoking mixtures’ and other unknown white powders with stimulant effects, are available in headshops, online, and from street dealers (Measham et al 2011a). NPS are the nasty genie that prohibition let out of the bottle, and one which the UK government, in the passing of this new law, are desperately trying to stuff back inside.
The UK government need to learn one crucial lesson from the emergence of so-called ‘legal highs’. Their emergence is directly related to global prohibition and the war on drugs we have been fighting for over 100 years, some would argue unsuccessfully. Whilst the global prohibition regime may have had some successes in supply reduction, it is less successful by other measures, and crucially extremely unsuccessful in terms of harmful ‘unintended consequences’ of prohibiting psychoactive substances.
So what will the consequences of this new UK law be? It is hard to judge. My hope is that those that wish to take drugs will (re)turn to those we know a lot more about, such as cannabis, MDMA and cocaine. Purity and availability of these ‘traditional’ street drugs have returned to or exceeded pre-2007/2008 levels. At least we know about the effects of these more familiar substances, and can help people mitigate against risks and possible harms. What is clear is that the human desire for intoxication, sometimes at the cost of a person’s health, wealth and even liberty, endures. Without a recognition that demand for psychoactive substances will not go away, banning psychoactive substances will not ‘work’, as, simply put, it hasn’t in the past. Whilst the government pushes through an ill-thought out, clearly politically motivated law, there is little or no provision for resources to enforce it, nor additional resources for drug education, harm reduction, outreach, youth, and alcohol/drug services to help those who have got into trouble with psychoactive substances.
Forensic Science Service. Drugs Update: Drugs Intelligence Unit. Birmingham: Drugs Intelligence Unit. 2010; 50.
Measham, F., Moore, K., Wood, D. and Dargan, P. (2011), The Rise in Legal Highs: Prevalence and patterns in the use of illegal drugs and first and second generation ‘legal highs’ on South London gay dance clubs, Journal of Substance Use, 16(4), pp.263-272.
Measham, F., Moore, K. and Østergaard, J. (2011a), Mephedrone, “Bubble” and unidentified white powders: the contested identities of synthetic “legal highs”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, 11(3), pp.137-146.
Measham, F., Moore, K., Newcombe, R. and Welch, Z. (2010), Tweaking, Bombing, Dabbing and Stockpiling: The emergence of mephedrone and the perversity of prohibition, Drugs and Alcohol Today, 10(1).
Smith, Z, Measham, F and Moore, K. (2009), MDMA Powder, Pills and Crystal: The persistence of ecstasy and the poverty of policy, Drugs and Alcohol Today, 9(1): 13-19.
I doubt that Count the Costs of the War on Drugs will be on our new/old Prime Minister David Cameron’s “things to do next” list.
We have a Conservative majority government to contend with for the next five years. It seems likely they will bring us more of the same in terms of their responses to psychoactive drug-taking. Expect more bans on more ‘new drugs’ and continuing bans on ‘old drugs’ from the Ministry of Banning Stuff.
Rather unfortunately, those novel psychoactive substances (NPS) – or ‘legal highs’ as they are known colloquially – mentioned in this pre-election article from the Guardian have already been replaced by new NPS (come on, keep up!). The internet is awash with unfamiliar chemical compounds for anyone to purchase. It is quite astounding in an ‘oh sh*t, genie out of the bottle’ sort of way.
Some NPS carry some serious acute and chronic side effects. Understandably fatalities related to NPS use (typically taken in tandem with alcohol and other drugs) are the focus of academic research and global media coverage. However, there is little writing, beyond excellent user forums such as Bluelight.org, on potentially life-changing side effects from NPS use, which may include irrevocable damage to nerve tissues (eg. Oral Dysaesthesia or ‘burning mouth syndrome’) and the development of patterns of dependency which ‘mirror’ those of prescribed drugs (eg. benzos). This is all a process of learning for drug researchers, but such learning can take time, and for some, it will already be too late.
As Transform and many other progressive drug policy reformists argue, well established, well researched psychoactive drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, cannabis and heroin must be regulated, licensed and sold with appropriate restrictions (age, location etc), and coupled with world-leading harm reduction interventions. We simply cannot and must not continue ‘business as usual’. The War on Drugs has in part produced this problem (see Measham et al 2010). Using the same tactics to fight a War on NPS is utterly pointless.
I will end with a choice quote from one of my students last term following a class debate about the global drug prohibition system which included a discussion of NPS online:
“If Karenza says those legal drugs are bad, they must be”!
Take care, rave safe,
I have just been perusing the 2015 Revised Guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 (yep, I really am that geeky) and I recalled the fight that dance music clubbers went through (supported by London Drug Policy Forum, Mixmag, etc) to get this valuable harm reduction practice enshrined in law:
Free potable water
10.47 The responsible person (see paragraph 10.41) must ensure that free potable water is provided on request to customers where it is reasonably available on the premises. What is meant by reasonably available is a question of fact; for example, it would not be reasonable to expect free tap water to be available in premises for which the water supply had temporarily been lost because of a broken mains water supply. However, it may be reasonable to expect bottled water to be provided in such circumstances.
With Easter Bank Holiday 2015 shaping up to be a HUGE one on the clubbing calender, we should remember some of the “old school” harm reduction messages.
Sip water, nip outside if you’re getting too hot, and tell someone immediately if you feel ill.
Happy Easter all