Long time no post

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.

Rave safe,


Podcast Heaven with Social Science Bites: Discussing Dance Culture

As many of you will know (cue groan!), I am a huge fan of all things BBC Radio Four, particularly The Archers Omnibus which brightens up my world every Sunday!

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.

Stay safe


News: Europe Launches UK Web Survey on Drugs

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.

In this positive spirit, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) today launches a new web survey for the UK.

The European Web Survey on Drugs: The United Kingdom

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.


Sociology Lancaster

Researching ‘Futures’ in the Past

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!



Versions of the Future PhD thesis

NPS: The malevolent genie out of the global drug prohibition bottle

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.

Stay safe,



 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.

Benzo analogues: Should we be worried?

Happy New Year to all readers of Club Research!

So, a new year, and a return for me to the academic world after a long and difficult period of illness. I recovered only with the unwavering support of friends, family, Lancaster University’s Department of Sociology colleagues and fantastic NHS services and charities in Manchester, UK.

Over the coming year I will be undertaking my usual work on my ongoing research interests of clubbing and club drug use, including a project on post-rave club culture afterparties, about which I gave a talk at the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Law, University of Manchester.

However, alongside the usual fun and frolics, I am doing something a little different this year, by looking specifically at one ‘family’ of prescription medicines – namely benzodiazapines – and their research chemical equivalents, or what we might call ‘blag benzos’.

Sadly, these benzo analogues remain easily available online, and we have seen a recent increase in deaths related to their use: Benzodiazapine-related deaths rise in the UK

I am currently setting up a self-help group with ADS Manchester and writing a grant bid to fund a mixed methods research project on ‘blag benzo’ use and the challenges posed for drug services with support from Lancashire County Council and Lancaster University, so please watch this space 🙂

Best wishes for 2016 one and all xxx

Conservatives on Drugs: Business as Usual

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,


“Old School” Harm Reduction for a New Era of Dance Music Clubbing

“Old School” Harm Reduction for a New Era of Dance Music Clubbing: Drinking water in the night-time economy

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

Karenza x

Drugs and Dance Music Culture

Drugs and drug use are an integral aspect of electronic dance music culture which has flourished worldwide over the last 25 years. For millions of people across the globe, the consumption of dance music also entails the consumption of psychoactive substances, some legal as with alcohol, some only recently or yet to be criminalised as with ‘novel psychoactive substances’, and some strictly prohibited as with MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly).

International research on drug use prevalence and use patterns and trends consistently identifies dance music club-goers as having the highest rates of any drug use amongst their peers. Drug use patterns and practices (including abstention) have been shown to differ according to regional and demographic variables, dance music genre, and venue/event type. Particular drugs and patterns of drug use are ‘differentially normalised’ across dance music culture scenes, with what is deemed ‘acceptable’ use spatially and temporarily organised. Drug use associated with dance music culture is typically but not always restricted to weekends or other ‘time-out occasions’, with ‘the clubbing holiday’ and dance music festivals recognised as key times/spaces for prolonged use of intoxicants.

As dance music culture has changed over the decades, so to have related drug ‘fashions’. The classic ‘dance drug’ ‘ecstasy’ – the street name for MDMA – remains synonymous with dance music culture, although ‘amphetamine-type substances’ (ATS), depressants, and hallucinogens are also used. Ravers or ‘clubbers’ have broadened their ‘polydrug’ repertoires to include ‘club drugs’ such as ketamine, GHB/GBL and most recently, ‘novel psychoactive substances’. To offer an example of the latter trend, for a brief period in the UK the stimulant mephedrone featured heavily in dance music clubbers’ drug repertoires, only to all but disappear in the wake of its criminalisation in April 2010. Most recently in the UK concerns have arisen around ‘contaminated’ ecstasy pills containing PMA/PMMA which can be dangerous to clubbers’ health, with charities and user group movements being at the forefront of campaigns to keep clubbers safe.

In the meantime, as ecstasy pill purity levels surge and MDMA in powder or crystal form (‘MD’ or in the US, ‘Mandy’) is once again perceived as “cool” by some young adults, the ‘persistence of ecstasy’ continues, just as all music and drug relations constantly ebb and flow. Indeed, the histories of drugs such as LSD, ecstasy and ketamine are intimately intertwined with the global phenomenon of dance music culture in all its myriad of localised forms.

Work from within some Public Health traditions emphasises potential risks and harms of alcohol/drug use in dance music spaces and focuses on reducing these ‘dangers’ (i.e. the club health model) where better information and education is understood as key. Club Health – a well established ‘sub-discipline’ – is situated within interdisciplinary research on the night time economy (NTE), with dance music spaces located in a broader concern with interpersonal violence, criminalisation, stigmatisation and surveillance, particularly of leisure spaces frequented by clubbers, with ID scans and sniffer dogs a familiar sight for many dance music fans.

Ethnographic methods have also been deployed to explore crime, deviance and trangression in the NTE, highlighting the pivotal role that alcohol, drug use and drug-distribution play in sustaining the dance music ‘industry’. In this body of work, power and the production of ‘evidence’ from an often limited pool of professional ‘expertise’ is considered. Dance music scholars have also drawn on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and others to examine in detail the processes and practices of formal/informal control, self-regulation and socioeconomic, cultural and chemical inclusion/exclusion apparent in dance music culture.

Within electronic dance music culture research we have increasingly come to understand drug use as an aspect of capitalist consumer societies where for example, commodifed “rave experiences” are sold to young adults invited to enjoy a “controlled loss of control” in regulated spaces. Whilst some make considerable commercial gains from such dance music events, those caught up in regulatory and criminal responses to alcohol and drug use pay a heavy price for their ‘commitment’ to a dance music scene, leading some writers to suggest that our prohibitionist regime amounts to the criminalisation of a cultural form. On occasion the pleasure of engagement with dance ‘brands’ and what are opaquely framed as ‘base’ desires, the seemingly nihilist intent to become extremely intoxicated for example, have been dismissed as meaningless hedonism pertaining to dance music cultures’ in/authenticity. This belies society’s ambivalent relationship towards drugs and their role in the production of any cultural form, from art to literature to music to dance. This ambivalence – fascination within and repugnance towards – any drug users in these cultural spheres is most viscerally felt in relation to those ‘made visible’ and rendered ‘immobile’ through demonisation but also reification (the club drug death ‘victim’).

Some club drug users are profoundly engaged with perceived established social norms and values, with research highlighting how dance music are far from apolitical, with drug policy change for example the concern of many dance music culture participants. It is also worth considering fashion and body politics when exploring dance music cultures’ enduring and complex relationship with drugs. Smiley symbolism and outward displays of ‘dubious behaviours’ – clutching a water bottle, drinking ‘to excess’ – sit uncomfortably with the ethos or aims of some dance music cultures, whilst ‘commercialised’ spaces may resent the ‘outlaw’ status their customers’ drug use endows them with. Of course many dance clubs and dance event promoters and owners have to take the expected ‘zero tolerance’ stance towards their customers in order to remain a going concern.

In mainstream media portrayals of dance music culture, drug-taking is largely framed as wholly irresponsible in the face of perceived ‘risks’, most definitely illegal given global prohibition regimes, and most probably ‘immoral’. Here drugs are positioned as malevolent ‘agents’ and their users, often through historically resonant racialised and classed figures of the “dope fiend”, “evil E pusher” or the “binge drinker”, are positioned as the ‘Other’, even “the enemy within”. Drug taking is at times understood as a contested ‘problematic’ undertaking which disrupts, somehow ‘spoils’ or even has the potential to ‘ruin’ a dance music scene; the advent of ketamine in the free party circuit and the North of England after-party scene in the mid to late 2000s being two examples.

Drugs occupy an ambivalent position in dance music culture. It is perhaps unsurprising then that many pivotal texts on dance music cultures remain relatively silent on drugs. This brings us to those “brave few” who have approached drugs in dance music cultures as but one, albeit crucial, aspect of participants’ complex nuanced engagement with dance music culture, with for example drug use being explored in the context of intense encounters with those also committed to a scene. Postgraduate and early-career stage researchers have undertaken fascinating single or multi-sited ethnographies of dance music cultures in order to capture how mobile music consumer subjects circulate the global flows of dance music happenings (see for example Dr Bina Bhardwa’s emergent work using mobile methods), and how they are in turn implicated in the global production and consumption of drugs. Here drugs and drug use are positioned as crucial to a scene’s ‘vibe’, vitality and endurance.

We have also seen increasingly recourse to understanding how drugs as ‘technologies’ or as ‘mediatory agents’ shape and are shaped by the embodied emotional experiences of participants in dance music culture. These experiences can for some be profoundly “life-changing”, for others less so. Indeed it is the potentialities of dance music culture as being both subject to, and an agent of, social change that often engages us. Dance music scholarship has for example mapped improvements in health and wellbeing through participation in post-rave club culture; enjoyment in the expression of musical affiliation through situated identity work; and continuity and change in the re/making of ‘alternative’ spaces for dance music collectives. Open access academic journals such as Dancecult have showcased work to better understand multisensory electronic dance floors and to value electronic dance music as a cultural form. The disruption of the concept of ‘drugs’ through work deploying and critiquing Actor Network Theory (ANT) has also opened up another critical space for those studying drugs and dance music cultures, with Contemporary Drug Problems publicising and publishing pioneering work on this approach.

It really is an exciting time for club and club drug researchers, with a growing recognition that dance music cultures are here to stay, and are in fact going from strength to strength (the recent explosion of Deep House in the UK is but one example!!). As the next generation of researchers immerses themselves in mapping and debating the global phenomenon of drugs and dance music cultures, I feel excited and indeed thankful as I am sure we can look forward to more fascinating and illuminating studies from dedicated people for whom dance music really matters.



Most drug-takers are ‘recreational’ users who will come to little or no harm, and who will not become dependent. Shocking but true!

Paul Hayes is Honorary Professor London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. As CEO of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, he was responsible to ministers and parliament for the funding and delivery of treatment for drug addiction in England between 2001/13. He currently chairs the Northern Inclusion Consortium, a collaboration between five third sector organisations providing integrated responses to social and economic exclusion.

In this article from the Conversation, and following in the footsteps of great drug researchers such as Dr Russell Newcombe, who has also pointed out over the years the ‘recreational’/’problematic’ ratio, Paul details how we need to rethink our drug policies in line with the simple fact that most users do not experience problems.

Read Paul’s short article here


Karenza x