After decades of the “just say no” approach to drug education, it’s bloody hard to find practical harm minimisation info in Australia.
And, if you’ve had a squiz at this article, you’ll know some sound drug advice is sorely needed in our community (no, “just putt it up your butt” is not a good strategy, Stevo).
Fortunately for us, psychologist, ethnopharmacologist and all-around good dude Doctor Stephen Bright isn’t afraid to speak up.
He’s got first-hand experience dealing with pear-shaped punters, and this week he was kind enough to share some of his wisdom with us.
If you or your mates plan on partaking in the forbidden festival fruits, read these safety tips first.
1. Drink water, but not too much water
Everyone knows that keeping hydrated is important, but how much you should have really depends on what you’re doing:
“There’s a fine line. When the UK first started telling people to drink water, people who weren’t dancing were drinking too much water and that was causing hyponatremia, which is an imbalance in the electrolytes which causes you to start experiencing symptoms of dizziness and things like that.
There’s some good recommendations around, if you’re not dancing drink 200mL an hour and if you’re dancing and you’re sweating the water out you might want to be drinking more water. And, more so, if you’re sweating, drink something like Gatorade or Powerade to avoid this problem with the electrolytes.”
2. Start with a quarter of a dose of “MDMA”
This isn’t just a generic “less is more” sort of platitude. When it comes to the Australian situation, Dr Bright has very specific reasons for recommending punters start with a small amount:
“Most of the deaths we see are not from overdosing on MDMA itself but from ingesting NBome and other nasty new drugs. Given that we know there are these batches going around with NBOMe in them, I’d advise people first of all if they are planning on using at a festival to start with a quarter of a dose”. You might feel unwell, but it’s not going to make you too sick and you’ll know straight away it’s not MDMA.”
3. Don’t rack your drugs
Yeah, I know. That song made snorting drugs seem really cool. But racking (or “insufflation” as the educated among us say) is much riskier than eating drugs. Here’s why:
“If people are buying drugs at a festival and they can’t reagent test them and they don’t want to take a quarter, another good harm reduction strategy is swallowing rather than taking it intranasally.
This is because drugs like NBOMe have low bioavailability when taking orally. It’s active at less than a mg, and when they take it up their nose it has high bioavailability. That’s been the difference between people getting sick and going to hospital and people dying.”
4. Don’t shelve it
When asked whether sticking drugs up ya bum is a good idea, this is what the good doctor said:
“Orally would be safer than shelving because when you take it anally it goes straight into the blood but when you take it orally the enzymes in your stomach break it down first.”
5. Have a sober mate who knows what to do.
It can be hard to recognise the signs of distress when everyone is munted, so make sure there’s at least one sober, responsible person in your group. And, if you are that person babysitting your mates, know what to do when things go wrong:
“If they take too much and pass out, don’t leave them there. Get them in a car, get them home, let mum and dad or their housemates know. Or, if you’re not going to do that, at least be monitoring them. Ensure their breathing is OK, if it’s not call an ambulance. You won’t get in trouble for calling an ambulance.”
6. Don’t double drop
We’re so used to getting shitty drugs these days that double dropping just so you can get high has become the norm. Yet, whether your drugs are top-shelf or shit scraped off a shoe, there are very good reasons to go low and slow:
“The harm reduction advice overseas is don’t double drop. It will avoid the potential for MDMA overdose if it is pure (if you’ve tested, which isn’t fool proof, it’s rudimentary at best but still better than nothing), and if you’re taking something at a festival and you don’t know what you’re taking, you must remember that if you double the amount it will double the effect for adulterants.”
7. Don’t be the guinea pig
Evolutionarily speaking, those who hang back while others road test dangerous activities are those who survive:
“Within any group there’s always a guy, we’ll call him Johnny, and he’ll do anything. So, get Johnny to try it first – because he will – and if Johnny turns purple get him to the emergency department. If he is OK after an hour you may want to indulge. There’s a Darwinian factor involved in not being the first to try a drug. The people who have that self interest are going to make it through and breed.”
8. Triangulate your info
If you’re going down the DIY pill testing route, first of all – good on you! Second, you might as well do it right. Use two or more tests to get more information about purity and adulterants:
“The MDMA and the ketamine tests are the best two to use to triangulate the info, so if you use both you’ll get more info than just using one.”
9. Don’t do drugs with strangers
There are so many reasons to avoid taking drugs with/from strangers. You don’t know what they’ll give you. You don’t know how they’ll respond if something goes bad. You could freak out. You could freak them out…. The list goes on. If you want to have the best possible time, the advice is pretty simple:
“Use in a safe and familiar place with people that you know.”
10. Don’t mix and match
Pick and mix at Kmart in 1998 was pretty great (RIP), but when it comes to partying, that exorbitantly priced cup of lollies could kill ya – especially if you’re already on other medications or the drug you’re taking already contains unknown adulterants.
“I don’t recommend polydrug use, including mixing illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol.”
The bottom line
People are going to take drugs regardless of what anyone else says. If you’re one of those people, then, in the words of my grandma: If you can’t be good, be careful!