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London’s surprisingly open drug scene destigmatises a taboo topic

Almost four years ago I moved to London, filled with excitement of living in one of the most electrifying cities in the world. I was eighteen, just starting university and filled to the brim with naïve hope, innocence and quite honestly, the standard unknowing self-entitlement that comes with just turning eighteen.

I was moving from Barcelona, where the only drugs I had really come across in my teen years were marijuana and alcohol, mainly at house parties. In my mind, my knowledge and experience of drugs was standard. Oh, how I was so wrong.

Within a month of moving to London, I had been introduced to and seen a plethora of drugs: ketamine, cocaine, MDMA… the list carries on. And now, at almost twenty-two years old with my time in London coming to an end, I feel as if I’ve lived here long enough to discuss and comment on London and its drug culture.

To begin, let me just state that I am not against drugs – if anything, I believe they should be less taboo in order to allow the stigma behind them to slowly but surely eradicate. As humans we are naturally curious, therefore the danger and excitement is naturally appealing and exciting to most. Over the past few years, festivals around the UK have put up drug-testing stalls on site, allowing people to come and get their drugs tested for free, choosing to either take the drugs back or hand them over to the stall if the substance is not what they thought it was. Personally, I believe this is a step in the right direction. Rather than guilt and ostracise those who choose drugs as a way to expand their experiences and knowledge, we should be ensuring that they have a safe (and hopefully fun) experience as much as possible.

It was a house party in south London, where I first saw the extremely intimate relationship London and its (younger) residents had with drugs. I turned up with a packet with tobacco, a 17p bottle of diet lemonade from Sainsburys and a bottle of cheap dark rum. I was greeted with tiny bags of different white powders and the second-hand smoke of joints. I had never seen as many drugs in one place in my life. To clarify, I had spent the past four years in Barcelona surrounded by joints and blunts due to the country’s relaxed laws on the substance, meaning it was the one I was most familiar and comfortable with.

I remember asking my friend who I was with at the time, “hey, does everyone here just drink at all?”, feeling my social anxiety start to creep in past the previous rum and lemonades I had downed. “Erm, probably not. No…” My friend shrugged and proceeded to look for glasses for our drinks. I was in shock. Not a single person didn’t do drugs? I couldn’t really wrap my head around it. I had a lot of questions.

One of the most pressing questions was answered without me even consciously realising it until halfway through my second year – and that was the topic of cost. Were these drugs more expensive than a standard night out in London? The answer is, obviously, no. I remember asking people at the time how long their purchases would last for them. The answer spanned from a weekend to a month. And, most of the time, the costs came to far less than that of a night spent drinking in various bars around London. To put it simply; it was cheap. At least, cheaper than drinking on a night out. And, to echo my previous words; it was feeding a hunger called “curiousity”.

I am simply speaking from my own experiences, but I have never felt more aware of drugs in my life than I feel in London. Quite honestly, it’s been fascinating. Drug culture is not only fascinating in terms of human behaviours, but also in its politics. By politics, I’m referring to the controversies and debates that happen between various individuals about what “drug is better or worse for you”, and each individual defending their own substance of choice. Watching two strangers bond over something silly, simply because they’ve chosen to take the same drug, is somewhat extremely insightful. I’ve always wished that human interactions were more honest, and perhaps even more emotional in some way, like the majority of them seem to be when you’re drunk or on drugs. A group of lowered inhibitions creates a more open and relaxed atmosphere, you could even argue.

Ultimately, I have found that London’s drug culture has taught me so much, and not only in the academic sense, but also about human life and interaction. I hope that more open and healthy discussions about drugs and drug culture will happen in the future, ensuring an ongoing mentality of open-mindedness and acceptance, which hopefully leak its way into other taboo topics too.

Photo: D. Sinclair Terrasidius

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Tala Woods

Tala Josephine Woods is a London based freelance writer and poet. She has written for Advertising Week Europe, and her poetry has been published in books as well shared on across poetry accounts on social media. You can find her @talawrites on instagram, or contact her via talawritesalot @ gmail.com for commission based work or enquires.