Headlines that scream “The truth about young people and drugs…” can sometimes elicit an apathetic reader response. Everyone knows students take drugs; and everyone who didn’t try drugs at university or school knows someone who did. Drug addiction is serious, damaging and often fatal. But many students exist in a bubble of invincibility, leaving their party days behind them once they’ve embarked on professional careers.
However, a Guardian poll this month revealed a fifth of young drug users admit to taking “mystery white powders” without any idea what they contain. The survey has considerable reach having interviewed 15,500 young people aged 18-25 in the UK and US, which makes the findings all the more shocking. It also found that more respondents admitted to taking cannabis than either tobacco or energy drinks.
Toxicologist John Ramsey said: “It is amazing that so many people take mystery white powders. The truth is nobody knows what the risks are and it is patently dangerous to take untested drugs.” Cocaine dealers, for example, use cutting agents like legal dental anaesthetic imported from China to mimic the effects of the drug while allowing them to turn more profit. But cocaine is cut with all manner of dangerous chemicals making the purity of most street-bought cocaine largely unknown.
But more worryingly, there is a staggering permeation of drugs into the normal working lives of young people. This group self reports as being happy, educated and healthy. “They feel at ease with their recreational consumption of a range of illicit substances from cannabis to ecstasy to cocaine,” the Guardian reported. “They are not in rehab, prison or in trouble with the law and do not take heroin or crack.” Similarly, drugs like Ritalin (used to treat ADHD) are used by students in growing numbers to improve concentration and focus at university – particularly when cramming for exams. Modafinil, used to treat narcoleptics, is said to be popular among jet-lagged academics. Like all drugs they can lead to dependency, says the charity DrugScope. Initially taking something like Ritalin gives the user a rush of energy and focus which can wear off with increased use and leave them wanting more. But it is the common acceptance of these drugs – both of which can be bought on the internet – which is the key concern.
While some academics say the drugs can bring benefits to a healthy adult, they still artificially enhance cognitive function as do street drugs, affecting behaviour, social functions and energy levels. What is worrying is that in a world which has never been more stimulating, why do young people feel they need to take anything at all.