Do you like drugs?

I thought maybe it was just me; that now I am in my early twenties and in college I am more exposed to the drug culture that is most prevalent amongst college students and has always been there. But settling for this assumption, the assumption that this is just the way it is and always has been and I just haven’t been exposed to it up until now, doesn’t satisfy me. It doesn’t dampen the niggling thought that hovers above the surface of my consciousness, the thought that there is a sinisterly dangerous wave of drug culture on the rise.

So I did some investigating; up until 2010 the most reliable research shows that the rise has been an overall one; that is, the rise in drug use in Ireland has been evenly spread among people of a wide range of ages, between 15 and 64. However in more recent years, if you look at 2010/11 to 2014/15 in isolation, the age considered to be young adults, people aged between 15 and 24, has seen the biggest percentage rise in drug use. I also read that a national student survey carried out by in 2014 revealed that UCC students are more likely to have taken illegal drugs than students of UCD and Trinity. What is most frightening about young college students taking these highly dangerous drugs is that, a lot of the time, people don’t know exactly what it is they are taking; they don’t fully understand what these drugs are actually doing to their bodies.

Similar to the way alcohol and fast foods being bad for our health doesn’t stop us from consuming them, drugs being dangerous doesn’t stop people from doing them. As such, as a community in which the majority of us are young adults aged between the ages of 18 and 24, we need to carefully consider a drug policy that focuses on education and safety. UCC Students for Sensible Drug Policy Society are taking initiative in their own way; last year they handed out drug testing kits to students, advocating for smarter, safer use and for decriminalisation. The message seems to be: if you are going to take drugs, do them smart.

You should know exactly what you are taking; you should know exactly where the drug is coming from and trust the source you are getting it from. As well as that you need to understand what the drug is going to do to your body, in particular your brain. It is unlikely you’ll find any one single person in college that doesn’t have at least one friend who has experimented with drugs. Therefore, even if you yourself don’t partake, there is no harm in knowing a bit about the most commonly used drugs. While marijuana is by far the most popular illegal drug, more and more college students are beginning to experiment with hallucinogens, sedatives and stimulants; the most popular being MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) aka Ecstasy, Ketamine which is horse tranquiliser, and Cocaine. What I have here is short and vague and only a very simplistic synopsis of the information out there and you should do a lot more research before you consider experimenting.

Here is the very basics of what you need to know:

You might be peer-assured into believing the naïve assumption that drugs are a relatively harmless bit of fun; you only live once, and you may as well have a laugh and enjoy it while you can, right? I’m sorry, but when did it become only possible to have real fun and a proper young adult experience through partaking in this ever-growing drug culture, and who decided this? ‘Enjoy it while you can?’ Yes, because any minute now you might be sending yourself into cardiac arrest by going for that ‘one more line’, or damaging your brain in some way, quite possibly definitely. This attitude reflects a kind of mental dysfunctionality; how some have come to be desensitised to natural highs from life because of over-reliance on synthetic highs. To be frank, it is not only dangerous to insist on the so-wrongly-called harmlessness of synthetic drugs, it is also just pure and utter stupidity.

Chemicals are not a foreign substance to the brain. Our brains function through the process of natural chemical reactions, by sending out chemical information from one neuron or nerve cell to another. These chemical messaging that take place in the brain control and result in our bodily functions such as generating movement, speaking, thinking, listening, regulating the systems of the body, and so on. When we take drugs, we are interfering with this process, and no matter what way you look at this or no matter how small the dose, this is not a good thing.

MD anyone? Great craic, apparently. What does it do exactly? It effects the brain by increasing the chemical activity and production of three major chemical hormones: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. MDMA enhances the release of these chemical hormones from nerve endings and/or blocks their re-uptake, resulting in increased levels between the neurons at a synapse. The increase in the levels of dopamine in the brain leads to euphoric spike in energy levels, while serotonin is connected to mood. Now, as MD exhausts our brains in the rapid and intense production of both serotonin and dopamine, the come down is not pleasant. Your brain, because it is left depleted, has to reduce its rate of production and uptake of these chemicals in order to replenish its levels. This explains the depressed state in which users are left in for up to several days after taking MD.

Coke. Similar to MDMA, Cocaine wreaks havoc on the brain’s levels of dopamine. Normally, the brain releases dopamine in response to potential rewards, like the smell of good food. It then recycles back into the cell that released it, shutting off the signal between nerve cells; re-uptake like above. Cocaine prevents the re-uptake of dopamine, causing excessive amounts to build up between nerve cells. This influx of dopamine interferes with normal brain communication causes cocaine’s high; extreme happiness, energy and mental alertness. Users may also experience intense paranoia, irritability and hypersensitivity to sound, light and touch. The comedown can feel a lot like the flu; runny nose, feeling generally run down, aches and pains and headaches… as such, the best thing you can do is get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, replenish your body with nutritious food and naturally, do not take cocaine again, ideally at all, but at the very least not any time soon.

Ket-outta here. Are you serious like? Horse tranquilliser? Honestly already rolling my eyes at whatever random ass substance it is that pops its head round into popularity next. As an anaesthetising drug, ket results in feelings of dizziness and light headedness but can also induce hallucinations. It has been said to result in schizophrenic-like characteristics in its users. Ketamine disinhibits the brain’s circuitry system, essentially putting a sort of brake on the system, which causes the brain to enter into a state of over-excitation in response to a stimulus. The comedown from Ket can include symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, sweating, shaking, increased heart rate, and is just over all a not pleasant experience.

Alex’s Adventure of a Lifetime

In 2016, Nicole Ryan’s brother, Alex, passed away after taking a synthetic drug at a house party in Cork City which he believed to have been a less potent drug, but which turned out to be the lethal N-Bomb. Since, Nicole has set up an organisation called Alex’s Adventure of a Lifetime. Nicole works with students from secondary school level to college level carrying out workshops that aim to teach the young people of Ireland of the dangers of drug misuse. Nicole feels passionately about the need for education and the encouragement of safe use. Recently Nicole launched a harm-reduction card that clearly outlines what to do should anyone find themselves in a situation where someone has pass out after taking a substance. It includes a QR code that can be scanned in a matter of seconds, bringing up a a step-by-step video and what to do to help the person in trouble.

At the end of the day, the safest way to take drugs is simply not to take them. But if you’re going to do it, do it with a bit of education and cop on. If you’re going to do drugs, do so with caution. is a harm reduction guide for safer use of drugs and is a good place to go to get more information and learn more about the drugs you are taking, the effects they could have, how to handle the comedown and what to do when things go wrong.

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