The best drug stories we published in 2023

From the Taliban’s poppy ban to what’s really in your weed vape, Drugs Columnist Simon Doherty shares his, ahem, highs of the past 12 months.

Opioid crisis: how the UK will be affected by the Taliban’s poppy ban

To me, this was the most important drug story of the year. In June we looked at how very dangerous synthetic opioids have found their way into the British drug supply: in heroin, in black market benzos (such as Valium and Xanax), even in THC vapes. It’s already led to an increase in accidental overdoses and experts we spoke to think it’s going to get worse.

Read more here.

Nitrous oxide: what to know about potential changes in the law

We reported on the government’s banning of nos at the beginning of the year when it was just a rumour. We kept returning to the story in the lead up to the ban coming into force (in November) and even went on BBC News to talk about it. Unless the aim was to criminalise young people and increase the potential harms of nos, this was a terrible move – one that shows just how desperate the Tory government is to cling on to power.

Read more here.

What’s really in your weed vape?

THC carts got pretty big this year, but so did dodgy THC carts” containing no active ingredient or worse, drugs that are a lot more dangerous than weed. When we looked at the testing data from drug testing service WEDINOS we saw that carts sold as THC actually contained a dazzling array of bullshit: synthetic opioids, benzos, gabapentinoid, nicotine, 6‑MAM, noscapine, paracetamol, 6‑acetylcodeine, caffeine, codeine – the list goes on. If you haven’t got your cart lab tested, just don’t take it.

Read more here.

Is Gen Z falling out of love with ecstasy?

Drug trends come and go; especially in 2023, when we have an alphabet soup of new chemicals popping up. Towards the end of the year, we sat in a meeting with a bunch of academics, some from The National Institute for Health Research, who showed us their work looking into Gen‑Z drug use. We’ve seen an increase in young people’s drug use, particularly cannabis, nos and powder cocaine,” they said.​“It is set against a background of a long-term decline in alcohol, tobacco and, more recently, ecstasy [MDMA crystals or pills].”

Read more here.

Manchester has a problem with its party drugs

Manchester, a city known for a decent drug supply given its close proximity to the drug dealing powerhouse that is Liverpool, has seen a recent decline in the quality of their drugs. We spoke to a Manc drug dealer, drug users in the area and Sacha Lord, co-founder of The Warehouse Project and Parklife festival, and the Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester. He wants to see more drug testing at music events allowed, something that the Tories have opposed this year.

Read more here.

Steroids are on the rise in the UK, but nobody’s talking about it

The increasing use of steroids is almost a hidden drug trend, and one that is massively on the rise in the UK. Dr William Shanahan, clinical director of addictions at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital, told us that 10 years ago an estimated 50,000 people used performance-enhancing drugs (such as steroids) in the UK. That figure is now thought to be half a million, with its most common users between the ages of 20 and 24.

Read more here.

The dark side of the psychedelic renaissance

As the psychedelic renaissance” continues to edge towards the mainstream, it’s become obvious that this class of drugs will revolutionise the way society deals with certain mental disorders. But we still have to acknowledge that, as with any drug use, there are a minority of people that suffer negative side effects after taking part in psychedelic-assisted therapy. People should be aware of the dangers as well as the potential benefits.

Read more here.

Did a dose of LSD spawn some of cinema’s greatest films?

The link between psychedelics and creativity continued to fascinate me this year. According to a recent study, Federico Fellini, one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century, attributes much of his success to a single dose of LSD he took in the summer of 1964. We interviewed the researcher who investigated how that experience transformed the way Fellini used colour in his films.

Read more here.

Who is the Met police officer who ​“smoked cannabis before work”?

This story did a really good job of exposing the on-going War On Drugs for what it is: a complete and utter farce. Metropolitan Police commander Julian Bennett was in charge of writing the force’s drug’s strategy. He was also responsible for disciplining officers who were, for instance, accused of taking drugs. And yet according to an investigation by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards which resulted in his dismissal, he was getting stoned himself. Everyday. Before work. He was also accused of taking LSD at a party. Oh, and magic mushrooms on holiday.

Read more here.

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