What I’ve learned in a year of interviewing drug experts

From legal antidepressants being sold on the darkweb to flushing your nose out after a sesh, here are some of the safety tips, warnings and surprises our drug columnist has picked up along the way.

I was toddling along a canal towpath recently when my iPhone pinged: a WhatsApp message from an ex-colleague who was at a music festival in mainland Europe.

Simon!” she wrote. I found this on the floor…”

A picture popped into the chat. It depicted a plastic blue wrap, perched in the palm of her hand with glistening shards of crystals protruding from the top.

What do you think it is?”

If I was a betting man, I thought, I’d say MDMA crystals. But it would be irresponsible to speculate on the contents of untested drugs. So I just warned my friend to be careful taking floor drugs – or any drugs for that matter, as they all provoke various degrees of danger, especially when mixed.

Later that evening, a woman who works in a club was asking me specific questions about drugs, too. I’m not an expert on drugs,” I protested. I just interview the academics who are!” It’s dangerous to pretend you know loads about drugs and even worse to dispense advice yourself instead of through the real experts.

Say it again: I’m no expert. But every week for a year, I have spoken to experts on drugs, alongside dealers and users and anyone else involved. And I’ve learned some fascinating things because this is a topic that encompasses so many subjects – chemistry, biology, sociology, psychology, politics, nightlife, subcultures – which are all individually captivating.

Some of the things I’ve learned have informed my own drug use. I hope my writing has informed other people’s drug use in a positive way, too. Here, then, are a selection of interesting things I’ve learned over the last 12 months. Being careful with floor drugs, though – I knew that already.

Antidepressants are now being sold on the black market

On the dark web, all manner of substances are traded like onions and apples on market stalls. It’s often where you see trends first pop-up, starting on the fringes before edging towards the mainstream. I recently noticed that antidepressants were being sold there, which seems like a nasty side-effect of Tory austerity measures insidiously stripping public services to the bone like a kebab house employee stripping meat. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for less than a quid a tablet? Roll up, roll up…

If you are undiagnosed and suffering from disorders it’s a good option,” one dealer posted. This seems like a Very Bad Idea to me. Potential side-effects of SSRIs can be serious for some and, in the real world, I assume (hope) the doctor prescribing them would be watching the patient’s progress closely. People are turning to underground networks to get healthcare as they can’t access the NHS. A sign of the very bleak times indeed.

Take less drugs if you’re on your period

Research suggests that MDMA produces a stronger response in women (or potentially anyone who has a vulva) than men, even if they’re the same weight. Also, if they’re on their menstrual cycle, the risks can also increase.

Benzos are fucked up

I used to take 10mg of Valium when I got home from a club. It was my crash landing pad after using stimulants. A way to draw a line under the night and avoid staring at my ceiling like it’s a three-hour film rather than sleeping. I’d pop a blue and be as sleepy as Joe Biden after a long walk. I stopped doing this after learning just how dangerous it is.

It turns out that if you get hooked on benzos (which is easy to do as they are highly addictive) then stop taking them without medical supervision, there is a high chance of death. Now there’s the added danger that more and more pills are being mis-sold as benzos when they really have synthetic opioids in. And that could end up killing a lot of people in the UK. After THE FACE reported on this two weeks ago, there were two deaths in Essex, linked to synthetic opioids.

Flush your nose out

If you snort any drugs you should clean your nose out with a saline solution before you go to bed. I recently saw a dealer selling saline solution alongside ket. In fact, I’ve seen a few dark web dealers practising harm reduction in the past year, including one who, while selling opioids, conceded that it carries significant risks including addiction, overdose and even death”. When he puts it like that, I’m surprised he has any customers.

The evolution of drug dealing has entered a new phase

People used to stand on the street corner selling drugs. Charlie?” they’d whisper, breezing past you and sticking to the shadows. This doesn’t happen as much now, apart from at festivals or from dealers selling heroin and crack to highly vulnerable populations. But at some point during the late-1990s, it all went onto the phone. The era of the dial-a-dealer was born.

Over two decades on, we’re seeing another evolution of dealing. It’s rapidly moving to the internet – the dark web, yes, but also the clear net, largely through apps like Telegram and Signal. People even advertise drugs now on social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. And with every evolution of dealing, the drugs seem to become cheaper and more readily available.

But, again, as ever: be careful out there.

Are you struggling with drugs? Click here to see a list of organisations that can help, and click here for information about how the NHS can help. If you think there might be a drug-related emergency, do not hesitate to ring 999 – you will never be in trouble for doing this.

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