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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 campus.ie in 2014 that 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 by handing out testing kits to students this Wednesday, 28th February, in the O’Rahilly Building (Room G20). The message seems to be that, 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:

MD anyone? Great craic, apparently. What does it do exactly? It affects 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 reuptake, 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; reuptake like above. Cocaine prevents the reuptake of dopamine, causing excessive amounts to build up between nerve cells. This influx of dopamine interferes with normal brain communication, which 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 tranquiliser? Honestly already rolling my eyes at whatever random ass substance it is that pops its head round into popularity next. As an anesthetising drug, ket results in feels of dizziness and lightheadedness, 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.

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. www.drugsand.me 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.

If you have a bad reaction to drugs you have taken, please call an ambulance, and please tell the paramedics what you’ve taken. If you have any issues with addiction, or general issues with your drug taking, the HSE Helpline can be contacted by calling 1800 459 459, or by emailing helpline@hse.ie. If you want to know more about drug testing kits, you can contact the UCC Students for Sensible Drug Policy Society by emailing SSDP@UCCSocieties.ie.