Thursday, 21 February 2013

All things hallucinogen ... What to do?

Late last year a 15 year old young man from NSW's Central Coast was found dead after allegedly using LSD. As yet no toxicology results have been released but at the time the death was widely reported as an 'LSD overdose'. If that ends up being the case it will be highly unusual - those deaths that have been linked to LSD are usually classed as 'misadventure' and involve the user being involved in accidents, falls or car crashes whilst under the effect of the drug.

Regardless of what caused the death the incident highlights a growing issue that I have been observing over the past couple of years amongst high school students - the growing use of hallucinogens. Drug use tends to go in 'cycles' - particular drugs go in and out of favour over time - we certainly went through a stimulant cycle in the late 1980s and early 90s, with the ecstasy culture growing rapidly. We then moved into the 'heroin years' in the latter half of the 90s. What I am seeing now is a growing interest, particularly by secondary school students, in anything hallucinogenic - LSD, mushrooms, datura and even DMT.

There are a number of things that appear to attract them to these drugs - they are comparatively cheap, they are seen as value for money (i.e., you get 'more bang for your buck'), they can't be detected by sniffer dogs and most importantly they are not perceived as harmful when compared to other substances.

To illustrate this point, here is an email I received from a Year 11 student last week:

"Could you give me some more information on LSD and mushrooms please? My friends and I have been using them for the past year and it wasn't until you gave us your talk this year that I realised that I don't know anything about what I've been taking. I've never had a bad experience on them but some of my friends have and we've had to look after some who've had bad trips (usually when they've taken mushies and acid together, or been drinking beforehand). I've tried pills but sometimes they don't work - acid always has an effect ..."

Information is power. Currently many young people who use drugs like LSD and 'magic mushrooms' have little, if any, quality information about the substances they are taking. Some certainly rely on the Internet (not always the best place for quality information), but many others don't even bother to do that, leaving them to sort through the messages they pick up from other young people that are inaccurate at best, and, at worst, potentially life threatening.

Are hallucinogens the most dangerous drugs around? Absolutely not. But there are risks involved with the use of any substance, whether it be legal, illegal or prescription, and when we have young people mixing LSD with mushrooms and then throwing alcohol into the mix, the risk of something going wrong increases greatly.

I don't know what the answer is - I'm certainly not suggesting that classroom teachers start providing information sessions on LSD! Most do not have the knowledge necessary to deliver such lessons and certainly wouldn't feel comfortable doing so, but with growing numbers of very young students being exposed to these substances we certainly need to raise awareness of the potential risks. Unfortunately, my fear is that we would just end up with the usual 'scare campaign' that would satisfy governments but would end up 'blowing up' in our faces and cause more harm than good.

Progesterex: Another urban myth

The blog I wrote about the urban myth ‘Strawberry Quik’ has been one of my most popular. A couple of readers have contacted me and asked me if there are other false drug warnings that could be doing the rounds that they should be aware of.

In fact, there are a number of urban myths that often come in the form of an email or Facebook message giving you a warning about some 'terrible new drug trend'. These include stories of ecstasy that contains glass (apparently designed to tear the inside of your stomach wall, thus enabling you to absorb the MDMA quicker), and LSD soaked tattoos (created to ensnare little children into the world of illicit drugs as early as possible).
 
One of the most persistent urban myths deals with a drug called ‘Progesterex’. Here is a version of the email that I first received in 2007 and have since found in my in-box many times over the years:
 
"Please advise your daughters and send to as many people, this is very tragic.
 
A woman at the nightclub Cobar (NSW) on Saturday night was taken by 5 men, who according to hospital and police reports, gang raped her before dumping her. Unable to remember the events of the evening, tests later confirmed the repeat rapes along with traces of Rohypnol in her blood, with Progesterex, which is essentially a small sterilization pill. The drug now being used by rapists at parties to rape and sterilize their victims.
 
Progesterex is available to vets to sterilize large animals.
 
Rumor has it that Progesterex is being used together with Rohypnol, the date rape drug. As with Rohypnol, all they have to do is drop it into the girls drink. The girl can't remember a thing the next morning, of all that had taken place the night before. Progesterex, which dissolves in drinks just as easily, is such that the victim doesn't conceive from the rape and the rapist needn't worry about having a paternity test identifying him months later.
 
The drugs effects are not temporary.They are permanent! Progesterex was designed to sterilize horses. Any female who takes it will never be able to conceive. The bastards can get this drug from anyone who is in vet school or any university. It's that easy, and Progesterex is about to break out big everywhere. Believe it or not, there are even sites on the Internet telling people how to use it.
 
Please COPY this to everyone you know, especially girls. Be careful when you're out, and don't leave your drink unattended. Please make the effort to pass this onto all you know......Guys, please inform all your female friends and relatives. Girls, keep your drinks safe at all times, and men, look after the girls you're with.
 
Please pass this on to all your friends and family... Thank you."
 
There are many versions of this story but they usually involve a young woman being sexually assaulted by an unknown assailant. Unable to remember the events of the evening, tests later reveal traces of Progesterex in her blood. This one even adds the drug Rohypnol to the story, just to add a little more authenticity.
 
According to the email, Progesterex is available to vets to sterilize large animals (usually horse or cows) and will have the same effect if administered to humans. Rumour has it that the Progesterex is being used as a ‘date rape drug’ as it apparently dissolves in drinks easily and as the victim doesn't conceive from the rape, the rapist needn't worry about having a paternity test identifying him months later! The message goes on about how this is happening all over the country and that the effect is permanent. The reader is asked to forward this to everyone they know, particularly young women.
 
It of course is a hoax and the only reason for its existence appears to be to frighten young women. Progesterex doesn't exist! There's no mention of it anywhere in medical or scientific literature. According to the site http://urbanlegends.about.com/, this myth has been in circulation since November 1999. The site also explains that this hoax, similar to the one dealing with ‘Strawberry Quik’, has an urgent, fear-inducing tone; there are no verifiable sources identified; and there is the usual plea to forward the message to everyone one knows.
 
Legitimate drug warnings are incredibly important, however it's equally important to separate fact from fiction. The ‘Progesterex’ scare is baseless, as are so many of the email and Facebook warnings that many of us receive at some time or another. Once again, don't forward anything like this before checking out the facts carefully.