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I can’t believe it’s not cocaine

Legal highs may be more dangerous than the hard stuff, writes Isabelle Comber.

With the mid-semester break drawing ever closer, one usually figures that the time to party is nigh. And, let’s be real about this, with nigh often comes high.

As it was, I found myself at my favourite house music dungeon a few days before class started. All around me were the regular party-folk, imbibing and, subsequently, vibe-ing. Next to the DJ booth, my friend passed me a little bottle, no bigger than your regular lip balm.

“Sniff that shit!” she eloquently yelled.

The bass was pumping, I had already bid my dignity adieu many moons before – the time was right. Breathing in deeply, I was thrown into a brief but sweaty high. The blue disco ball lights and clangy bass claps beautifully amalgamated, and before I could think of any more wanky descriptive phrases, the high was over.

Promptly nipple crippling the 18-year-old owner of the bottle – as you do – I settled in for the night. This shit was good, felt unthreatening, and seemed relatively cop-proof. But was it?

I was sniffing a variation of amyl nitrate, or simply ‘amyl’ – a substance that is sold legally in sex shops and selective pharmacies. Sniffing it incites a ‘depressant’ effect, slowing the nervous system and causing the user to feel sedated. It can also significantly loosen the vaginal and anal sphincter muscles (for those not using it for sexual purposes, it can also solicit the largest poo of your life – helllllo boys).

Although usually under the bracket of ‘inhalants’, substances such as amyl also loosely (pardon the pun) fit into the bracket of ‘new psychoactive substances’ or NPS. NPS can include anything from synthetic weed and inhalants to substances that closely mimic cocaine and ecstasy. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction currently monitor more than 280 types of NPS in global distribution. With each substance working differently within legal lists of ingredients or constantly adapting to the banned list of ingredients within its distributed countries, we have fuck all idea what their effects are, but we can sure as hell enjoy their accessibility.

Often seen as a gateway to heavier drugs and posing zero criminal risk, NPS have masses of appeal to up-and-coming munters. The Australian Drug Foundation this year found that one in five children aged 12-17 will have used inhalants and 3.8 per cent of the population have been found to engage with the substance at least one or more times in their life.

Any kind of inhaled NPS can cause ‘Sudden Sniffing Death’, in which the sniffer can suffer from immediate heart failure. On a less serious level, NPS can cause nausea, asphyxia, hypotension and an irregular heartbeat, as well as affecting brain function. I can only assume I could be doing a Bachelor of MECO/Law if it weren’t for that shit. But at least I’m not in the grave. Last week, a report from the Centre for Social Justice in the UK forecasted that deaths related to legal highs would overtake deaths from heroin by 2016. With 400 legal-high related deaths estimated for that year, larger UK music festivals such as Glastonbury have banned the drugs in an effort to curb mortality rates. Even then, distributors and dealers are criminally untouchable.

The irony in all of this is that health-wise, it’s plausibly safer to go out on the weekend and take your run-of-the-mill pinger or snort ye olde cocaine. The original risks still apply, but at least if you find yourself in the emergency room authorities will know the protocol for your treatment.

Is it possible that a drug-paranoid government could run citizens into fatal experimenting with legal highs? With an industry that is quietly and legally thriving, it’s quite possible we could be left feeling very, very low.

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