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In September 2013, The Telegraph featured an article highlighting the proliferation of legal highs in Britain.

It refers to a report from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) which states that Britain is now

the “addicted man of Europe” with some of the highest rates of substance abuse.

Legal highs popular

The report also tells us that one in 12 youngsters in the UK have experimented with legal highs, easily available on the Internet. Britain is also the ‘global hub’ for legal high websites.

Legal highs are not necessarily safe. The CSJ report says that between 2011 and 2012, deaths from legal highs increased from 29 to 52.

Young people from all classes are attracted to legal highs. Their friends tell them these are inexpensive, non-addictive, fun and present no problems with the law.

Furthermore, there is always a new one to try. More than 70 new legal highs went on the market in 2012.

However, the future of the legal high user is not always bright (emphases mine):

In England, 6,486 people were treated in 2011-12 for abusing legal highs, an increase of 39 per cent compared with five years previously. So many new legal highs are now available, it is impossible for researchers to keep up. They range from GBL – an industrial solvent used to clean metals that is technically banned, but easy to buy and has been linked to numerous deaths, – to nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas.

Data compiled by the Home Office on laughing gas showed that it was inhaled by at least 350,000 16-24-year-olds last year.

It is now the second-most popular drug among young people after cannabis and is freely available to buy – including on some of the best-known shopping websites. Doctors warn it can lead to strokes, seizures, even death. Last August, Joe Benett, a 17-year-old public schoolboy, suffered a heart attack and brain damage after taking what he thought was laughing gas at a party with friends. It turned out to be a cocktail of toxic gases, including butane and pentane, used to make polystyrene.

Legal highs have been around forever: glue, petrol and other substances. They are nothing new, however, they always attract new, mostly young, users. This is why the head of the UK’s strategic drugs disruption unit said:

If I told you to go and swallow bleach you wouldn’t do it, but if I told you I had this great new drink …

Kids, as we know, can be tempted to try anything. That is what I keep at the back of my mind when I ask myself why I’m doing this. If a white powder comes online tomorrow advertised as the new whizz bang pop, and no one knows exactly what it is, who knows if that isn’t going to be the next drug that kills our children?

The legal high scene revolves around clubs, parties and music festivals. That isn’t exactly news, either, although those venues are associated with a new phenomenon of mixing legal highs with unknown and unexpected results. Accident & Emergency or the crematorium might end up being the next destination.

GBL / GHB addictive and dangerous

Whilst researching for my posts on ketamine, I ran across this article on the UK edition of Vice. It is an interview with Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, founder of the Club Drug Clinic. It is located at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

The clinic opened in 2011. Bowden-Jones and his colleagues have been so inundated with patients that they have opened up a second, more centrally-located branch in Tottenham Court Road. He thinks the Clinic’s future could well include educating general practitioners (family doctors) on what to look for in patients with legal high problems and how to treat them.

He explains the club drug phenomenon as follows:

What we’ve seen are relatively major reductions in heroin and crack use, and an increase in a new group of drugs called “club drugs” – things like ketamine, MDMA, mephedrone.

… we’re finding that quite a few of these people are beginning to inject their drugs, especially mephedrone and ketamine. So all of the very real dangers that we used to see with heroin injecting, we’re now beginning to see with these newer club drugs.

He also mentions a legal high — GBL or GHB. Before reading about the Club Drug Clinic’s experiences with patients who have taken it, what follows is an explanation of what these two substances are:

GHB, scientifically known as gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, is a depressant drug, commonly coming in the form of a colourless, odorless, salt-like whitish powder which may also be dissolved in liquid.

GHB has an intoxicating effect when used and can be naturally found in small quantities in meat, wine and some citrus fruits.

People selling GHB often claim that it has weight loss effects and promotes body building, but there is no clinical data to back these claims. It has often been used at parties but it is an addictive drug and people can develop a dependence on this.

Scientifically labeled as gamma-butyrolactone, GBL is a type of organic solvent used for various industrial purposes such as cleaning metal and stripping paint.

Usually found in liquid form, GBL is a very different narcotic substance than others because of its shape-shifting abilities it has, as once it is in the body, the liver can change it into the GHB drug.

Of GBL, Bowden-Jones says it is often used before sex and warns that it can lead to a coma:

It gives people a sense of slight euphoria but generally it’s also a sedative. It’s what we called pro-sexual … and it’s usually pipetted, one or two mils, into a drink. There are some real dangers here. The first is that the difference between the recreational dose and the toxic overdose amount is very small. Also, because people measure it in mils, the difference between one or two mils means the difference between getting the effects you want and actually going into a coma. So it’s a very dangerous drug in terms of what we call a “narrow therapeutic range”.

He adds that a user may be up every few hours to take another dose:

The other thing about it is that it’s highly addictive, so we see people setting their alarm clocks at night to wake up and dose themselves, so they dose right through a 24-hour cyclesometimes every hour. And they walk around with little bottles – pipettes in their pockets – to make sure they’re not caught without the G. The reason for that is that, once someone’s dependent, the withdrawal symptoms are really horrendous. They come on very rapidly, they’re very distressing.

And people think this is safer than a glass or two of wine?

He describes the detox process which has to be managed particularly carefully with GBL. He begins by explaining the withdrawal symptoms:

Intense anxiety, agitation, rapidly going into a delirium. One of the things we’ve been doing here is detoxifications for people who get dependent on G, and it’s a really tricky medical detox to do because if it goes wrong people get sick very quickly. It has to be managed very carefully.

He strongly advises not to try detoxing outside of a clinical environment which actually has experience of doing GBL detoxes:

a number of people who’ve been detoxed off G have ended up in intensive care if they’ve not been managed properly, so it’s really important if any services out there are thinking of doing GBL detoxes – or if anyone’s wanting to go and get a GBL detox – that they go and get it from somewhere that does it regularly. It would be a bad idea to go somewhere that’s never done it before.

Not surprisingly, GBL/GHB users are fond of their drug. However, they have occasional questions. One drugs forum, Bluelight, has a thread about what to do if a user overdoses (language alert).

It mentions that certain US states — Illinois, for one — may charge a dead user’s friends with manslaughter. I would like to see a law like that in the UK.

An Australian doctor writing under the pseudonym of drplatypus had the best advice. He works in A&E and sees a fair number of drug-related cases. I’ve sanitised part of his commentary:

Intriguing interpretation of clinical medicine, particularly the assumption that CPR is some form of benign first aid. If you are getting CPR under the age of 75, you are in deep [trouble]

I particularly like the idea about discharge against medical advice. It’s true, as doctors we have nothing better to do with our time than to persuade ungrateful patients to stay against their wishes. You toddle off home, because as consequence of your medical education (oh sorry, that’s right, you don’t have one) you know when it’s best for you to leave hospital… Of course you do… I mean, you’re the one who thinks GHB and it’s precursors are safe…young people continue to die under the influence of GHB and its precursors, contrary to whatever is assumed to be the case by the G using community

Then, there is an entry on Drugs Forum concerning self-detoxing from GBL/GHB. This was also depressing and rather frightening to read. People tinkered with their doses, took other drugs, got the DTs and so on. A long-term user even insists he isn’t addicted to the stuff.

In that thread, a German man posting as Synthacious actually gave the sensible and practical answer, similar to Dr Bowden-Jones’s:

A friend of mine was on GBL, he took about 2ml an hour over a period of 2-3 months. He had previous experience with GBL and withdrawal, but this time he overdid it.

When he wasn’t dosing his GBL for 2 hours, he started shaking, sweating and wasn’t even able to hold a pencil straight and write. Taking less with every dose or leaving more and more time between the doses didn’t work; he tried this several times.

So to finally quit, he went to an hospital, told the doctors everything about his habits and they decided to put him in a detox program. He got Clomethiazol (192mg capsules), 4 times a day with decreasing dose. He was in the clinic for 5 days, the doses went down very fast. He didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms at all, only a bit of sweating in the first night. As i visited him, he was quite happy and had neither psychic nor physical problems. No craving at all. Since then, he is clean of GBL and has no intention to do it again. He is doing an ambulant therapy, where he talks to a doctor every week.

So if you have the possibility and the need of detoxing from GBL in a hospital, I can only tell you to do it this way. He told his boss he had some minor illness and only missed 3 days of work without anyone there knowing what was up (even though he went to work on GBL for several months). He didn’t have to do anything in the hospital, he was just lieing around in bed the whole day.

(FYI: The same detox is used on heavy alcoholics. Clomethiazol is used to keep your body save in this time.)

Legal highs — the devil’s playground and a living hell.

Parents, schools and church groups for teens should make sure children understand the effects of these drugs. Whilst some users can get by with no problems, for others, it might mean a life of misery — or even death.

Yesterday’s post, which highlighted an article from the October 2014 issue of Tatler, reprised a comment from a urologist who said that ketamine ‘works like paint stripper’.

Widespread but not universal

Ketamine became popular in the UK after the Millennium and went nationwide by 2005. With so many more users — most of whom start in their late teens — urologists are seeing some disturbing cases of bladder damage. This started becoming more common as early as 2007.

Erowid tells us that, in that year, ketamine users began seeking medical help for such complaints. Ketamine is popular not only in Western countries but also in Asia. Erowid‘s research on ketamine tells us that a Hong Kong study revealed that the median age of the patient was 22 years. The site emphasises that between 3.6% and 12% might experience lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). Therefore, whilst not everyone will have these problems, no one is certain as to who will have them and when.

Erowid adds that it is unclear why such cases are increasing in number. It is not just the ketamine user who buys locally or on the internet. People whose doctors prescribe a short dose of ketamine for medical reasons — pain relief, depression — have also experienced bladder difficulty. These patients normally recover after they stop taking ketamine.

Case study

in 2011, BJU International, a journal for urologists, featured an article on ketamine’s effect on the bladder. It recaps a 20-year old man’s case and treatment. In his case, kidney and digestive functions and tests were normal. The site also has photos from the scans — instructive and good for adolescents to see.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Cystoscopy under general anaesthesia revealed a small capacity bladder (less than 100mls). The bladder mucosa was friable and appeared to be “tearing” with distension. Due to persistent bleeding and mucosal tearing on distension the procedure had to be abandoned and a bladder biopsy therefore was not performed. The patient was then catheterised and treated conservatively.

Based on the cystoscopic findings a bladder perforation was suspected and a post operative CT scan was performed to confirm the diagnosis. The CT scan showed free fluid and gas in the pelvis. There were locules of gas and extensive haematoma within the bladder suggestive of an extraperitoneal bladder perforation (Figures 1 and 2).

A more detailed history at this point revealed that he has been abusing ketamine intermittently as a recreational party drug (not daily usage). His weekly consumption of ketamine was variable and the patient was unable to quantify the amount used. His haematuria settled with conservative management. The catheter was left in situ for four weeks. At the time of discharge from hospital he was advised to stop ketamine abuse. After cessation of ketamine abuse and catheter removal he reported remarkable improvement in his symptoms. There was no further recurrence of haematuria. One year after discontinuing ketamine abuse he has ongoing frequency which he does not find troublesome.

Once his symptoms resolved a repeat cystoscopy and bladder biopsy under general anaesthesia and a frequency volume chart to assess functional bladder capacity were recommended. However the patient repeatedly failed to respond to our requests to attend urology department for further evaluation. He was subsequently discharged from follow up.

Hospital study of patients prescribed ketamine

A thesis paper by Khurram Shazhad attempts to make sense of ketamine’s effect on the bladder. He was part of a team that conducted a study at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesborough. The study examined tissue from patients who had been prescribed ketamine (‘analgesic ketamine’).

Shazhad concludes (p. 85) that the casual user’s bladder problems may heal by themselves once ketamine use stops.

Patients taking analgesic ketamine may experience problems within weeks or months. One patient who had been prescribed ketamine over a period of three years required surgical intervention. Shazhad’s paper also posits that increased concentration and daily use of ketamine may exacerbate bladder problems.

Symptoms to watch for

A 2013 article from The Mirror reported findings from prominent urologists and other physicians who hoped to persuade the British government to reclassify ketamine from a class C to a class B drug. Home Secretary Theresa May did so in 2014.

The article reveals what the symptoms are and how they are treated:

ACMD member Dr Paul Dargan, consultant physician and clinical toxicologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, is preparing a report for the Home Secretary to be released shortly.

He said: “The main area where there’s significant evidence is around bladder toxicity. There is clear evidence of significant bladder toxicity in those who are regular high dose, dependent ketamine users with potential severe and disabling symptoms.

“Significant pain is often a feature which may lead users to take higher doses of ketamine to treat their pain, and therefore a vicious cycle is developing of pain leading to more ketamine use, leading to more bladder damage, passing blood in the urine, having to go to the toilet frequently and having incontinence.”

He added: “Those who have severe bladder symptoms may require significant and life-changing surgery that can include removing the bladder and ending up with a bag to pass urine into, or diversion of the urine into the bowel. Clearly that’s a significant thing for a user to have to end up with.”

Dr Dargan said users across the age-spectrum are having bladders removed, including people in their “20s, 30s, 40s and 50s”.

A young woman described her urinary tract damage after several years taking ketamine (see last comment). She passed jelly-like tissue and blood clots. Her doctor told her that ketamine was altering the inner tissue of the bladder; the jelly-like substance was the affected tissue. The woman was urinating every 10 minutes. Now, having stopped taking the drug, her bladder has healed. She can hold her urine for five or six hours.

A young man writing anonymously for The Guardian tells us:

After about two years of using ketamine, I was spending more and more time in the toilet, and urinating was beginning to hurt.

I developed a stoop because my penis was always burning. One day, on a train, I had my first cramp attack; I thought my lung had collapsed. I went to a doctor, who told me to stop taking K or I would die, but then an older user told me not to worry, it was “just K cramps“. He said that they wouldn’t kill me, but I might wish that they would. Apparently they could last for days.

I still didn’t stop. The cramps got worse, the blood and mucus began to appear frequently in my urine and I had to pee every 20 minutes. I lied more than I told the truth, particularly to my girlfriend, and I hated myself. I couldn’t stand to be around myself and wanted to cause myself harm. K worked on both fronts.

Graphic photos of ketamine-related bladder treatment

In 2013, the BBC aired an anti-drug programme called Old Before My Time.

One of the addicts featured, Chris from Hampshire, had to have bladder surgery and a catheter put in place. He was only 23 by the time this happened. He began smoking dope when he was 12 and moved to ketamine in his mid-teens.

By the time he was 17, he had problems urinating. He ended up with the bladder of an 80-year old and required drastic surgery.

Any youngster who thinks ketamine won’t harm them really needs to see the Daily Mail‘s pictures of what Chris looks like today and the ongoing treatment he needs to undertake.

The Mail describes — with the aid of documentary stills — what he has to do for the rest of his life:

Although he has a new bladder, he is by no means free of health problems.

Every two weeks he must insert a catheter – a thin, flexible tube – into his belly button and syringe out mucus sitting in his bladder.

Viewers see the stomach-turning moment where the mucus fills the syringe attached to the tube in his stomach – a far cry from the hard core raver he once was just a few years ago …

A normal bladder can hold up to 500ml – but Chris’ could hold just 5ml.

Normally, the bladder wall expands when filled with urine and contracts when emptied.

But extreme ketamine use can cause stiffness and scarring in the bladder walls which means it can only expand to a tenth of its normal size.

To avoid a lifetime of incontinence, Chris had two options. He could have a bag attached to his hip – or have his bladder removed totally and a new one made from his bowel – surgery typical in someone 60 or 70 years of age.

He went for the latter – but must now syringe mucus out of his bladder for every two weeks of his life.

His days of playing rugby are over and he is at risk of dangerous kidney infections.

His new bladder won’t forever, either – he will need it replacing again in 20-30 years.

It’s nothing short of tragic.

Memory loss

The Mail article also looked at Dave’s case, featured in the BBC documentary.

Extensive ketamine use has left Dave with a form of dementia more common to elderly people.

Ketamine blocks certain brain receptors.

Today, Dave has problems with memory recall: words beginning with ‘f’ and remembering the names of fruit, to name but two.

At the time the documentary aired, Dave wasn’t yet able to stop using ketamine, although he said he was only taking it once a month. Yet, tests show that he must stop completely for the sake of his cognitive abilities.

Conclusion – make sure young people understand the dangers

The aforementioned anonymous writer for The Guardian (who has now gone back to smoking pot, although he is working and recovered) says:

people should know what they are dealing with. By the time I did, it was too late. There is so much media coverage of illegal drugs, yet K is rarely mentioned, although it is everywhere and spreading fast. Most people who try it won’t develop any major problems, but a minority of users get very sick. A friend of mine lost so much control over his bladder that he had to have a catheter fitted when he was 21, and there are going to be a lot more cases like this. He didn’t know it was addictive either.

Ketamine is not a safe drug, by any means.

Until a few weeks ago, I was under the impression that ketamine was a lesser ‘party’ drug.

However, an article in the October 2014 issue of Tatler put paid to that notion.

Ketamine is far from harmless.

Some recreational users turn into addicts who end up losing their jobs and friends. An increasing number of habitual users have also permanently ruined their bladders, stomachs and muscles.

In 2014, the UK government reclassified ketamine to a class B controlled drug. Possession now carries the risk of a five-year prison term and unlimited fine.  (The government had declared ketamine illegal in 2006, declaring it a class C substance.)

The Tatler article explains more, both from a clinical and personal perspective. What follows is taken from ‘Ketamine: Only for Fools and Horses’ by Sophia Money-Coutts (pp. 111-116). I was shocked by what I read.

Background information

- Why ketamine? It’s cheap (£15-£20 per gram), relaxes the user from a cocaine or MDMA high, makes him giggly and is a hallucinogenic (pp. 111-112).

- Any legitimate uses? Ketamine was invented in 1962 in the United States for use as an anaesthetic for animals and humans. It is best known as a ‘horse tranquilliser’. It is still used clinically on humans. Vietnam War medics used it on injured troops; it is a powerful, fast-acting anaesthetic which can suppress pain without affecting vital functions (p. 112).

- How did it become recreational? After the Vietnam War ended, psychiatrists began examining the hallucinogenic side of ketamine. It became a party drug in the 1990s and went mainstream after the Millennium. Max Daly, author of Narcomania: How Britain Got Hooked on Drugs calls it ‘the modern LSD’ (p. 112).

- Early anecdote? In 1978, Sheraton Hotels heiress Marcia Moore published a book called Journeys into the Bright World in which she wrote that the world would be a ‘Garden of Eden’ if only government leaders and captains of industry took this ‘love medicine’. In 1979, she mysteriously disappeared from her California home. In 1981, her skeleton was found in a nearby forest. It is thought that Moore climbed a tree, took ketamine, lost consciousness and fell to her death (p. 112).

- What’s it like? In addition to hallucinations and giggling, the user also experiences floating sensations and numbness. It is difficult to walk straight and a strong enough dose may result in drooling and slurred speech. Mandy Saligari of Charter Harley Street, a rehab clinic, describes the K-hole state after a large dose as the relaxed state one experiences when lying comfortably in bed — with an added hallucinogenic edge (p. 112). Users might wander the streets in a daze. Max Daly warns that ketamine is ‘dissociative': one can stare at a bed without knowing what it is for (p. 114).

- Recent deaths? In 2014, ketamine was attributed to two deaths: that of a 15-year old Londoner and a 26-year old Glastonbury festival goer. In 2013, an 18-year old girl died after taking ketamine at a music festival in Winchester (p. 114).

- When do users start? Mandy Saligari, who tours schools giving talks about drugs, says that users are getting younger with an increasing number starting at age 14 or 15. She adds that they are ‘confident’ that they will suffer no negative side-effects (p. 112) However, many more young people begin taking the drug at university, including students who had no prior drug history (p. 114). No doubt ketamine is presented by their peers as being a harmless weekend drug.

One woman’s ketamine story

The Tatler feature ended with an anonymous first-person account (pp. 114-116) by a young woman who began using ketamine at university, where she lived with five friends of hers.

She had no previous drug history, although she did get into trouble at boarding school for drinking.

She was attracted to ketamine because it was cheap. A £20 gram sufficed for an evening out with friends.

Within a few months she began taking ketamine several times a week: a small quantity for a buzz or a larger one for a K-hole with its hallucinations. She described her K-hole experiences as ‘euphoric’ and, even though they lasted only a half hour, she said she discovered she ‘liked getting totally out of my mind’.

Later, she wanted more of an escape. Near the end of her first year at university, she mixed ketamine with valium, coke and MDMA. She passed out. Panicked, her friends rang her parents. She woke up three days later in a rehab clinic, where she stayed for a month.

Only 19 at the time — 2008 — and attending the clinic’s outpatient programme, she resumed drinking and taking ketamine in her flat with the curtains closed. She no longer saw the point in living. Her counsellor suggested going to South Africa to cure the addiction once and for all.

This woman spent three years in a South African rehab centre. She returned to London in 2011 to reconnect with friends and to find a job.

Now 26, she works for an estate agent. She still goes out with her friends but restricts herself to a drink or two. She knows of only one friend who hasn’t taken drugs: ‘Lucky her’.

Warnings to parents

Two people in the know warn parents about the effects that K-holes can have on users (p. 114).

Mandy Saligari of Charter Harley Street urges parents to talk to their children about the dangers of ketamine. She mentions the ‘heartbreaking’ YouTube videos of ketamine users ‘wandering around off their heads’.

Max Daly, author of Narcomania: How Britain Got Hooked on Drugs, says that parents should be ‘really worried’ if their children start taking ketamine, ‘much more so than if they’d taken cocaine’.

Bladder, stomach and muscular damage

The thing that really shocked me was reading that ketamine may cause irreversible bladder and stomach damage.

In fact, the article begins by talking about users in their 20s who are incontinent. British urologists are seeing more and more cases of ketamine users with serious — sometimes permanent — bladder disorders. Some of them are only teenagers (p. 111)!

Users with stomach damage are bent over, holding their gut because of the pain (p. 112). This is known as K-cramp.

Dan Wood, a urologist at University College London Hospitals, said that ketamine is toxic to the bladder lining: ‘it works like paint stripper’ (p. 112).

Urologists held a conference in 2013 — K-Day — to discuss the phenomenon. In some cases, they need to reconstruct a ketamine user’s bladder from bowel tissue — then attach a catheter (p. 112). This is no temporary measure. This is for life.

Other users with bladder problems might need to wear incontinence pants or pads (p. 111). Some might recover, provided they stop using ketamine. For others, however, it will be too late.

Another serious side-effect of extended ketamine use is muscular damage. The drug can stiffen and damage muscles over time. One parent was horrified that his son couldn’t stop ‘walking like a chicken’ (p. 112).

Tomorrow’s post will have more from ketamine users and urologists.

Ketamine is not to be taken lightly or dismissed simply as a horse tranquilliser which is safe for humans. The highs are short and their effect can last a lifetime.


Last week, France’s health minister Marisol Touraine opened the door to normalisation of illegal drug consumption in controlled, clinical settings.

This is the same minister who wants plain packaging for cigarettes and says that alcohol, including French wine, is unsafe at any level.

A six-year trial (!) of taxpayer-funded salles de shoot (or, as Touraine and her allies prefer, salles de consommation) could soon open up anywhere in France. These might be clinics or separate hospital units. Clinicians would attend to the addicts, e.g. supplying clean needles. Police presence would be increased in the districts where the shooting galleries would open.

The proposal has resulted in a huge debate of those for and against. A number of doctors think it is a good idea and would protect addicts from infection and overdose.

On the other hand, opponents are already posting local petitions in their towns and cities against such places. A website and Facebook page are also in place: ‘Non aux salles de shoot‘.

Opponents rightly ask the following questions:

1/ In a time when the French are told the national health budget must be reined in, why then devote taxpayers’ money and added public health — and police — resources for shooting galleries?

2/ Why normalise (débanalise) illegal drugs when campaigns and laws restricting smoking — including e-cigarettes — and alcohol are such a huge part of public health policy?

3/ Is it right that children should see groups of addicts going into these places?

4/ Will there be an increase in violence in areas where shooting galleries exist? Will these neighbourhoods become no-go areas?

RMC’s current affairs host Eric Brunet said he didn’t know how to explain to his children that the French government seems to cater to illegal drugs, yet considers tobacco and French wine to be taboo.

A lady from Geneva (Switzerland) rang in to Brunet’s show on Friday, October 17, say that she was campaigning for that city’s shooting gallery to close. The level of crime and violence had dramatically increased since it had opened several years ago. Brunet pointed out that Sweden had closed all of its galleries for these very reasons.

The UK had similar clinics and, if I remember rightly, actually dispensed the drugs there rather than allowing users to bring in their own. These patients were sent their by their general practitioners (family doctors). However, by the early 1970s, these, too, had closed. The number of patients had been quite small until the late 1960s, when, suddenly, many more — including unregistered walk-ins — were coming in for a fix. The programme became unmanageable and had to end.

One prominent French physician and medical school professor, Jean Constantin, opposes Touraine’s shooting galleries. He prefers improving the existing methods of prevention and treatment, especially as more young French people are experimenting with illegal drugs.

Constantin asks how addicts will be able to bring in their own drugs when their safety cannot be assured. He wonders if any doctor would be willing to supervise such a situation. He adds:

Furthermore, it has been proven that those using these rooms and leaving with a sufficient heroin dose in their bloodstream are not dissuaded from taking more in the street. 

And what happens if an addict dies either in one of these shooting galleries or soon afterward? Does his (or her) family sue the state? Then what?

In any event, this gives evidence to my theory that the ultimate aim of Tobacco Control and Alcohol Control — and politicians who support them — is the normalisation and increased use of illegal drugs so that we become compliant, manageable addicts who can no longer think for ourselves.

In closing, Marisol Touraine presents herself as a minister concerned about the nation’s well being, yet, her son is serving a three-year prison term for having extorted a neighbour lady.

Mme Touraine is a fine one to be dictating to others how they should live their lives.

Bible readingContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 18:31-34

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.


Jesus had been telling His Apostles that His death was imminent. Luke 17 records Him saying:

25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Luke 9 contains His second fortelling of suffering and death:

44“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

However, the Apostles did not understand what He was saying. Luke 9 says that they were too afraid to ask Him for an explanation.

Today’s reading — His third fortelling of His own death — has its parallel in Mark 10:32-34.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells them that Scripture will be fulfilled (verse 31). The King James Version has more impact; the word ‘behold’ is used instead of ‘see’. ‘Behold’ is an emphatic word by which Jesus wanted to impress upon the Apostles that the end of His ministry was near. We might say today, ‘Look here’ or ‘See here’ to imply that the listener should pay close attention.

Jesus was making it clear what would occur (verses 32, 33). He also stated that He would rise from the dead on the third day.

Once again, the Apostles understood none of it (verse 34). This is because the Jewish understanding was that the Messiah would vanquish their enemies. Their understanding was a temporal, not a spiritual, one.

The Jews ignored biblical prophecies that the Messiah would suffer and die at the hands of men. Matthew Henry explains with a warning for us (emphases in bold mine):

… they had read the Old Testament many a time, but they could never see any thing in it that would be accomplished in the disgrace and death of this Messiah. They were so intent upon those prophecies that spoke of his glory that they overlooked those that spoke of his sufferings, which the scribes and doctors of the law should have directed them to take notice of, and should have brought into their creeds and catechisms, as well as the other but they did not suit their scheme, and therefore were laid aside. Note, Therefore it is that people run into mistakes, because they read their Bibles by the halves, and are as partial in the prophets as they are in the law. They are only for the smooth things, Isaiah 30:10.

We make the same mistakes today, especially by speaking of an all-embracing Jesus — as if He never warned us that certain sins would condemn us eternally if we do not repent in this life.

As for the state of the Church, Henry adds:

Thus now we are too apt, in reading the prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled, to have our expectations raised of the glorious state of the church in the latter days. But we overlook its wilderness sackcloth state, and are willing to fancy that is over, and nothing is reserved for us but the halcyon days and then, when tribulation and persecution arise, we do not understand it, neither know we the things that are done, though we are told as plainly as can be that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.

Henry lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. His statement was true in his time and still true in ours.

Returning to Jesus’s imminent suffering and crucifixion, it is essential to bear in mind two things: first, He knew all along what would happen to Him and, secondly, the Old Testament points to this in several places.

John MacArthur gives us some of the Old Testament prophecies and references to the Messiah’s suffering. These include Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53:

Psalm 22

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet[b]
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men;
    a man of sorrows,[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

MacArthur describes in detail what our Lord truly suffered. Excerpts of his sermon follow:

the first thing we could look at in considering the range of His suffering would be disloyalty. He was betrayed. He was betrayed at the most intimate level. He was betrayed by one of His own in whom He had invested His life.

The second category that we could even consider is the suffering of rejection. Certainly betrayal is included in rejection, but it’s the more overt kind of thing that I’m talking about. He was, according to Mark 10:33, delivered to the chief priests and scribes. And they constituted the Sanhedrin, the court of Israel, and they basically were the ones who made the decision for the nation and their decision was to reject Jesus. They put Him on trial. They trumped up false charges.

There’s a third component, I think, in the agony that bursts out in the garden and that’s humiliation … It all led to that. I think when He got to the garden it was the disloyalty, the rejection, the humiliation that He was suffering as the exalted second member of the Trinity that was more than His human body could bear, and that’s why He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood. That’s why He agonized in the garden. And that’s why He said, “Father, if there’s any way that this can pass from Me, please let it.” Already the suffering was beyond comprehension. But the humiliation went beyond that and I think you would have to put in the category of humiliation verse 32, that He will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon and scourged. Scourged, maybe, we’ll leave out. Mocked, mistreated, spit upon, designed purposely to humiliate, purposely to belittle, demean.

That leads to a fifth feature in the proportion of His sufferings, let’s just call it injury … Scourged and ultimately killed. His scourging we’re familiar with because we understand the history of scourging. We know what it was. They made a whip with many thongs, some say three, some say as many as seven, some say more than that. At the end of those thongs were bits of glass, bone, rock, even metal used to lacerate, rip and tear and shred down to the veins, the internal organs. Psalm 22 describes this. Isaiah 53 describes this. Even crucifixion is described in Zechariah 12:10, the one who will be pierced. It was a common Jewish punishment. They were to give 40 lashes. They gave 39 because they didn’t want to overstep the law, so they gave three sets of 13 moving around the body the person hanging, suspended at a pole, so that his body was taut. And the lashes were given by two men so that they weren’t diminished in ferocity and strength until his entrails and his organs would appear. Many people died. Little wonder that Simon had to carry His cross.

A believer will be ever mindful of those facts.

However, as we know, there are many who discount our Lord’s intense, immense suffering: those who deny His resurrection or say He was unsure He would die.

MacArthur tells us that this falsehood began during the German Enlightenment:

One of the heroes of the German critics and liberal scholarship … said, “We simply do not know what Jesus thought about His death.” Well we do not know if we don’t believe the Bible. He said, “Possibly He broke down completely in His faith, His faith being shattered, He was left to cry out with a loud moan and die.” That’s the liberal line and it’s generated children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in a liberal scholarship that keeps espousing. Another one of the Germans, Kaspar(??) said, “He knew He might die, He knew because of the intense opposition He generated that He could end up with the same bloody fate as His friend, John the Baptist, but He certainly wouldn’t have known any specifics.” Well how did he know this? Well this passage is a post-Easter gloss…this is a post-resurrection edition. It is not historical, it was never spoken by Jesus because that would confirm His deity and we can’t let that happen. And so by their own self-deception, they damn themselves.

Jesus knew every single element about the conspiracy, every element carried out by Jews and Gentiles. He knew every feature of His cross and resurrection. They were all precisely in the plan from eternity past.

The Bible — in both the Old and New Testaments — tells us all we need to know about our Lord’s life and death. May we read it thoroughly and, with God’s grace, understand and believe what it says.

Next time: Luke 18:35-43

Erik Vance is an American scientific journalist who writes about sustainable markets for fish and seafood.

His assignments occasionally take him to northern Mexico, along the drug supply route to California.

Vance wrote for Slate about his encounter with Mexican fishermen who have no choice but to help drug cartels. The article is called ‘Cocaine Is Evil’, and he compared cocaine purchase to ‘donating to the Nazi Party’.

The hundreds of comments in response reveal that cocaine users were none too happy with the comparison. As is the fashion today, they clamoured for legalisation. I wonder. Too few dissenting voices pointed out that cocaine is equally illegal in Mexico. Also, one American who lives in a state where marijuana is legal said that everyone he knows still goes to their dealers — because the product is cheaper (no tax)!

Anyway, what Vance discovered in and around Sonora, Mexico, horrified him (emphases mine):

I remember one interview in particular in which a fisherman told us about his relative who occasionally ran drugs for the cartels in between seasons. In this area, it’s not blood in, blood out. Cartels have porous edges, where people drop in when they need the money and get out as fast as possible. And we are not talking about characters from Breaking Bad here—these are poor fishermen with no other choice. And mostly they hate it.

Fishermen are great mules because they know the waters and they don’t draw attention. And if you have to chuck your haul overboard to avoid the military, other fishermen can dive to retrieve it.

Vance says the fisherman said that his relative had a long, possibly stormy, journey to his destination. Once he arrived:

and he met the men who would take the cargo across the border, they put a bullet in his head and tossed him overboard to feed the fish he should have been catching. It’s cheaper to kill the mule than to pay him.

That story made Vance think about his upper middle class friends who think nothing of doing a line of coke or, when on the end of a credit card or house key, a pile of it, which is called a ‘bump':

It’s a marvel of the English language that something so horrible, so corrosive can have such a cute little name. I wonder what that fisherman would have said to that innocuous little word. “Glad I could help brighten the party,” maybe?

Not that the fisherman here are wholly innocent—many of them do meth and coke to stay awake on the water, and some have become addicted. But we all know who drives the drug trade. It’s us. At our hip little parties, our New Year’s Eve celebrations, our secret back rooms, and on the counters of people from well-off families who are destined for rehab.

He cites the number of drug-related deaths linked to coke:

Around 60,000 were executed as witches during 150 years at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. Mexico alone has seen perhaps twice that many deaths during its seven-year drug war. From 1990 to 2010, Colombia had some 450,000 homicides, overwhelmingly due to coke. Add all the rest of Latin America (counting all the military actions that were driven by efforts to control trafficking routes as much as by politics), the U.S. share (15,000 per year on the high side, counting all kinds of drugs and overdoses and such). Now add an estimate of all the uncounted murders and overdoses and track that carnage back to the 1960s when the modern drug war began. The number starts to be in the league of the atrocities of Nazi Germany or American slavery.  

He adds:

the magnitude and gruesomeness of the atrocities committed to acquire and maintain drug trade routes to the United States actually are comparable. Decapitations and burning people alive are just the start. Chainsaws, belt sanders, acid—these things are used very creatively by cartel torturers. They disembowel bloggers and sew faces to soccer balls. Children are forced to work as assassins, people are forced to rape strangers at gunpoint, and lines of victims are killed one at a time with a single hammer. Many of those people disappear into unmarked graves. If their bodies are ever found, they are described in the media with antiseptic words like “mutilated.”

He concludes:

So yes, I say that paying for coke is equivalent to donating to the Nazi party. The unspoken thing here is that the reason Americans aren’t more outraged or guilt-ridden is that the people dying are poor brown people—many of them in a tragic irony are classified as narcos so governments can claim it’s just gang-on-gang violence.    

So perhaps you can see why I sometimes feel a little silly covering the ocean fisheries crisis, telling people what’s not sustainable and why. It’s true, consumer choices are behind the ocean crisis. But you can eat sustainably every day of your life and give to charity every year, and it all gets wiped out with one line of coke ...

There’s no such thing as cruelty-free cocaine

Parents, pastors and youth leaders could help by discussing this hideous reality at home and in church groups for mature students.

I remember my adolescence and university days. Most of my friends and I discreetly experimented with illegal drugs coming from Latin America, some more than others. Today’s students are no different and, with all the calls for legalisation or decriminalisation, perhaps more inclined to do so.

I don’t know what the smuggling situation was 30-some years ago, but this is what today’s is like. Some might call this subjective morality, but if I’d heard this story and read this article (complete with a gruesome photo), it would have stayed in my mind: thanks, but no.

In the same edition of The Observer which featured articles about drugs on the dark net and the UK’s head of the drugs disruption unit, was a gem by Anonymous.

Anonymous’s article is called ‘I like the way MDMA gives you a deep sense of connection to your friends’.

A better title would have been ‘Why I — and many others — take cocaine’.

Some of what he says is breathtaking and not in a good way (emphases mine):

I probably take class-A party drugs such as MDMA or cocaine once a fortnight, and have done since I was 16 (I’m 27 now). I like the way cocaine gives you a new lease of life, like a mushroom in Super Mario, to carry on with a night out. I like the way MDMA softens the edges of reality and gives you a deep sense of connection to your friends that you can never get when you meet them for dinner and they moan about their jobs. I like how when you’re coming down from a pill another person’s touch has a comforting, almost electric capacity. If you’re suffering from exhaustion, anxiety or stress, recreational drugs can give you a bit of a leg-up.

On the other hand:

Drugs can also be a total pain. Ecstasy can make you feel like you’re floating in a cloud, but just as often it’s an admin nightmare: you come up at different times from your friends; only half the people in a group remembered to get sorted and there’s endless hassle at a party trying to get more. Even when you’re having a great time, there’s a self-doubting internal monologue running through the whole process

There’s the key to the whole problem: self-doubt. Entirely normal for that age group, but why do so many young people evade the issue and instead get completely out of their box?

Anonymous doesn’t think the British public are honest and open enough about drugs. I suspect they are not, but Anonymous does go a bit too far in the opposite direction. And most of what he has to say hardly applies to everyone who’s ever fallen on the dark side of drugs.

He describes himself and his friends:

In my demographic – under 30, living in London, job in the creative industries, disposable income – almost everyone is a recreational drugs user.

Where I grew up in south London, it was pretty uncommon to find someone who didn’t at least smoke weed. The children of more middle-class parents were taking cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and mephedrone almost every weekend. These were not reprobates ruining their lives: they were intelligent, bright people who got three As at A-level and went to good universities ...

In some families drug use had less stigma than smoking.

At university, he enjoyed mephedrone — a legal drug no longer available:

Mephedrone was incredibly cheap – about a tenner a gram – and incredibly available. You could order it with next-day delivery to your university PO box. Mephedrone was a drugs phenomenon of which I have never seen the likes before or since. Everyone started doing it

On nights out during this time, everyone would be raging – making out with one another, dancing with total abandon. But the comedowns were immediate and severe, far worse than ecstasy. By 4am people would be lying on the floor sharing the most intimate and personal shames and secrets, as if the drug was somehow compelling them to be honest. Some people called it a truth serum. Friendships were forged in the hot irons of that emotional exposition, as were the most horrendous hangovers.

Mephedrone was banned within two years of it taking off. People talk a lot about one legal high being banned only for another to take its place, but the real legacy of mephedrone was to numb the stigma of harder drugs. By the time I left university, many of the drug abstainers who had tried mephedrone became relaxed about most illegal drugs, too.

This is part of the issue I have with legalising drugs. We do not know what the full effects of many of these compounds, natural or synthetic, will be in the long run. Therefore, there is no justification in being ‘relaxed’ about it.

Even in the short term, he concedes they inhibit normal functioning for the next few days, which is why he takes cocaine:

Ecstasy and mephedrone make it pretty hard to get much done in the days after taking them. You can’t regularly use them and be a successful, functioning adult, so they become a rarer treat once you leave student life. In their 20s most people are overworked: they have second jobs and work incredibly long hours. If they’re going to go out on a Friday night they need a pick-me-up. And that is why cocaine remains the young professional’s drug of choice.

He says:

I also appreciate that’s it’s easy to be blasé about drug use when you’re a well-adjusted middle-class white guy who has never been stopped by the police and has a distant non-social relationship with their drug dealer. For many people, drugs aren’t something they can dip in and out of and separate from their lives. People entangled in the economic and legal realities of drugs – dealers, those convicted of possession, addicts – don’t have the luxury of my relaxed attitude.

Wow, just wow! The arrogance!

A reader, fictionfanatic, replied in the comments below with his own, opposite, experience:

I found this article excruciatingly painful to read. Not because the article is poorly written, in fact, I found the author to be incredibly articulate, but because I have twice overdosed on class A drugs and am now five years in recovery from active addiction

In the early years of my using I had some wonderful experiences on drugs. I agree with a great deal that this writer has to say and I particularly support his argument that drugs should no longer be the ‘taboo’ subject that it is today.

However, there is one sticking point for me. The reference the writer made to drugs giving him the confidence, the laughs and the energy that he doesn’t believe he already possesses.

As an addict I became painfully aware of what drugs had taken away from me when I got clean …

Various drugs do indeed boost confidence, increase energy levels and lighten the mood, however, if a person requires a chemical to do this then even the most casual user is denying themselves the opportunity to have fun, gain confidence and increase energy levels without the use of a drug. I learnt this when I fell threw the doors of a rehab and realised the overly confident, work hard/play hard exhibitionist had disappeared with the class A’s and I was left to rebuild the anxious, self-conscious, shattered shell of a human being that had relied for too many years on drugs to help me be somebody I was not.

Five years later I am now naturally confident and I laugh more than I ever did. I still go out all night sometimes, but I don’t have to pay for it with two days in bed or ‘suicide Tuesdays’.

drugs don’t add to our life experience, they merely mask what isn’t naturally there.

And, one final point… I have never, ever, ever met anyone that is better company when they are on coke. Not once!

I agree. I remember a few acquaintances from the 1980s who took coke. They just were not very nice to be around. They were abrupt, picked arguments and became aggressive. Everything was all about them. Cocaine is not a ‘nice’ drug.

Speaking of the 1980s, I remember reading a lengthy first-person magazine article at that time about a guy from New York who was absolutely broken through cocaine use.

At first, he had it all: great job, superb salary, stunning girlfriend and a beautiful flat. He and his girlfriend eventually started spending more and more on coke because their highs were no longer as long-lasting.

The ending was chilling. He and his girlfriend started having violent arguments. She left him and went into rehab. He stayed behind in the flat. He was having trouble making his mortgage payments. His boss was on the verge of firing him.

The last two days he spent in the flat involved his crawling around on hands and knees sniffing his carpet for any remaining coke dust that might be there. Finally, a friend of his stopped by. The addict fell into his friend’s arms crying like a baby.

By then, he had no job. He hadn’t a penny left. He’d lost the woman he loved.

He had allowed cocaine to destroy him and a beautiful life.

He came out the other side and wrote the article post-rehab. He said he would never be able to recapture what he once had. He was working a rather low-paid job in another industry. But, he said, at least he was clean after a few years of rehab and therapy. He wanted to stay that way but was worried about what the future would hold.

He hoped his story would serve as a warning against drug use, especially cocaine.

No good can come of drugs, particularly this one.

On the same day that the drugs on the dark net article appeared in The Observer (covered in yesterday’s post), the paper interviewed Lawrence Gibbons, who heads the strategic drugs disruption unit at the UK’s National Crime Agency.

He began his career with the Flying Squad, so is determined to get his man.

It’s a good interview and well worth reading. I rarely read about drugs these days and learned quite a lot.

Gibbons said that the online market on the dark net is the way young people purchase their drugs. He warned that even though the encryption there is difficult to hack, it can indeed be done. That means no one is 100% anonymous.

He and his officers work on various aspects of illegal drug supply: class A drugs, new ‘legal’ highs which he and his team refer to as NPS (new psychoactive substances), cutting agents and, not surprisingly, the dark net. He readily admits they cannot tackle everything drug-related, so they address the biggest issues.

The team’s biggest achievement recently has been their disruption of the cocaine cutting system in the UK (bold emphases in the original, those in purple mine):

A kilo block of cocaine enters the UK in its raw form, anywhere from 75% to 90% pure. It is being sold on the streets from 0% purity to 25% purity. Everything else has been added. Organised crime gangs multiply their profits by adding ‘cutting agents’ [for example, benzocaine, novocaine, phenacetin]. We have concentrated a lot on that, to the point that we have altered and disrupted that marketplace. In many cases the dealers involved have been charged and convicted with conspiracy. They are receiving custodial sentences of 10 to 20 years, because they are the key enabler of a drug’s supply.

The drug world has changed dramatically with 21st century communications. Gibbons said it is now easy for dealers and gangs to talk to each other internationally via teleconferences. He said that some laws will need to be changed as more than one country can be the focus of an investigation for the same gangs or person:

With the internet the criminality might be occurring in the UK, but the individual might be purporting to be in Brazil, and actually be in Spain. That makes the legal issues much more complex; legislation will have to keep pace with that.

He and his team focus on ‘prevention and disruption’ rather than conviction, sentencing and seizure as their main aims. They hope their work brings about behavioural changes.

As far as present drug trends go, cocaine is undergoing a revival. Some of the NPS (what we call ‘legal’ highs) sold online actually contain controlled substances. However, even the online sellers could not determine what was in some NPS.

On this subject, he said:

If I told you to go and swallow bleach you wouldn’t do it, but if I told you I had this great new drink

Kids, as we know, can be tempted to try anything. That is what I keep at the back of my mind when I ask myself why I’m doing this. If a white powder comes online tomorrow advertised as the new whizz bang pop, and no one knows exactly what it is, who knows if that isn’t going to be the next drug that kills our children?

Readers responding to the article said this is why we need legalisation. Yet, that will not solve an intractable problem which lures young people into trying drugs, especially the latest ones.

The curiosity accompanying youthful drug experimentation can lead to a great many problems. And legal highs are not necessarily safe ones. These past posts explore a few of them:

Synthetic dope: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean its safe

Drug alert: smoking ‘wet’

US Navy doctor on ‘bath salts': ‘no fad, it’s a nightmare’

To my younger readers, this will be old news.

However, parents and those adults who work with children should know that it is relatively easy to purchase drugs on the Internet. This makes it relatively easy for minors to obtain them, if not directly, then, through a friend.

Jamie Bartlett described how the process works in The Observer. One installs a browser called Tor which gives one access to Tor Hidden Services and what are known as dark net markets. Tor gives the user near-anonymity via encryption; that said, no one is ever 100% anonymous online. (Tor, by the way, was originally built by the United States Navy; today, it is an open source project.)

In the UK, 16% of drug users now make their purchases via the dark net. The dark net has more than drug marketplaces on it; almost anything that is taboo or illegal has a site there. An RMC (Radio Monte Carlo) talk show recently discussed the terrorist networks on the dark net. The presenter was surprised to find such a thing existed, which is why I am passing this information along.

Bartlett navigated the drugs marketplace online and was surprised at the professional presentation of the various websites. He said they were comparable to Amazon and eBay, complete with customer reviews of the merchandise. Users use pseudonyms and pay for purchases with bitcoins.

Because the whole process can be done from the comfort of one’s home, Bartlett posits that purchasing drugs online will have the same effect on drug pushers that Amazon has had on booksellers.

He describes his experience:

… earlier this year an innocuous-looking white envelope was posted through my door by Royal Mail. It was about the size of a postcard, but a little bulky, and padded with bubble-wrap. It looked, felt and smelled no more suspicious than any other item of post I’d received that week. The only difference was that it contained a very small amount of high-quality cannabis …

My marijuana, I was told by an expert friend before disposing of it, was exceptionally good, and cost around £7 for the gram. (In fact, it looked like a bit more than a gram. Doubtless DrugsHeaven was hoping for repeat custom.) It is of little surprise therefore that the dark net markets are growing so quickly. According to a report by the Digital Citizens Alliance, there are now 45,000 drugs products for sale on these sites. In January, it was around 30,000.

Occasionally, he explains, the police or the FBI are able to infiltrate a site and shut it down. However, the dark net is a flexible place that adapts quickly to change:

In 2013 there were a small handful of these marketplaces. There are now around 30, including Hydra, Pandora, Outlaw Market, Agora, Silk Road 2.0 and 1776 Market Place. And most of them are doing a decent trade …

There are hundreds of vendors to choose from, selling every conceivable narcotic: heroin, opium, cocaine, acid, weed, steroids, prescription. Under ecstasy alone: 4-emc, 4-mec, 5-apb, 5-it, 6-apb, butylone, mda, mdai, mdma, methylone, mpa, pentedrone, pills …

From what little is known of them, most of the dealers on dark net markets resemble middle managers in logistics companies who spend their days taking and shipping orders all day and working out new marketing strategies. They aren’t violent gangsters fighting over turf.

He adds (emphasis mine):

Thanks to their smart use of technology, dark net markets are almost impossible to close down: they are too adaptive, too creative. This means more and better drugs more readily available at a competitive price, and that’s nothing to celebrate.

Not surprisingly, reader comments were largely supportive of dark net markeplaces, two said that, despite positive customer reviews, the buyer still needs to keep in mind that quality might differ, just as it would on Amazon or eBay.

Tomorrow’s article explains what Britain’s National Crime Agency is doing about drugs on the dark net.

On October 5, 2014, the Observer reported its latest survey findings on drug use in Britain. The paper last conducted a poll on the subject in 2008.

A summary of the survey follows:

- The percentage of people living in Britain who have tried illegal drugs is 31% (up from 28%).

- Both sexes are equally likely to use drugs (fewer women had in 2008).

- Just over one-fifth — 21% — of people who have ever tried illegal drugs are still taking them today.

- More people living in Scotland have tried drugs — 35% — than in other parts of the UK.

- Nearly one quarter — 23% — of survey respondents use some form of illegal drug daily. However, 55% of current users partake less than once a month.

- The overwhelming majority of drug users — 84% — indulge at home.

- The median starting age for experimentation is 19, although 41% of current users started between the ages of 16 and 18.

- Most young drug users will stop at the age of 26. Women tend to stop drug use earlier than men.

- The most popular drugs in the UK are marijuana (93%), amphetamines (34%), cocaine (29%), ecstasy (25%), magic mushrooms (22%) and LSD (20%).

- Marijuana was the first drug 82% of users tried. N.B.: Fifty per cent of dope smokers shy away from other drugs.

- If drugs were decriminalised in Britain, 16% of those surveyed who had never used illegal drugs would consider doing so.

- If drugs were decriminalised, first-time users (aforementioned 16%) would choose marijuana (81%), cocaine (28%), ecstasy (28%), magic mushrooms (22%), amphetamines (20%) and LSD (19%).

There are more data at the link. The article is nicely laid out and worth a read.

It is likely, particularly given the Liberal Democrats’ push for decriminalisation at their party conference last week, that this subject will run and run.

More on drugs tomorrow.

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