Pubdate: Sun, 20 Jul 2008
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: India Knight
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


Face It, a Joint May Be a Lesser Menace Than Binge Drinking

Apart from the fact that it is completely illegal and that I don't in 
any sense recommend or condone it, I don't actually think there is 
anything especially heinous about teenagers experimenting with the 
softer drugs. I'd prefer them to be tucked up in bed familiarising 
themselves with Kant or Spinoza, or going for 10-mile runs, but we do 
need to keep a degree of realism about these things. The reality is 
that for the majority of young people the odd period of light 
recreational drug use does little harm. I'm not talking about crack 
or heroin - but then most children don't experiment with crack or heroin.

A quarter of England's secondary school pupils have taken illegal 
drugs at least once, according to figures released last week by the 
NHS Information Centre. This is a 4% fall since the previous set of 
figures in 2001 - but it still means that more than 40% of the 
nation's 15-year-olds are likely to have tried drugs; 6% of 
11-year-olds had taken drugs in the past year and 3% in the past month.

Obviously I am firmly of the opinion that 11-year-olds should be 
playing with their dollies, not taking illicit substances (does 
anyone play with dolls past the age of five any more? I was devoted 
to mine until I was about 12). But I don't find the figures for 
teenagers especially alarming. I know we're all supposed to tremble 
in our boots at the evil of recreational drug-taking but 
experimenting with drugs just seems to me normal - banal, really.

Teenage binge-drinking is another story, because soft drugs don't 
cause you to get cirrhosis when you're still in your early twenties, 
or render you so out of it that you get raped, or leave the streets 
of Britain awash with vomit (although the figures for alcohol have 
dropped slightly since 2001 - teenagers are drinking marginally less, 
which is cheering, although they are averaging 12.7 units a week, which isn't).

Possibly I feel this way because I liked taking (soft) drugs when I 
was a teenager myself - my fondness for marijuana got me expelled 
from boarding school, in fact, due to an unfortunate incident during 
an Italian translation class. The vocab had struck me as so intensely 
hilarious - it was something to do with Jesus at Gethsemane - that I 
couldn't control my laughter, fell off my chair and lay on the 
ground, convulsed with mirth, unable to obey increasingly furious 
orders to get up.

The fact is that this had only positive consequences: I changed 
schools, stopped having to play bloody lacrosse (the sheer hell of 
which had sent me in search of new pastimes in the first place), 
moved home to London, regained normal freedoms and occasionally took 
more drugs. By the time I went to university I had grown bored with 
the druggy scene and had evolved enough to get over the sense that 
drugs were exciting and naughty - an insight, I observe, that still 
eludes many less precocious middle-aged types, 20-odd years later.

God save us from cringe-making naffness of the "cool" (they wish) 
kidults with the paunch and the mortgage and the coke habit: the 
great advantage of moderate teenage drug-taking is that, by the time 
you're 20, you understand perfectly that there is nothing glamorous 
about spontaneous nosebleeds or talking very fast.

I know people in their fifties, whose teenagehoods were models of 
probity, who still haven't fathomed this one out. It's worth bearing 
in mind if you're despairing of your dopey 16-year-old: at least he 
or she is unlikely to turn into an embarrassing dopey adult.

All of which makes me think that a bit of teenage soft drug-taking 
is, for the vast majority, simply a rite of passage. Just as having 
underage sex doesn't turn you into a nymphomaniac, so underage 
drug-taking tends, in the vast majority of cases, not to turn you 
into a tragic junkie. There will always be exceptions, of course - 
several of my teenage drug-taking companions ended up in rehab and a 
couple still struggle with various addictions.

In my experience this is often to do with certain depressive 
personality traits which would have manifested themselves in one 
destructive way or another in due course anyway. And, of course, when 
I was young, the noxious strands of skunk that are around today 
didn't exist, so I doubt that any of my contemporaries became 
psychotic as a result of smoking a joint.

Abstinence is best of all, it goes without saying. But in the absence 
of abstinence, soft drugs often have something to recommend them over 
alcohol. I'm not saying this as a partaker, but as an observer - asa 
person, say, who is trying to get from A toB at 11pm. A clean-living 
friend recently spent a weekend partying (without artificial help) in 
Ibiza and couldn't help noting that although every person he came 
across was on ecstasy, they were all smiling, kind, polite, courteous 
and friendly.

Compare and contrast, he said, with trying to walk through central 
London on a Friday night, when every other person is loud, obscene, 
aggressive and trying to start a fight and there's always some poor 
sod on the night bus with a bleeding face, to say nothing of crumpled 
girls who are either crying or comatose with drink. "I know which I 
prefer," he said, and so do I.

The real fact of the matter is that drugs are no longer cool - they 
haven't been since roughly 1987 (when acid house reigned and young 
people's social lives were revolutionised by the cheapness and 
availability of ecstasy). Which is why three-quarters have had 
nothing to do with them - quite a whopping percentage.

For the majority, being cool about drugs means shrugging them off - 
not because you're nerdy or square, or because you're scared, but 
because you're intelligent enough to check out Pete Doherty or Amy 
Winehouse, both touched by genius and both made repulsive through 
their excesses, and think, "Ew, no thanks". This doesn't mean that 
the spirit of experimentation is dead - teenagers are teenagers and 
trying things out is part of the process - but it does mean that we 
can ease off a bit on the gloomy prognosis front.

Smoking the odd (nonskunk) joint isn't automatically going to turn a 
teenager into a raving, scabby crackhead. Frankly, it's more likely 
to turn him into a newspaper columnist.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake