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Study: Gen-Y risk takers, Legal high business booms

Study: Gen-Y risk takers, Legal high business booms

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How willing are you to chance your health and 'drop' a mystery substance?

A survey conducted by the Guardian and Mixmag has yielded results that some may find surprising -- but for the generation involved, says little that we did not already know.

In the survey, 15,000 regular drug users spilled their secrets on everything from drugs of choice, time of use, and how much they pay for both illicit and currently legal drugs.

Stereotypically, perhaps you may imagine these drug users as wasted figures behind locked doors shooting heroin in their arms, or someone being carted off to a rehab clinic. This was not the case.

Instead, the survey found that modern drug users are predominantly white, educated, relatively healthy and are an average age of 28. These are the same people you may see behind the cashier's desk at the bank, or the person you hired to control your stocks. They rarely touch hard options -- such as heroin or crack -- and instead, choose 'softer' options or legal highs.

However, this generation are also willing to take significant risks to their health; admitting that they take cocktails of drugs, mix substances with alcohol, and are not necessarily deterred by the idea of ingesting 'mystery' powders without knowing the content.

Furthermore, the majority of respondents, 76 percent, said they did not need drugs for a good night out - but 86 percent believe that taking something can make a night better.

It has to be kept in mind that the survey may have biased results, as not everyone would be willing to disclose details of potentially illegal activity, and those that would come across the survey in the first place might be a higher proportion of drug takers than a 'general' control sample would include.

However, taking the approach of a UK-based member of Generation Y, we are brought up surrounded by more drug use than we admit. Some may frown upon the idea, however, especially within backpacking and university circles, the use of drugs -- both legal and illegal -- is rife.

A drug user is not necessarily viewed as a social pariah, and perhaps this survey offers a further glimpse in to changing attitudes -- drugs as a tool to 'switch off' from work, as dangerous as it may be. The Guardian mentions the example of James, who works by day in London as a financial broker. At the weekends, he takes a mix of MDMA, cocaine and ketamine.

"My daily life is sensible, regimented and very stressful, so at the weekend I want the complete opposite. When I go out, the last thing I want is to think about work and responsibilities. I just want to lose myself for a few hours."

Those who participated who were under 25 were twice as likely to ingest a 'mystery white powder' than other age groups. 19 percent admitted to this practice, and within this bracket, 80 percent were intoxicated when they took the unknown drug -- and a third accepted it from a stranger.

Not only can drugs be readily bought in cities and university towns, but finding legal alternatives is easily done. Instead of lurking in a dark alley waiting for a dealer, you can go into a 'Head shop' on the streets of London, or order what you want from the sofa at home, to be delivered at your door.

In terms of legal highs, 20 percent have taken them within the last year, 35 percent purchase them from friends, 42 percent from stores, 22.5 percent through dealers -- and 45 percent acquire drugs from online sources.

A 25 year-old accountant from London, Sarah*, believes that it is the illicit nature of drugs which makes people take such risks:

"You've had a stressful week at work, you hit the town, and after a few drinks you want to keep the night going a bit longer. Legal highs are cheaper to get, and can be found quickly online.

I always look at forums and reviews to get an idea of what to expect - you can't always do that with illegal drugs, unless you ask a mate what they've used."

Sarah is a frequent user of legal highs, and buys them online before 'big nights out'. She admitted to using mainly MDMA, Ecstasy and Speed legal alternatives; including 'White Pearls', 'Pink Panthers' and 'MXE'. The majority of the drugs she takes do not reveal their ingredients.

Most are labeled as 'research chemicals' with the instructions that they are not for human consumption. Other drug types take a more satirical approach -- in the case of MDMA equivalent 'White Pearls' the instructions for use are disguised as a means to clean jewelry.

The resounding issue that the UK government faces is that the moment they ban a particular chemical, another alternative springs up in its place. Some view the practice of banning drugs one by one as a useless battle; whereas drug education and awareness should be the priority in tackling the rising use of legal highs.

In the UK, the issue is not helped by confusing and conflicting messages concerning drug use. In the case of cannabis, it is legal to buy all the equipment and to purchase seeds. Your actions only become illegal once a seed enters a plant pot filled with soil.

You are not allowed to smoke it (unless it is prescribed), and yet, if you walk into many London newsagents and corner stores, you are hit with paraphernalia, pipes, and even a 'Blunt Wrap' or two available in every flavor you could wish -- which, naturally, the government gains VAT on.

There are many factions that consider tackling the 'gateway' would be more successful than banning the result. The British are known for their drinking culture -- and the majority of drug users take substances once they've had one too many. Perhaps tackling our reliance on alcohol would be the better alternative.

*Name changed on request.

(via: The Guardian)

Image credit: Bonio/Flickr

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure