what effect will the legal high ban have on youth culture?

If the Tories persist on passing laws that continue to construct their dreams of a heavily censored society, will we ever be young, wild and free again?

by Billie Brand
10 June 2015, 12:47am

The Queen recently announced on behalf of the Conservatives that the government plans to introduce a blanket ban on legal highs. The Psychoactive Substances Bill means that it will be illegal to produce, distribute and deal highs such as poppers, salvia and laughing gas - the latter of which was revealed as the second favourite drug of 16-24 year olds in the UK, after over 350,000 young people admitted to taking it last year. Psychoactive substances create change in the brain and alter mood, consciousness, perception and behaviour. There are uppers, downers and those that take you right down the rabbit hole where reality melts away and transforms into a glittering hot mess. Legal highs have become an integral part of our nation's hedonistic youth culture. What impact - if any - will the Tories' new law have on youth culture in the future?

According to the Home Office, the bill aims to, "protect hard-working citizens from the risks posed by untested, unknown and potentially harmful drugs."Of course there are dangers, and anyone who dabbles with drugs is putting themselves at risk, yet it's hard to understand that simply because of its label, psychoactive substances (excluding alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, food and medical products) are being banned without any research conducted to conclude the possible benefits these drugs might have for both our health and happiness. Instead, levels of euphoria are limited to that experienced in everyday life. Rather than moving liberally forwards, as some countries have done, with proven positive impact, it seems we're bent on going backwards and continuing to proscribe certain drugs, instead of regulating them.

It has always been ingrained in our society that drugs are bad (mmmkay). No matter what science says, it seems that stigma can never been shaken, especially amongst the more conventional generations above us. Youth culture, on the other hand, has always been inextricably linked with the experimentation of drug taking, from hippie's tripping on acid, soulboys spending all night dancing on speed and ravers feeling the love on pills; new drugs always get tied up in new music and new youth tribes. 

Laughing gas passed around at festivals and poppers sniffed in the playground have in many cases acted as a beginner's guide to narcotics. Now they've been wiped from head shops, it can be argued this step will be skipped, which could result in young people heading straight to hard drugs. "Banning sale of safe legal highs will lead to underground sales with less quality control and no information, internet sales with less or zero quality control and the return to old illegal favourites like cocaine that are much more harmful," Professor David Nutt, the government's ex-chief drugs adviser, explains. The infamous Nos man and the sharp hiss of laughing gas decanting into a ballon from a shiny silver canisters might become a distant memory, but drug dealers will continue to sell pills and powder, and now they might've hit the jackpot-500 legal highs that once could have been bought safely are now ripe for them to exploit.

When asked why the government are so quick to dismiss psychoactive substances Prof Nutt explains that it's a "fear of youth culture and the sadistic pleasure they get in victimising people who can't or won't vote." It makes sense; it's a way to reinforce their power. If we want to come up, the government will bring us back down and attempt to mould us into ever-so grey, corporate-working right-wingers they want us to be.

It's important, and natural, for adolescents to go through stages of experimentation and rebellion, whether its with drink, clothes, music or drugs. We need that time to have fun and make a mess before we go marching off into the real world, otherwise that lost sense of freedom is going to catch up with us at some point and we'll end up caught in a mid-life crisis-one that could well depend on alcohol, which actually happens to be the most harmful psychoactive substance of them all. The disaffected youth might legitimately argue that drugs offer them the escape package they need in order to deal with the rest of their lives. In this total Tory government that we're trapped in, escapism often feels more necessary than ever, if you can't find a job, buy a house or afford to go to university. David Cameron and co are increasingly getting more control over our freedom and this is perhaps the most dangerous thing of all.

Will the war on drugs ever end? Not for the next five years that's for sure. There's an undeniable allure that draws us into the unknown and taboo. Recreational drug use is always going to happen, 100 years of illegality--it was made illegal in the UK in 1994--haven't stopped people taking cocaine. Perhaps we should look to more progressive countries like Portugal, who decriminalised drug possession in 2001, and have since witnessed vast reductions in drug-related deaths, addiction and HIV infections. Human beings have been bending their minds with substances since forever and always will; it goes against our incredibly curious human nature to confine our consciousness to sobriety. There's no way that Cameron's blanket ban is going to stop people smoking Spice or popping pills and sniffing poppers on a Friday night, but it does say a lot about the society we're living in. That shared spirit of togetherness that is often induced by psychoactive substances brings us together, allows us to re-evaluate society's constructs and dream up revolutionary ideas, and that's the thing that we can't lose - or we might just lose ourselves.


Text Billie Brand
Photography Rosemary Sanchez

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