instagram "sesh" accounts: harmless fun or something more sinister?
A look at the modern phenomenon of accounts like Ketflix and Pills and The Sesh Realm.
Years after the term first achieved popularity, people on the internet still can’t stop talking about “the sesh”. Or, put more simply, taking lots of drugs for a really long time. Although sesh meme pioneer Ketflix and Pills -- “an Instagram site” followed by Lottie Moss “which posts memes related to drug-fuelled binges”, according to The Mirror -- has been banned from Instagram (RIP), and exists in the forgotten realm of Facebook, a host of imitators have been left in its wake. The Sesh Realm, for instance, has 197k followers, with each post garnering thousands of likes. But what is the point of sesh accounts? Do they glamorise drug use? Are they a nefarious influence on impressionable young minds?
It seems unlikely. Sesh accounts tend towards a type of observational comedy which, in its everyday banality, isn’t a million miles away from the accounts featuring memes about being a nurse or an accountant. In other words, relatability is key. As Joe, who runs the Sesh Realm, says, “I wouldn't say drug use is funny in itself. For me, 90% of the comedy is just stuff that is relatable to the audience. So many people clearly indulge in 'the sesh' so it’s quite an easy subject to focus on.” Casual drug-users might not need representation in the same way LGBTQ or BAME people do, but they are unlikely to see depictions of people like themselves snorting ket on prime-time television -- and laughing at yourself is fun. Sesh accounts provide this kind of representation, even if the mirror they hold up is hardly flattering. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to browse a sesh account, with their references to appalling acts of self-destruction -- or grotesque photographs captioned ‘this is you at 6am’ -- and come away thinking how much you’d now like to take drugs. For the most part, these accounts present an honest vision of how grimly tedious drug use can be.
“I’m a sesh veteran of over a decade so I’m bloody too far gone for this kind of content to have any sort of negative influence on me,” one long-term sesh account follower tells me. “On the other hand, would my physical and mental state be in even worse nick now if Instagram had been around when I first started experimenting with drugs? I’m gonna say yes.”
"The sesh isn’t pre-drinks, it’s not going to a club night or having a few lines down the pub on a Friday. It’s about what happens after, for literally days on end."
For all their griminess, these accounts do suggest that drugs, and a particularly deranged way of doing them, are fun -- which is an impulse I understand. When I first moved to London, one of the songs I listened to most featured the line, “you are the straight-through crew, not the Time Out Crowd”. In other words, you are the kind of person who likes ringing in another bag at 8am, rather than the kind who likes ambling down Columbia Road Flower Market or attending hip-hop bingo nights at the Underbelly. This seemed an important dichotomy, one which summed up two different ways of being young and living in a city -- and I knew which one I found more appealing. But the reality of going ‘straight-through’, extending your night past the just-about-reasonable hour of 6am, can be extremely punishing.
The sesh isn’t pre-drinks, it’s not going to a club night or having a few lines down the pub on a Friday. It’s about what happens after, for literally days on end. It’s drug use as an endurance sport. As Joe says, one of the key elements of the sesh is “no sleep for a couple of days.” No drug use is entirely safe or free-from-risk, but it stands to reason that shovelling more and more substances into your bloodstream for an extended period of time, without having slept or eaten, is going to present particular dangers. To find out more about these, I spoke with Nick Hickmott at drugs and alcohol charity Addaction. The good news? Engaging in the sesh doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem.
“[Sessioning] is not necessarily an indicator of problematic use, as it may not cause any significant problems,” Hickmott says. “Ultimately it’s all about balance, along with the frequency that a person is having a heavy session. There’s no doubt that it extracts a cost, usually in the form of sleep, and it often comes with a significant mental and physical comedown.” As anyone who’s gone to uni or work the Monday following a bender can attest: this last point is extremely accurate.
"When social stigma makes it difficult for young people to ask for help or at least speak openly about their problems, having an open internet forum which normalises drug-use could actually be healthy."
If people are going to engage in the sesh or go straight through, are there any ways to minimise the harm of this? “Even on extended sessions like at a festival, it’s possible to take things a bit easier and reduce risks. Taking a small amount is better and slow is best. Remember you can always have a little more if it feels nice but you can't reduce what you’ve taken if you have too much, too soon. You should know where to go if you start to feel unwell and keep in touch with your friends. Be really cautious about mixing multiple substances.”
It’s worth repeating that many of these accounts, including the Sesh Realm, are morally neutral. They are simply reflecting a set of behaviours which huge swathes of people already engage in. “I personally don't think the account glamorises it at all,” says Joe, “it’s happening every day everywhere with or without my content on the internet.” Some of the posts even gesture towards addiction, albeit obliquely, with jokes about the struggles of making it through the week without using drugs. At the end of the day, it’s a meme account -- there’s only so dark it can get and it’s not really the place for harrowing disclosures.
When social stigma makes it difficult for young people to ask for help or at least speak openly about their problems, having an open internet forum which normalises drug-use could actually be healthy. “There are definitely positives to people openly discussing their use of substances,” Hickmott says. “Social media sites that poke fun at the experience of taking drugs counter the failed messaging of the ‘just say no’ period. A lot of the tongue-in-cheek social media stuff is the relative of peer-to-peer harm reduction communities, which have been around for years.” Drug abuse happens, and making it a shameful, unmentionable subject might just end up isolating people who need help.
The sesh can get very old very quickly and it goes without saying that it shouldn’t be indulged too often. But as Hickmott says, “for a lot of people it’s just an occasional bit of fun. The content of these accounts should obviously be taken with a pinch (or occasionally a sack) of salt but we shouldn’t clutch our pearls too tightly.”