I make closing statements about how the past will influence the future, but it’s the present that we have to look out for. It’s about what is happening right this very moment that will shape our future. I see that drugs may not have such a drastic effect on people’s life, as I look to my friend. Perhaps drugs are their solution to do better or to overcome the burdens that overpower them. Maybe the reason they want to introduce others to drugs is because they want someone to be in the same mental state as them. They call me a hypocrite for drinking alcohol, and being in denial that alcohol results in fewer problems than taking drugs. We both take time to learn about our decisions and come to understand each other a little bit better.

As I continued my later years as an undergraduate, I became aware that conversations about drugs were less frequent between my colleagues. Whether it was because they had matured as our education advanced towards our careers or because they had lost the interest of discussing their affairs. When I went to school in Germany, weed became an item of luxury, more than it did an item of escape. Perhaps there was some element to escapism to it, but it was more widely used as a tool for socialising. Mitch had always been a good student and taking drugs didn’t affect his school performance. He was also very active, in both recreational sport activities and humanitarian causes, which propelled him to be a role model in school functions. Max and Wakely were on the other side of the spectrum, getting away with doing their minimal for schoolwork and still managing to pass with relatively decent marks despite both frequent users of drugs and alcohol. Percy and Will were more in the middle as it seemed they had a more consistent use of drugs (tending on using drugs in social contexts), but very hard workers, nonetheless. Vinny was yet another example of a vivid drug user and good in school, possibly using drugs more often than Mitch as it seemed he had to make up for plenty of time not spent taking drugs. Everyone now is successful, leading independent lives, though I am not sure how much weed they consume these days. I imagine that it is a habit that is difficult to lose, as it often is something that goes around a person’s group of friends. The last time I saw Leslie was a year after graduation when I went back to visit the city and went to the Class of 2011 graduation party. To my surprise, Leslie along with the other older students from my year were there. Leslie seemed like his old self but explained to me that he had been trying to give up on weed for good. He went further to explain how he wasn’t having fun anymore and realised that it was doing him more harm than before. He went on to say that he was suffering from depression in 2009, and over the years the drugs amplified his feelings. Although admitting that he casually smoked, because it was hard to leave the habit behind, he acknowledged his commitment to change. I never really thought that anyone could change after so many years hooked on a drug, but Leslie offered to me some insight into why people decide to stop smoking. And it goes to emphasise how much it depends on the person making this choice, in the sense that others may recommend the change, but cannot force it. Only the individual can do that, and of course it helps to have friends to support such a decision.

When I moved to university, I didn’t hear much about drug use, until I expanded on my group of friends. Some students in my block of flats smoked regularly, but for those guys weed was not a symbol of status or luxury; for them, it was routine and a part of life. Escapism for them was the reason why they smoked. I remember one time the electricity had gone out in my building, and building management thought it was a good idea to have a direct phoneline with emergency support via an intercom that needed power through mains electricity supply. In early February, as the temperature in London was below zero, we were all in our rooms not knowing when the power come back online. We decided to have a party in one of the upper flats, only for the guys there to roll and smoke some weed. The smoke quickly filled their small, unventilated room as we all huddled together for warmth. Much to my discomfort in being under the influence of second hand weed smoke, desperate times called for desperate measures. I must have gotten high from second-hand smoke that I felt lightheaded as I walked out of their room when I felt that I had enough and needed fresh air. I felt dizzy, but I could still see without having blurry vision or seeing the room moving violently. Instead, I felt a heavy weight in my head that pulled me from side to side, and I had a hard time concentrating. I felt no other side-effects other than feeling tired and disorientated, as I tried to calm myself down. It wasn’t the first time I had breathed in second-hand smoke, but it was the first time I did without being outside or in an open, well-ventilated room. However, I didn’t feel I had smoked as I did not make the decision to take a hit. My side-effects were brought on my exposure to the environment, and somehow that was justified.

My exposure to drugs or drug-users elsewhere while at university in London were my friends talking about their experiences and seeing them take drugs. One of Sean’s friends was a known cocaine dealer in the area that used to deal from their flat in East London. This made me uncomfortable not from the aspect of my friends knew people who were engaged in illegal activities, but such activities came with an element of danger and violence from rival dealers. That was partly the reason that I hardly interacted with Sean or Shaemus as they rolled with people who were more laid back on drug use and dealing. Sean had admitted that he had previously taken cocaine to try it, and although he would never do it again, he didn’t express any regret taking it. It seemed like the type thing that he was expected to do, I imagined. Sean was very independent, living outside of home from his early teenager years and cycling around Europe like a free spirit. He was everything that to me was out of my comfort zone, but such activities I suppose bring experience and knowledge of one’s limits and enable them to be more conscious of risks and outcomes. As an individual who plans and overthinks, I could never lead a lifestyle like that, which at its core includes taking substances whose effects I don’t know about. However, Sean or Shaemus never brought any weed to any of the gatherings that I hosted, and they never spoke about smoking during causal conversation. To them, I imagine it was a part of their lifestyle, and I appreciate that they didn’t try to persuade me into it.

Later in 2012, I met Marley and his friend Nathan, who were both heavy drinkers and weed smokers. Marely smoked despite having asthma, but his habit grew worse after 2015 when he moved back to his home country. They are both very nice people that unfortunately liked the cultural aspect of drug usage. That was practically the case for Marley who grew up in a country where drug use is far less regulated and almost soldered in with his country’s heritage and popular culture. It does concern me, as I care about them and how our interactions are when we meet, as I want my friends to be there as themselves and not under the influence of stimulants. I have always felt disappointment when drugs are brought into conversation as factors necessary to make a party fun, something that Mitch constantly did at his parties. I never considered drugs had an effect on my friendship with Marley, as we continued to do what we liked without either of us trying to push our opinion as the way to lead one’s life. Marley never pushed me into smoking with him as much as Mitch did, despite having a closer connection with him. In retrospect, Mitch was like the default tutorial character in an RPG who gives you some insight into the world and is always present near a bazar to offer advice and help. There was some connection, but this connection grew better when we graduated, as it seemed like the struggles of being a teenager in high school were less evident as adults. I constantly think of my former friends, acquaintances and current friends, and I wonder if they do the same, as it teaches us important aspects of how we saw life in the past and how we want to see life in the future.

Without these experiences throughout the years, I don’t think I could have grown to be the person that I am now. I am most appreciative of my friends in Germany to have introduced me to ideas and experiences and prepared me for university in a country where I had never lived before, whose culture I did not know about and whose people I hardly interacted with. I remember someone telling me that before going into university that I had to try weed, because it would put me at a disadvantage not even having tried a single drug. I was never sure what this meant, or who they thought I would be choosing as friends. This attitude become clearer when I met Dave and Steve, and eventually Elaine. Elaine seemed like a hard-working person with a moderate social personality in the most superficial way. She had her small group of friends but was friendly to many others in our class. I remember seeing her in Chemistry labs as she seemed to have difficulty concentrating or being part of the larger class, as I think she struggled with the difficulty of the class. To the peak of knowing her as an individual and not as a person, I would describe her as clueless to other friends, lacking any personality. As the year went on, we found out that we worked very well together and slowly got to know each other. She was not clueless as I had originally thought but had a very hard time fitting in with the rest. I immediately related with her, and thought she was a good influence for me, while we shared several of the same insecurities. The difference was that I didn’t let such insecurities get me down and remained positive. Especially when it came to exams, as I was always composed and calm, despite deep down feeling anxious and stressed. Elaine took to me as a medium for mediation, as she found it calming to be around someone not talking about the test and their take on some concepts. While most people were still trying to cram in the remainder of their notes, I arrived at the examination room with only a few pens. Curiously, her anxiety, which she displayed well in front of others, relaxed me even more as I sought to comfort her.

One day we found ourselves in a study room waiting for a class we had at 5 PM. We began talking about a project for our Biochemistry module, but suddenly, we drifted into a conversation of drugs. I laid down my understanding and argued that it didn’t matter which drug was taken because all drugs were essentially the same in purpose.

“How can you, who is studying biochemistry, believe that weed and cocaine are the same thing!” she exclaimed as she moved her seat closer to the table.

At the core of Elaine’s personality was the inability to take an overview of a situation, focusing more on individual details and technicalities, and perhaps even unable to connect to other individuals based on her own understanding of concepts. I acknowledged that chemically and metabolically, cannabis and cocaine were two different types of drugs that stimulated different pathways. However, the purpose that they serve, as being stimulates that alter normal brain activity, make them similar to each other.

Elaine, who had propped up in her seat and said “cocaine is nothing like marijuana, first of all it is modified chemically, whereas marijuana is just grown, picked, dried and smoked.”

“That’s partly,” I said “but, it is the exploitation of the effects that users seek, the same could be said by choosing to eat a block of chocolate instead of a block of cheese. It is a mistaken attempt to add flavour and quality to life, by introducing harmful bioagents. Besides, how can you be sure that cannabis plants haven’t been modified by breeding into more potent varieties, are all cannabis plants the same, has the product been modified by adding a chemical additive?”

Elaine didn’t seem to agree, so I decided to calm down from the confrontational dialogue and focus more on personal experience rather than opinion, as I suspected that there was some bias to her argument.

“Have you smoked before?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “yes, I have.”

“What were the circumstances?”

“The first time I was with my close friends, and they were smoking, so I had some” Elaine explained. “I wasn’t tricked into, or forced, I didn’t see anything wrong with it.”

Elaine admitted to smoking cigarettes but said that she had given up on weed. Though with a partner who smokes and takes drugs I imagine it is very difficult to leave the habit completely behind. The effects are still there as she sees it in others that she cares about. But again, she’s the type to leave decision making to those who the decisions matter, and rather prefers to pass as a bystander. Elaine told me that once an old friend had come to visit her and offered some weed to smoke like the ‘old days’. Elaine refused much to the disapproval of her friend, who insisted and rejected her dismal of smoking weed. Elaine told me that she barely had any power in arguing that she did not want to smoke, especially someone with whom she used to smoke regularly. Elaine said that her friend’s influence was strong, but she also had a stronger reason why she didn’t want to smoke. She said that her primary reason for smoking was to escape the dullness of everyday life as she constantly felt depressed. When her old friend came to visit her, she felt that she no longer needed to smoke weed to feel free.

“I suppose I don’t quite understand drug-use, as I have never done any drugs” I said, as I wanted to make a statement that would lay down a reason for my attitude.

“But you drink alcohol,” Elaine exclaimed without missing a beat. “Alcohol is a drug,” she reaffirmed.

I had never thought about alcohol in that way, although having heard the arguments of how the long-term effects of alcohol were worse than those of weed, based on average fatalities under the influence of alcohol that were greater than average fatalities caused by being high on weed. But then surely the likeliness of drowning if one is an avid swimmer is higher than someone who is afraid of water and barely swims. Of course, the probability is not zero, as there is always the likelihood of it happening in an extraordinary situation, it does not go as far as to justify someone choosing not to swim simply because of the mortality rate when taking part in water sports. The fact that chance alone can be a significant player here, as with any other situation, means that the probability of having accidents involving water and drowning can occur even in the most controlled environments, such as taking a bath in one’s home. The same logic applies when using marijuana, it may seem better when compared to other vices such as drinking, but in itself it’s as dangerous as crossing the road with one’s eyes closed or assuming that a gun is not loaded. And I didn’t quite agree that because I drank alcohol that I was under equal influences as if I had weed. But it did raise some questions such as my inability to feel like I was having a good time without having something to drink or joining in to drinking when others were drinking. Or even the inability to refuse a drink if it was offered by someone else. At its core, my behaviour towards drinking was in the same regard the same as being offered weed. The only difference is that I didn’t consider alcohol as a drug, if taken in controlled amounts. And sometimes controlled amounts meant something else than total volumes that I had decided to drink, because I would still go beyond my limit. However, this wouldn’t mean that every day I would be drinking or drink to the point of addiction.

When it came to decision making, I felt that my choice in drinking was the same as my reflection of how my friends who smoked weed chose to smoke. I knew about the risks of drinking and chose to drink, even writing and warning others about it. Even with the risks clearly understood and fear of spending terrible days afterwards, I made the decision to drink regardless. The following day I would regret my decision, but I would be less harsh on myself knowing that I knew it would happen. Of course, even with acceptance of my decision and its effects, no single hangover day was ever the same. The feeling was similar, but the aftermath and the effects were unique to every experience, sometimes unable to predict an outcome. For example, there was the time that I broke my glasses because I had forgotten that I put them on the floor or drinking to the point of becoming paralysed in the morning. Does this make me a hypocrite, I wonder? Maybe I have said ‘yes’ to drugs. As I reflect on my experiences and try to convince that this book is helpful to others, I think the attitude that I had at the beginning of why it is important to say ‘no’ is very different to the practical sense of saying ‘no’. And it’s true; it’s more of a learning curve than being ready and pre-conditioned to say ‘no’ to whichever situation as it arises. It’s likely that as we grow, we learn to give meaning to new things and our views about what we were once taught changes. Maybe I didn’t keep a clean slate as much as I had always wanted to, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an understanding of how life experiences can decode the teachings in early childhood. Perhaps to experience gives more power than to judge.

After all these years, I always had a similar attitude towards drinking alcohol as people who chose to smoke as if they were essential activities in order to have a good time. The example of how people in the UK are intimately attached to pubs that they cannot see life without is enough indication of people’s necessity to continue with tradition. I personally never enjoyed alcohol to the extent that I would choose it over a glass of refreshing cranberry juice. When drinking socially back in high school and university, I was after the effects, and the effects alone. When drinking socially now, I use it as a symbol of status and wealth. Others will have their reason for enjoying a glass of wine or keg of beer, whilst some will pay luxury prices for aged whiskey, which I imagine is something that they seek because of experience and exposure to the cultural aspect of alcohol. As I didn’t grow up with that, my attitude towards alcohol is itself something that to me means something else, and I don’t expect others to understand or try to change me. The same can be said about cigars, which I didn’t grow up with and instead grew to like their symbolism during my time in high school. I never enjoyed smoking them, often feeling that they were too strong for me with an awful burnt and bitter taste, but I was drawn in by their symbol in society, partly how it was sold by the media and popular culture. The fact is that I was never invested into the tradition of smoking cigars, in the same way that I was embedded into the drinking culture. Use of cigarettes was slightly different as I had more exposure to them early in life, as I used them as early as six years old to light fuses of firecrackers. Cigarettes were more accepted as items of function in other contexts outside of smoking them. But the mere exposure to them rationalised their presence in everyday life, that I had the curiosity to try as I would see others do. Early in childhood, taking puffs from cigarettes (not inhaling) became a symbol of power and mischief as it was something my father highly disapproved. My mother smoked before I was born, but stopped while she was pregnant, but the stories of her past and her friends still influenced me. Of course, without close exposure during early adulthood, I never got into the habit of smoking and though I smoked socially I didn’t enjoy the inhalation of the smoke, as I was satisfied with the feeling of holding fire in my hand. As for the harmful substances in cigarettes, I accepted their presence, but didn’t value them as factors that would affect my health in the amounts that I was taking. Trouble is that the onset of these effects may come in different magnitudes for different people. 

I continued to hear about drug parties while in university. I remember the invitation cards for one end-of-year party advertising that they would have laughing gas. I remember thinking how necessary that would be, as in did they really just want to laugh throughout the party? I accepted that for some people such an environment would be fun and nice to be in, but I wasn’t attracted by it. But then again, I was never their intended audience. They were after those who struggled through university and sought to escape. Easy targets were Shaemus and Elaine who were never comfortable in their own skin. One day Elaine was complaining about her social attractiveness to others, and some recommended that she should take stimulant drugs, selling the idea as something that would change her social abilities. I suppose to some that would feel like a compassionate suggestion, but I also imagine that it is just an excuse to expose someone as a victim of cheap jokes and immature laughs about their behaviour under the influence of drugs. I had seen this happen when Mitch influenced Cassey and Camille to smoke weed. I don’t think drugs or alcohol make one’s personality come out better, it only gives a false sense of security when interacting with others. As someone who has never been afraid of appearance or judgement by others, I realised that I never really needed alcohol to be the clown of the group or pose naked in embarrassing situations. I do that naturally as I am a fan of expression and making others uncomfortable, and instead alcohol amplified my lesser-known qualities and intimate desires, rather than my intelligence and uniqueness as an individual.

When I thought about my future in 2013, I didn’t quite know what to expect. My exposure to drugs and to people from all across the world taught me far more lessons that I could have learnt from my family or from the books that I read. The passions and emotions were more real than I knew about. I ran away from emotion for most of my time whilst doing my undergraduate degree in London, thinking that it was only something that would suppress my abilities. I considered emotion as a weakness and relied almost exclusively on facts and logic. I suppose that I saw life how I wanted to see it and almost never reflected on my experiences as learning tools, as much I did later in life. It’s difficult to imagine what happens to my friends after long years of taking drugs and if they too take some time to reflect beyond their comfort zone and understanding. I wonder if my friends would ever remember how their characters changed when taking drugs or understood how delicate life is if held in the balance of a drug. I have seen friends that turned violent and attacked anyone, just because they are there. I have seen those that are quiet, and suddenly, they become more vocal in the group; they laugh and show emotion for the first time. I have seen those who are energetic turn to corpses. I have witnessed those who hardly have a voice turn into diplomats. I have also seen those who are serious turn hysterical.  I have seen the perfect student be reduced to nothing special.  There has been the calm girl who became paranoid and the paranoid girl who lost herself. Or the time my friend passed out and no one cared.  here has been my very close friend, who became less of a friend every time he indulged in drugs.  And there are those who are unfortunate not to breathe the next day. There are those who cause harm to innocent people. And those that can turn a magical night into a horrible reality.  And there are always those that turn others into faceless strangers.  

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