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Consumption in everyday life

NOTE: Quotes are presented word for word apart from minor editing for readability and clarity. Identifying details have been removed. Square brackets show text that has been added, e.g. ‘I want to maintain [my current level of consumption]’. Ellipses within square brackets […] show where text has been removed, e.g. ‘Counselling was good but […] I would have liked more information about other treatment options’.

The people interviewed for this website talk in detail about how consuming alcohol or another drug contributes to their everyday lives. Benefits and drawbacks are discussed, as well as how consuming fits in with other activities, such as going to work, studying or spending time with friends and family. The benefits and drawbacks our participants identify vary according to the drug, individual circumstances and the context of consumption. Some say that regular alcohol or other drug use can sometimes disrupt parts of everyday life, producing unwanted effects. For example, some describe how regular consumption led to addiction or dependence (see also What is addiction or dependence?). Others say it led to mental or physical health issues or made an existing condition worse (see also Living with illness or a health condition; Living with a mental health condition). Strategies for avoiding these and other unwanted effects are also described (see also Changing patterns of consumption).

Many of our participants also talk about the pleasures of consumption, highlighting its role in the enjoyment of leisure activities and social events. Some say that consuming drugs such as cannabis, ice, MDMA and heroin can create feelings of intense happiness or euphoria. These ‘euphoric’ effects are seen as enhancing the experience of partying and other social activities. Related to this, several describe the social advantages of consuming the drug(s) they prefer. For example, some of those who consume ice, speed, alcohol or cannabis say that doing so can enhance sociability and increase confidence in social situations. A few say that taking the drug(s) they prefer with others creates a sense of belonging and fellowship, which they value (see also Relationships, confidentiality & telling others). This was most commonly the case for those who consume alcohol, cannabis, ice, or MDMA and other ‘party drugs’, but a few of those who take heroin or speed also describe their benefits in these terms. Some of those who consume ice, GHB, MDMA or cannabis say it can enhance sexual pleasure and promote intimacy. While alcohol and other drug use is described by some as contributing to sexual experiences, certain patterns of ice consumption, in particular, are seen as also having negative or unwanted effects in sexual contexts.

Some explain that consuming the drug they prefer eases physical and emotional pain. For example, many of those who consume alcohol, cannabis, heroin, or over-the-counter or prescription painkillers say it helps them cope with issues such as relationship difficulties, grief and loneliness. For others, taking their preferred drug supports them more generally to function, perform day-to-day tasks and cope with everyday challenges. For example, several who consume cannabis find it enhances creativity in work or study (see also Work, study & making ends meet). Others say that it contributes to their well-being by relieving stress and improving their mood (see also Looking after health & well-being). The role of ice or speed in increasing energy, focus and motivation is highlighted but in some cases these benefits are seen as diminishing with increased consumption. By contrast, others talk about the ‘calming’ effects of alcohol, cannabis, heroin or prescription sedatives. They say they consume one or more of these drugs to help them relax and/or sleep.

Although many of our participants comment on the benefits of alcohol and other drug use, they also say that it has drawbacks and can generate unwanted effects. Hangovers or ‘comedowns’ are commonly mentioned many as a disadvantage. The possible negative impact on mental health is a concern with some saying consumption can lead to mental health issues such as sudden mood changes, anxiety or depression. These unwanted effects can, at times, impact on relationships, and disrupt work, study and family commitments (see also Relationships, confidentiality & telling others; Work, study & making ends meet). While several say that consumption of their preferred drug(s) supports and enhances their social lives, others say that it can contribute to relationship difficulties and, in some cases, lead to social isolation. Some point out that these issues are made worse by punitive criminal justice responses to illicit drug use and the stigma surrounding it (see also Contact with the criminal justice system; Dealing with stigma & discrimination). To avoid these unwanted effects, many of our participants describe the strategies they use to manage their alcohol and other drug use (see also Changing patterns of consumption).

The ‘mind altering’ effects of drugs such as hallucinogens and cannabis is also discussed. Some say that by changing their state of mind, these drugs allow them to experience the world differently, which can promote self-reflection and deeper personal insight. However, many also note that the positive effects they describe depend on the drug and their circumstances, including how much and how often they consume. Some say that they stop experiencing benefits with increased consumption, so they keep track of their consumption to reduce the risks they see as related to more frequent, heavy use (see also Changing patterns of consumption).

Read on to find out more about how consumption fits into everyday life and people’s experiences of its advantages and drawbacks.

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Balancing pleasures & unwanted effects

Many of our participants talk about the pleasures of taking the drug(s) they prefer, including how it increases enjoyment of recreational activities and social events. Max (M, 20, studying, cannabis and party drugs) describes the effects of MDMA in these terms: ‘It just makes you really happy, in a state of euphoria. That’s a good way to party. It’s good fun’. Some of those who consume alcohol, cannabis, heroin or prescription sedatives say that doing so promotes relaxation. As Lucy (F, 34, works in retail, cannabis) explains in relation to cannabis use, ‘It’s my way to chill […] it’s my stress relief, it’s my fun […] For me, it can be really fun. Like, you know, it’s giggles, it’s hilarious. Like, it’s really enjoyable’. In some cases, cannabis consumption is described as aiding sleep as it has a calming, sedative effect. As Callum (M, 36, studying, cannabis) puts it, ‘When I feel the need to relax, yeah, I kick back and have a spliff. So that’s basically how I operate. And as I said, it helps me get to sleep, so it’s just a night routine’. Several comment that there is a fine line between enjoying the pleasures of alcohol and other drug use and finding their effects too ‘extreme’ or ‘addictive’. They explain how they strike a balance between maximising the benefits and avoiding unwanted effects.

Ted (M, 26, works in the arts, cannabis and party drugs) takes drugs that ‘complement’ each other to create intense experiences and bond with other people. (Played by an actor)

Most commonly [I’ll take…] something like MDMA and cocaine, or MDMA and GHB. And [I’ll] sort of use the two to complement each other […] It’s usually, you know, take one and then, when that starts to wear off, use the other one to sort of complement [it…These drugs] take you to extreme places. People mostly think of it as positive and most of the time, it is positive. They can make you very outgoing but they can also make you very inward-looking […] Most of the time, for me, they put me in a position […] where I feel like I can better create relationships. So you have these really intense experiences with other people that you wouldn’t otherwise be having. Or maybe you would have them, but you wouldn’t necessarily be feeling the same way about them. And you can create a bond, and that can be really thrilling.

Anika (F, 19, studying, cannabis) describes the enjoyment she gets from cannabis consumption. (Played by an actor)

Weed is such a tasty thing to have [… because it’s like] there are no worries. Fear does come in but only if you really abuse it. But the minute you have a joint in the sun, or something like that […] it’s the best and it gets addictive. Like, why wouldn’t you want to go to that happy place? Or why wouldn’t you want to eat really good food and have a good pizza on the munchies, you know? Like, it’s the best […] Food tastes better, music [sounds] better. Even running is, like, amazing […and] swimming is amazing, even in the winter […Also] I always dance when I’m alone and stoned, because you’re in your room and no one’s watching, so you’re like, ‘I’m just going to go all Michael Jackson’, you know. It’s really fun.

For some, consumption of the drug they prefer is a ‘reward’ for making it through the working day or week, or a way to relieve work-related stress (see also Work, study & making ends meet). As Dawn (F, 38, works in manufacturing, alcohol) explains in relation to alcohol, ‘I’d always drink with my cousins […] We’d do our thing during the week and then get together on weekends and just catch up [over a drink]’. Andrew (M, 41, works in education, cannabis and alcohol) makes a similar point in relation to cannabis use:

It’s my little reward every day as well. You know, like, I’m single. I don’t have kids so I don’t really get a reward at the end of the day. Like, a lot of people, you know, come home to their partner or their children or whoever it may be. I’m single […] I’m travelling solo […so] cannabis helps me.

Others say that consuming their preferred drug(s) alongside other leisure activities offers a ‘release’ from daily responsibilities such as parenting, work and running a household. As Zadie (F, 33, works in the health sector, heroin) explains:

[With] the grind of nine to five [work…] paying bills, keeping the house together, being a mum, doing all that, if I didn’t have my release of art, freedom, creativity and bending my mind [with drugs] I wouldn’t be such a happy person. [For me] dancing, music, art, mind-bending drugs, that’s a beautiful part of life.

Some of those who consume ice, GHB, MDMA or cannabis say it can enhance sexual pleasure and promote intimacy. While several describe how use of these drugs can contribute to sexual experiences, others, such as Jason below, say that certain patterns of ice use, in particular, can also have negative or unwanted effects in sexual contexts.

For Jason (M, 34, studying, ice), ice enhances the experience of sex but he says he doesn’t ‘connect’ with sexual partners when he’s taken it. (Note: strong language)

So in sexual [contexts it] was just to let everything go […] I could be hypersexual and be able to play for a few days at a time […] It allowed me to regulate my mood. So when I was feeling sad or down, flat, depressed [I’d think] ‘Oh here’s a bag of crystal meth, I’ll feel better after that’, ignoring the fact that once that wore off, then I’d be feeling even more shithouse […] Going back to what I said about being functional. Yeah, it made me feel functional but then […] it would be all about the sex. It would become that’s all I’m functional for. I felt like a zombie, just trying to find more sex, and just for the sake of having sex, not connecting. So yeah [if I had] a little bit, I seemed to be, ‘Oh yeah, I’m upright, having fun’. But [if I had] a little bit too much […] that’s when I was a zombie, just zonked out.

Alongside the many ways our participants talk about consuming alcohol or other drugs as part of everyday life, some also talk about disadvantages and unwanted effects. These vary and depend on the drug, circumstances and the context of consumption, but include concerns about increased risk of injury, changes to sleep patterns, mental health issues and after effects such as hangovers or ‘comedowns’. Others say that consuming the drug they prefer sometimes negatively affects their state of mind, conduct and well-being. For example, according to some of our participants, ice consumption can lead to sleep issues, mood swings, paranoia, anxiety and psychosis. Speed, like ice, is described by some as disrupting sleep and causing mood swings. Others talk about the unwanted effects of drinking, including aggression and mood swings. For some, the desire to avoid these effects prompted them to cut down, stop or otherwise change their patterns of alcohol and other drug use (see also Changing patterns of consumption). Zac (M, 53, works in health services, party drugs), for example, says, ‘Ice has a lot of long-term consequences and you have bad comedowns […] There’s a lot of really good feelings and advantages in terms of enjoyment, but the reason I stopped doing it is because of the cost in terms of general wellbeing and motivation’.

In the past Pauline (F, 51, works in administration, cannabis) enjoyed taking cocaine and MDMA but now finds it takes her too long to ‘recover’ afterwards. (Played by an actor)

I would occasionally have what I would call ‘party drugs’: cocaine or MDMA. I do find though in the last say four […or] five years, it just knocks me around so much. It’s almost not worth it. And I’ve been at things, like say a small boutique dance party, where I feel very comfortable and safe and entertained [with] all my loved ones around me. And after about five hours, my physical body just says, ‘No’. And I’ve still got the drug pumping through, but I’m over it. My physical body’s tired, I just want to be in a quiet space again. And then it [takes] days to get over it.

A few times when Bill (M, 43, works in retail, alcohol) drank heavily, he experienced memory loss and accidental injuries.

If I had too much to drink […] there was a point where I just would get really loud. And yeah, the next point is you just don’t remember what you’re doing. You might have a whole night out and you only remember like a small portion at the start and it’s like, ‘What happened last night? Where did I go? What did I do?’ And it’s a pretty scary sort of feeling in the morning when, you know, you’ve lost hours and hours of your life, and you could’ve done anything, you know. And really you wouldn’t have been in control. And, you know, a lot of those times, I guess I just got home and it was okay. But as I said before, a lot of those times I would end up in hospital just through, you know, falling on my head or […] whatever it was. Car accidents and things like that as well, not me driving, but with other people who were affected by alcohol, and then they crashed […] So I was very lucky that [although] the injuries I sustained were bad, I never was really badly physically affected. You know, some people […] may never be able to walk [again], or lose brain function […] So I sort of feel like I’m really lucky that I had all those years where I went through and I’m still relatively okay now.

When he drank heavily, Angelo (M, 35, works in the construction industry, alcohol) sometimes experienced what he describes as ‘telepathy’ and afterwards he felt depressed and embarrassed.

Part 1
The big thing for me was after I’d drink, I would have, I don’t know, I think it’s being classed as terrors or horrors or something like that. It’s where I would kind of like feel as though […] I could read people’s thoughts, and things like that. It sounds like something that other people on other drugs would experience […]

Like, you know, I’d think I was experiencing telepathy and things like that. And afterwards for like three days or so, I would experience like a really down feeling, like almost depressive. Like, I was embarrassed […] It was like all my energy was drained and […] everything good that was in my life had disappeared or something. And so for the next week or three days or whatever, I’d be dragging my feet around all depressed.

Part 2

Usually [after drinking] there was some form of regret involved. So whether it was I had an argument with someone or I’d spent all my money that was meant to be saved, which was usually the case. Or, because like I’d have […] these experiences of what was explained to me as having terrors, which were you know, some kind of psychological, psycho-spiritual kind of experience. And not knowing the next day whether, like, it really happened, or whether I was making these things up in my head or whatever. So I’d feel embarrassed, ashamed.

Consumption in social life

The social benefits of consumption is a common theme with several participants describing how taking their preferred drug(s) enhances sociability, making social events more fun and increasing confidence in social situations. As Misja (M, 40, unemployed, heroin and cannabis) puts it in relation to cannabis, ‘I think I can relate more to people when I’ve had a joint. When I haven’t had any [cannabis] I don’t feel like I want to talk to anybody and I can’t really relate with people. But when I’ve had a smoke, I’m much more relaxed and I’m more open’. Some add that consuming alcohol or another drug in social settings helps them make new friends or strengthens existing friendships (see also Relationships, confidentiality & telling others). Max (M, 20, studying, cannabis and party drugs), for example, makes this point in relation to MDMA use: ‘It’s a great thing for meeting new people as well. You always seem to […] make all these new friends […] because you’re really friendly when you’re high […] Just talking to people is awesome. It makes that heaps of fun’.

For some, consuming with others creates a sense of belonging and fellowship that they otherwise may not experience. As Ethan (M, 39, works in hospitality, ice) explains:

I [grew up] in a very restricted household […] and I didn’t feel like I had many friends around, or I wasn’t really allowed access to friends from school. So for me, escaping home was kind of the first step [in] doing everything that I couldn’t do before, which meant I could smoke, I could take drugs. It was just a whole new world that I hadn’t been exposed to before, and that kind of gave me a sense of feeling part of something and belonging to something.

According to Jim (M, 21, studying, cannabis), smoking cannabis with friends strengthens the bonds between them. (Played by an actor)

One thing that binds our social circle together is the fact that we all like to smoke marijuana with each other. And that’s the thing that we do together. Like, I don’t really see my friends that often, other than if we are smoking weed or at a party or something […] It’s just something we all enjoy. It’s a common thing […] You loosen up, relax and it’s a good time when you chill out and smoke weed with your friends […] And a joint is usually shared between others […] I like to keep it more social […With] all my close friends, I suppose we’ve all grown up together and we’re all close, and that’s something that all have in common […] It brings us together.

For Brad (M, 50, unemployed, speed) taking speed with friends promotes a sense of togetherness, or as he puts it, ‘communion’.

I value the people, you know, my closest friends […] We have shared interests in all sorts of ways, one of them being, you know, that kind of communion [of taking speed together]. You know, you can call it community in some ways. There’s that old joke that [speed] breaks down all kinds of barriers. If you’ve got a shared interest in that, you can sit around talking […] With a lot of people I know that do it, I’ve known for years, decades. You know, they are still my friends, my closest friends who I’ve probably known for 30 years, and we’ve done it on and off together and I’m still in touch with them. So I value that [social…] side of it […] Listening [to each other is] a big part of it. I mean, it’s weird that there’s a whole thing about talking [on speed]. You know, the standard speed freak thing. But, you know, there’s also that thing of listening.

[Taking speed] is a very social activity. It’s like sitting around having coffees and talking […] Sometimes you seem to have a better handle on your own feelings and expressing them to someone else. And, you know, that’s happened recently. And that’s good in my book. And that’s always been a part of it.

Taking MDMA and ice in social settings helps Jenna (F, 31, studying, cannabis) to make new social connections.

Yeah, I guess the [other drugs I take] are very much more social. So MDMA and ice are ones that kind of happen socially […They enable] just different ways of social connection and creative expression, and those sorts of things […] I think MDMA is probably more of a sexual drug for me […] I mean I guess there’s a shared wavelength if you’re all kind of on the same drugs. And it, yeah, it breaks down barriers. So, yeah, dancing and other kind of physical and mental connections are different.

While some find that consuming their preferred drug enhances their social lives, others say that it makes them antisocial, which can contribute to relationship difficulties and social isolation (see also Relationships, confidentiality & telling others). Some who consume alcohol, cannabis or heroin describe some of their unwanted effects in these terms. As Matthew (M, 49, not working due to illness, cannabis) explains in relation to cannabis consumption, ‘It’s affected me socially, so where I can’t interact with people. And if I’ve had a smoke [I’m] just paranoid [I] don’t want people to know I’ve had a smoke. I don’t want to go out’. The desire to avoid these issues prompted some of our participants to cut down or stop altogether (see also Changing patterns of consumption).

Others say that regular alcohol and other drug use led to addiction or dependence. They say a sign of addiction is when consumption disrupts other parts of everyday life, such as work, study and family commitments (see also What is addiction or dependence?). Withdrawal symptoms are also mentioned, along with ‘cravings’ and the need for higher doses after repeated consumption (‘tolerance’) as disadvantages. A few say that consumption led to mental or physical health issues or made an existing condition worse (See also Living with illness or a health condition; Living with a mental health condition). As Harry (M, 52, works in the arts, heroin) explains in relation to his speed and alcohol use, ‘Earlier on in the piece I got hepatitis [so] I’ve sort of had not the greatest liver over the years and speed affects that […] So I couldn’t really be a long-term speed or alcohol user without causing considerable damage that hasn’t already been caused by the hepatitis’.

Dealing with pain & distress

Many of our participants say that consuming the drug(s) they prefer eases, or helps them to cope with, physical and emotional pain, or difficult experiences. Many of those who consume alcohol, cannabis, heroin, or over-the-counter or prescription drugs describe their benefits in these terms, while a few of those who consume speed or ice find it helps them to cope with emotional pain and distress. In some cases, the pain or distress experienced is related to a physical injury or illness, while in others it is linked to mental health issues such as anxiety or depression (see also Living with illness or a health condition; Living with a mental health condition). For example, Matthew (M, 49, not working due to illness, cannabis) says that smoking cannabis regularly helps him deal with depression:

It just lifts your mood, gives you hope, makes you more creative and [helps you to] try to work yourself out of the hole. Where[as] if I’m not having it, I just sort of give up and just don’t want to do anything, and I just get more and more depressed.

Others describe how consuming their preferred drug helps them cope with a range of different issues, including relationship difficulties, parenting challenges, domestic violence, homelessness, grief and loneliness (see also Relationships, confidentiality & telling others). As Amy (F, 52, studying, heroin) explains in relation to heroin, ‘I’m not coping with something right now. If I use [heroin] I’ll feel better. It’s kind of that simple, sometimes’. While many say that consuming their preferred drug(s) helps them deal with pain and difficult experiences, some add that certain patterns of consumption can generate unwanted effects that make their difficulties worse. Their accounts suggest that the benefits and drawbacks are often closely linked, and are best managed together.

Annemarie (F, 59, works in marketing, prescription drugs) began taking benzodiazepines for panic attacks but after a while she found she had to increase the dose to get the desired effect and says she became ‘addicted’ to them.

Part 1

I was a single mother and […] I was experiencing quite extreme panic attacks. I was working at the time and I really couldn’t afford to […] not work because these panic attacks were causing me to have to get up and flee. I went to the GP, and he thought I had postnatal depression, so he put me on Serepax [oxazepam, a benzodiazepine] then. He put me on quite a high dose. He put me on three tablets, 30mg tablets every day, and that […] didn’t make me feel, sort of, euphoric or anything like that. It just made me feel normal, back to being able to function, [to] go to work.

[…]

They were sort of almost like too good to be true. They just fixed everything for about three weeks, and then I had to take more to get the same [effect…So] after that period of time, I started thinking that I was waiting for my next dose. […] I’d take them three times a day, [and] I would find that the time would shorten that they’d be effective. So, if I had to take one, say, at 8 o’clock in the morning and then another one at say 2, I’d find that around 12 [or] 1 o’clock I’d start getting fidgety and quite anxious.

Part 2

I tried to keep it on the same amount but it wasn’t actually getting rid of my panic. It was just containing it. So it wasn’t having the desired effect any more. It wasn’t the same effect that I had when I was first given it. All it was doing, was making me just […] able to function, so that was really about all.

Part 3

I’d start to […] feel the panic coming on and I would be waiting for the next dose. And even though I recognised that as, ‘I’m addicted to these things’, I just didn’t know what to do and when I brought it up with [the doctor] he would just say that’s just a sign [that] you really are quite unwell.

Fozz (M, 59, works in employment services, alcohol) says that drinking helped him to cope with social isolation but his isolation also contributed to his ‘addiction to alcohol’.

Part 1

I’m not married. I don’t have relationships […] so it facilitated my increasing addiction to alcohol, because I had actually started to radically delimit my contact with people. Even though I was working full time […] I didn’t associate with anyone I worked with.

Part 2

I think the alcohol was an attempt to ameliorate a profound sense of alienation that I’ve had since I was a little boy. And that’s tied up with my family. And the alcohol somehow obviated the fact that I was extraordinarily lonely. So the more […] I self-medicated, the less lonely I was, and I could then suppress those feelings.

For Josie (F, 38, not working due to illness, heroin), taking speed and heroin helped her cope with homelessness and the effects of family violence.

We had family violence and one of my siblings was very aggressive to the point where, you know, my mother just stood back because she was scared of him. So [a government agency] took me out of home, put me with like a group home for girls. And yeah, that was the reason why I went on the street because I didn’t like the group home and at that stage, I didn’t know anywhere else to go […Being homeless] was so new to me, you know. You’d grab a blanket and a pillow and just crash underneath a tree [and] you’d just [take speed] anywhere. And then, you know, after a while you get used to it and it starts to make you feel good […] It was like blocking my home experience. So, you know, it was sort of like a getaway.

[…The first time I took heroin] I remember one girl saying to me, ‘This will make you feel better’. And at that stage I was like, ‘Yeah, fine’, you know. But my first taste of heroin, it was like this peace coming through your body [from] head to toe. […] It’s peaceful and another getaway, and [I was] able to sleep. Like [it helped me] block out my thoughts and […] deal with the abuse at home. And so for me, that just made things easier.

Supporting daily activities & well-being

Many of our participants say that consuming the drug(s) they prefer helps them perform day-to-day tasks and contributes to their well-being. For example, several who consume cannabis find it enhances creativity in work or study (see also Work, study & making ends meet). Its role in improving well-being is also described, with several saying it relieves stress, which helps them to relax and improves their mood (see also Looking after health & well-being). Some of those working in high pressure jobs find this especially beneficial. As Jacob (M, 33, works in hospitality, cannabis) puts it, ‘I […] find it easier to deal with the people around me, or to deal with customers, or to deal with the pressure [after I’ve had a joint]’. Likewise some talk about the ‘calming’ effects of alcohol, heroin or prescription sedatives. They say they consume one or more of these drugs to ease stress and help them relax and/or sleep. By contrast, some consume ice or speed to increase their energy, focus and motivation. A few say alcohol and other drug use increases their confidence, which helps them establish new relationships and perform better at work.

Alongside the many ways our participants talk about consuming alcohol or another drugs as part of everyday life, some also talk about disadvantages and unwanted effects. For example, some point out that when they have a hangover or comedown it affects their productivity and disrupts work or study (see also Work, study & making ends meet). As Luke (M, 44, works in marketing, alcohol) explains:

You’d have nights where you’d just drink way too much and then you’d have the day off the next day. And it was just starting to really affect me within my working environment. I would just sleep in. I would just make excuses for why I’m not going to go to work […] I was still productive at work, but I just wasn’t turning up as much and I probably wasn’t as analytical [or…] focused on detail.

Taking steps to avoid or manage these unwanted effects is a key concern for many of those interviewed.

Scarlett (F, 29, works in finance, ice) explained that taking ice in social settings helped her and her partner build new business relationships. (Played by an actor)

[Taking ice] has opened up a lot of opportunities for me workwise. Same with my partner. He’s gotten more clients or more suppliers for his work as well […] So it’s like, one weekend we’d be talking and then my partner would say, ‘Oh, I need to source [some materials] I’m just looking up this company because they supply us with […] materials’. And then he’d say, ‘Oh doesn’t [that guy we met at the party] work for them? Maybe we should give him a call’. And so relationships build from there […] Yeah, so I suppose it’s given me a lot of confidence in getting out there and talking to people. And […] I’ve become aware of my ability to do that, so I’ve been able to get ahead when I’m not high as well.

Regular cannabis consumption helps Andrew (M, 41, works in education, cannabis and alcohol) manage his disabilities and deal with everyday challenges.

I remember one time just smoking it at home when no one was home, and just going for a ride on my bike and singing along, you know, just singing, and [I] was quite happy. It was quite pleasant, you know. There is no down side to it for me. It really agrees with my personality, like, so much. It makes me feel so much better, way more sociable. And I can enjoy it by myself and it takes away the boredom, and just makes me feel better with life. I have disabilities and it really helps. I’ve got, like, a debilitating disability. I won’t go into that right now, but it’s a physical one, and that’s taken years and years to get my head around. And smoking marijuana really helps with functioning and being able to get on with my life as I am now, with my disabilities.

Several say that cannabis consumption aids concentration and can be particularly useful for studying or doing tasks that require focussed attention. A few involved in creative arts say that it allows them to ‘see things in a different light’, which enhances their creativity (see also Work, study & making ends meet). As Lucy (F, 34, studying, cannabis) explains, ‘I like the way [smoking cannabis] opens my mind up a little. I see things in a different way. You know, I am a pretty deep thinker but I notice with that I’ll really sit and think over things. I’ll think more philosophically. I believe it’s giving me a bit more depth when I’m writing’.

Jenna (F, 31, studying, cannabis) says that smoking cannabis improves her creativity and musical performance.

[Smoking cannabis] affects my creativity. It means my brain can process things in different ways. It has a good effect on my proprioception and musical interpretations and stuff, yeah […] So it means I can come at [my] projects from a different angle [with] different sensitivities to music and movement particularly […] It’s like, for me, a link to art and creativity […] When I have taken breaks from [smoking] it hasn’t been an issue. Like, I’ve still been able to be creative. I think the thing that it affects the most [is] in terms of proprioception, like movement and musical pitch and ability. Those things specifically are much harder for me without it […] So if I’m playing music, like playing an instrument and singing, I’ve got a much better sense of pitch when I’m high on weed than I do off it. And there’s kind of much more fluidity when I play an instrument. It’s more intuitive. Like, yeah, I can just hear a lot more subtlety in notes and things.

The role of ice, speed or heroin use in improving productivity and performance is discussed, but in some cases these benefits are said to diminish with increased consumption. As Ethan (M, 39, works in hospitality, ice) explains in relation to ice consumption:

My boss knew that I was using [ice] but she said that she couldn’t really do anything because my quality of work was as good or better at the time. But it just didn’t last […] It increased my efficiency in my capacity to do things for a while, but then it started going downhill. And I remember just sitting and trying to write something, and just being really scattered and not being able to put things together.

In order to limit the risks they see as related to more frequent consumption of ice, speed or heroin, several say that they keep track of how much and how often they consume, and make changes when necessary (see also Changing patterns of consumption). Others describe the strategies they use to avoid or manage the unwanted effects of consuming their drug of choice.

Helen (F, 53, not working due to injury, heroin) limits her heroin consumption to a level where she can function and still enjoy its benefits. (Played by an actor)

Personally, I don’t really use [heroin] to get really stoned […] I mean I do have a much nicer sleep on it but I find it actually makes me feel more capable of just doing my day-to-day things. So it gives me more energy, I can go for really long walks or bike rides, or play with the kids, or do things that require a lot of stamina that normally I’d feel too tired to do. And if I end up using more than I mean to, I feel stupid, like I’ve wasted my money and now I’ve got to wait for it to wear off again, so I try to keep it at that level where I’m functioning on it.

Scarlett (F, 29, works in finance, ice) avoids taking ice at work because it affects her performance in meetings. (Played by an actor)

[My partner and I] try to avoid [taking ice] during the week because it interferes with our work. With me, I need to sit in management meetings. So that’s not effective using meth. I’ve found I can’t talk on it. My speech isn’t that great. When I was working in customer service, I was able to smoke and inject, and still be okay. But then when it got to management meetings, I just got too stressed, too paranoid as well […] that they would notice. And because we were so close together [in the meetings] I just couldn’t do that. So I would avoid doing that at work.

While ‘coming down’, Artemis (M, 28, works in education, cannabis and party drugs) does simple work tasks that don’t require much ‘brain power’. (Played by an actor)

[My drug use] depends really on the level of partying and the amount of time I have to recover […] Last week for example, I was paying the price for an exciting weekend [so…] I was pretty much sick and despondent all week for a weekend that wasn’t really that [much] fun […] And, like, the thing I really hate about a comedown from drugs [after a big weekend] is that it’s hard for me to remember things. And it’s hard for me to have […] the brilliant connections that […I] need sometimes to be successful [in my job]. So my comedown weeks are data cleaning weeks, you know, or, like, very basic analysis that needs to get done but is boring to do [I’ll do tasks that don’t] require as much of my brain power.

Altering consciousness

A few of our participants talk about the ‘mind altering’ effects of some drugs, such as hallucinogens and cannabis. They say that by changing their state of mind, these drugs allow them to experience the world differently. Some add that doing so can promote self-reflection, creativity and personal insight, enabling them to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world.

Smoking cannabis allows Jim (M, 21, studying, cannabis) to ‘see the world in a different light’ and enhances his creativity. (Played by an actor)

[Cannabis] just alters your mind a little bit. It gives you a bit of a shift, gives you a bit of a change. And that’s kind of what I’m after when I smoke it […It helps me to] see the world in a different light. I’m also an artist so I do it for creative purposes as well because I really think it does do things creatively, and things I just wouldn’t think about normally in my right mind. And when I’m high, I just think of things or go into a state. And then when I’m not high, I look back and go, ‘Wow, I did that. That was cool’.

Callum (M, 36, studying, cannabis) says that taking hallucinogens (or ‘psychedelics’) promotes reflection and gives him deeper personal insight. (Note: strong language)

Using psychedelics has sort of helped me […] find out about myself and it’s had such a profound effect on my life and my learning curve really […] I find that if I take psychedelics on a regular occasion […] it gives me some time out just to assess myself, have some critical reflection, see where I want to go. So it just gives me more insight into myself rather than blocking all the feelings […With] LSD, basically you feel like you’re tapped into a universal mind-like mainframe […] All the stresses of normal, everyday life dissipate. You basically have no ego. You’re able just to go inside yourself and internalise. And as I said before, critical reflection, just to think about yourself, where you’re going, it takes all the bullshit away in life and allows you to focus on what’s important. So that’s LSD. [With] mushrooms […] I literally just curl up on the couch, listen to music, close my eyes, just watch the colours [and] have a beautiful experience […] And I find that I come out of that, once again, able to critically reflect [with more] insight into myself […] It helps me be a more centred person at the end of the day.

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