Cough Medicine, Coke and Crack Pipes: What Recreational Drug Use Looks Like Around The World

A recent report revealed that guys in China are getting off on girls doing meth on webcams for them. So what about elsewhere?


by Lucy Draper |
Published on

What does a night out for you entail? A few pre-drinks, then a bar? A bottle of wine and then a club night? Well, yes - but there are young women around the world who’s preparation is slightly more hardcore.

A recent Vice article detailed how Chinese men are now paying to watch young women smoke meth, and use of the drug is on the increase across the country. But what about other parts of the world – does where you live have an effect on what drugs you take if you’re a 20-something girl looking for a good time?

The United Nations 2014 World Drug Report, which was published earlier this year, was a pretty eye opening study into narcotic use across the globe. The survey found that cocaine prices vary across the world – it can cost anything from €40 in parts of Europe to $400 per gram in Australia - and that although cannabis use was down globally, it had increased in North America.

Ecstasy use was highest in Australia and New Zealand with England and Wales ranked fifth and apparently cocaine use was higher in Scotland than any other country, although this figure has been (understandably) disputed by the Scottish government. But rather than take these kind of figures at face-value, and because straight statistics have never really been our idea of fun, we decided to dig a little deeper into what exactly young women are doing for fun nowadays.

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Alex, who lived and worked in Melbourne for two years agrees with the report's findings that drug use is rife there. 'Yeh, there’s loads of drugs in Australia – but they’re all super expensive,' she tells The Debrief. 'They’re kind of saved for special occasions rather than just getting a gram to go to the pub or whatever.' Because Australia is so remote, most drugs that reach its sunny shores have been exported at least twice, meaning that not only is it hideously expensive, but it’s probably mostly made out of baking soda too.

People do use speed a lot more than coke for nights out. When I was there a gram of coke would be $350, but speed was $120, so people took that way more.

This might explain why many residents tend to go for the cheaper options: 'People do use speed a lot more than coke for nights out. When I was there a few years ago a gram of coke would be $350, but speed was $120, so people took that way more.' Oh, and these are not the only amphetamines that tickly young women’s fancy down under. 'Loads of people were puffing on crack pipes too – like it was a totally normal thing to do,' Alex concludes. 'I was working with and around bars and clubs which might be why I saw people doing this so much but still…'


Whilst you may think of Japan as a calm, quiet country where sushi-eating and cherry blossom reign supreme, it might be time to reconsider that – admittedly very stereotypical – picture. According to Michelle who visited Tokyo this year, young women (and men, to be fair) are fans of more than a little sake with dinner. 'They drink excessively, especially in Tokyo, and there were quite a few people taking salvia during nights out too.' Salvia is a plant which, when chewed or smoked can produce hallucinations and is often advertised as a kind of ‘herbal ecstasy’ despite the fact it can have quite serious effects on users.


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Despite the fact that in 2006 an amendment to Japan’s Pharmaceutical Affairs Law meant that the police were able to crack down on the abundance of ‘headshops’ and pavement vendors selling all kinds of stimulants in Tokyo’s party districts, many synthetic legal highs – including salvia divinorum – can still be easily acquired by young people before they head out for a night on the town. As one man, who works for a non-profit addiction research group, pointed out the social affects of these legal highs are not being taken seriously yet. 'What is most important is to educate people that the bottom line is not to use a drug that makes them feel high — whether it is illegal or not.'

Quite a few girls I know In Paris will take a couple of lines of coke before going out because it means they skip dinner – and that’s what girls tend to do if I’m honest.


I visited my friends living in Paris a couple of years back and I clearly remember the difference in their drinking culture to ours. Parisians don’t drink to get completely wasted, meaning that at the end of a night they are still looking preened and perfect, while we were a sweaty mess. Emma, a Paris-born 25-year-old now living in London, she expanded on this: 'We don’t tend to binge drink at all - but Parisian women are taking different things. Quite a few girls I know will take a couple of lines of coke before going out because it means they skip dinner – and that’s what girls tend to do if I’m honest.'

And what about once they’re out and about? 'When we’re actually out at a club people take pills and MD – they keep you going and also means you don’t even feel like drinking too much.'

Loads of people use this thing called "purple drank" which is basically cough medicine.

New York

And now to America where young women have find a rather novel way of getting high without the trouble of having to buy illegal drugs. A friend of mine, Laura, has been living in New York for the last seven months and was more than a little surprised to find that for many people a good dose of cough syrup was how they got their kicks. 'Loads of people use this thing called "purple drank" which is basically cough medicine.

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'I went to this party once and this girl had a bottle of it in her pocket and kept swigging from it throughout the night,' says Laura. Just to be clear this means that young people in America are drinking prescription-strength cough medicine, which contains codeine and the sedative promethazine, for the buzz (which incidentally was Kurt Cobain's drug of choice when he met Courtney Love). Clearly our friends across the pond know how to do things.


And over on this side of the pond, it's been well documented that London is the ‘cocaine capital of the world’. A recent study which tested the levels of illegal substances in the wastewater of various cities found that our capital city had the highest levels of cocaine than any of the 42 others. 'Me and my friends take coke basically every weekend,' says one 24-year-old woman who would prefer to remain anonymous. 'We don’t even go out very often, just to a pub or someone’s house, but it’s basically guaranteed that we’ll link a gram at some point – even if we start off saying we definitely won’t.' Cocaine is the second most commonly used drug in the UK (after cannabis), with 8.4% of adults admitting to have used it, and considering the ease with which people can get hold of it, it’s hardly surprising that the younger generation of girls are taking it so much. 'We used to take coke on "special occasions" I guess, like birthdays or big parties, but now we’re all working and have a bit more money it’s become a much more regular thing. To be honest, I can’t remember the last weekend that I didn’t take it…'

Follow Lucy on Twitter @draperlucy

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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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