Cocaine – aka coke, gak, bolivian marching power or whatever tragic middle-aged nickname you give it – used to be my favourite thing. My reason for going out. My sole motivating force on a Friday. Doing coke made me feel wild and safe at the same time. Confident without me having to make an effort. A natural conversationalist.
And I gave it up, because I came to a realisation that it actually made me a mid-twenties cliché, desperately insecure and, when I was on coke, far from being a good conversationalist, I was constantly cloistered in someone’s bedroom at a house party bellowing a boring story about my grandma that nobody gave a shit about because THEY were all busy bellowing boring stories about their grandmas. Well, I guess it made a change from everybody quietly grinding their teeth.
Add to this that bloody everybody seemed to do it – everyone knew their way around opening the fiddly folded Lotto ticket containing the powder, how finely chopped it should be, and how big a line to cut. Coming to drugs at 23, it was like I’d been invited to join a secret society that all my friends had been a member of for years.
But aside from the obvious personality side-effects of coke – in that it gives you a fake one and slowly erodes your real one – I quit two years ago, because I’m a complete do-gooding hippy. For a while, I had managed to convince myself that the coke I was doing somehow wasn’t harming anyone. That the lines I was doing in a vaguely aspirational London bar, or in my friend’s bathroom at a party weren’t part of the problem – those aren’t the lines killing the rainforest, propping up crime cartels in Mexico. Everybody does it, so it can’t make a difference, right? But, strangely, that was not my attitude to anything else in life. I believe passionately in giving money to charity, and in buying locally grown vegetables. I don’t eat meat because I like animals. I buy fairtrade clothes or second hand. I am very choosy about what kind of eggs I’ll eat as ‘free range’ doesn’t mean what you might imagine. I won’t buy products containing non-ethically-sourced palm oil. Basically, I believe in consumer power. And yet the worst thing I was doing was the thing I conveniently convinced myself didn’t really matter.
This week at the Conservative Party Conference, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said that targeting middle-class drug users is key if we want to tackle the increasing levels of gang crimes on our speech. In a pre-speech interview with the Daily Mail, he said: ‘We need to make people understand that if you are a middle-class drug user and you sort of think, “Well, I’m not doing any damage, I know what I’m doing,” well, there’s a whole supply chain that goes into that, youths whose lives have been abused, the county lines, other drug takers being abused, crime being encouraged.
‘You are not innocent – no one is innocent if they are taking illegal drugs.'
A Home Office report leaked to the Sunday Times in June blamed this year's violent crime wave on an increased amount of cocaine flooding into our country and London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick have both spoken out about the increasing use of middle class drug use directly contributing to this violence - and the misapprehension that doing cocaine at a dinner party with your mates is, essentially, a victimless crime (spoiler: it's not).
Of course, this isn't the we've been invited to consider the ethical considerations of our cocaine consumption - and the results of our drug use certainly don't begin and end on UK streets. #EveryLineCounts was a 2015 campaign by the National Crimes Agency aimed at explaining to blinkered people like me that our actions matter. For one kilogram of cocaine, you need to destroy an acre of rainforest – these majestic trees that have been growing for hundreds of years, gone in the blink of an eye, because I wasn’t really 100% confident talking to my mate’s friend from school at a party. The parrafin and lime used in the production process poisons local water supplies, killing people and animals, but it didn’t matter because I was wearing People Tree trousers while I cut up lines, and my belly was full of UK-grown seasonal veg.
Just before I quit, my habit was getting to a slightly gross stage. I licked a banknote at a work party, because I thought I’d used it to snort coke a few times over the previous weekend. I did get the unmistakable tang of coke mixed with baby laxative or whatever, but there was also the impalpable feeling that I was probably licking my own snot too as I’d had the thing shoved up my nose so much. It didn’t matter, because the taste of it made me feel self assured and like I could make small-talk with colleagues.
One night my boyfriend pointed out my hypocrisy when I was wide-eyed and dry-mouthed after another party. ‘You do all this great ethical stuff, and then you do coke. You know how bad what you’re doing is, and that it goes against everything you believe.’ And just like that, I stopped.
It’s not that easy for everyone, though – it is famously pretty addictive. But even if you don’t consider yourself to have ‘a problem’ a study shows that even people who ‘just use socially’ are putting themselves at health risk. Professor Gemma Figtree, who conducted the study for the University of Sydney, said, ‘Our research found that social cocaine users had higher blood pressure, stiffer arteries, and heavier hearts, which are all associated with poor cardiovascular health in the long term.
‘We have seen a number of young adults suffering heart attacks after cocaine use, with irreversible damage to their heart muscle and substantial impact on their quality of life thereafter.
‘While some people who use cocaine recreationally may not think that they are doing their body a lot of harm, our results show this is not the case, and that cocaine is dangerous for your health even when taken socially.’
As well as damaging your health, casual social party users who only do it on the weekend – like I did – are making the planet a worse place. That is a fact that you cannot escape. If you buy it, you are contributing to the arms trade, to the deaths of 90 Colombian police officers every year, to the grief of their 90 families. And that’s not even including the number of farmers, innocent bystanders and gang members across the world who will inevitably be killed because you feel a bit tired at a party. Every bump you do off your mate’s key is a bullet. Every bullshit excuse you give for having had a ‘stressful week at work’ is death and destruction in a community already ravaged by countless other ‘stressful weeks at work’.
So next time you excuse yourself from the organic vegetarian meal you’re eating in a restaurant to do a line, or find yourself passionately explaining why you’d never wear leather shoes to a total stranger while simultaneously trying to chew your own face off, it might be time to reconsider. We are so so much better than this.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.