Irene Echeverria-Altuna explores our lengthy relationship with drugs and speaks to the founders of drugsand.me, a website aimed at delivering better drug awareness.
Drugs have coexisted with human culture and lifestyle for longer than we can imagine. Coca leaf-chewing in Nanchoc Valley, Peru, has dated back to 8000 years ago and traces of coca leaves have even been found in Egyptian mummies. No matter what the social, psychological or healing purposes coca possessed in ancient cultures, it was clearly recognised as a powerful plant.
Drugs have developed enormously, and are still considered powerful substances; enmeshed in socially influential behaviour, drug-use raises huge controversies. The use of recreational or “party” drugs, such as MDMA, LSD, cocaine and cannabis, remains a sore spot for governments all over the world. Especially now, a month away from the 2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem, drug policy is a latent subject. This Assembly in 1998 pursued the idea of a “drug-free” world, seemingly doing more damage than good. Currently, experts speculate that the 2016 Assembly might result in the opposite; a “drug-bound” world, which, considering our history, seems like a realistic option.
Ironically, we are a couple of phone-calls away from “party drugs”, while having no access to information about the effects, mechanisms of action and consequences of such. This is mostly because, despite having such an active influence on our daily lives, scientific evidence and information about recreational drugs is hugely lacking. Although this seems strange and even unfair, drug policies have not only banned recreational drug use, but also academic research of “party drugs”. The problem is clear: socially addressing recreational drugs as “taboo” has disastrous consequences. However, drastic situations are often the casus belli for some of the most inspiring and powerful initiatives. Drugsand.me, the solution proposed by two UCL students, is no less. In their own words: “drugsand.me is an accessible, simple and appealing website which provides objective information about recreational drug use”.
Pablo Lubroth, Iván Ezquerra Romano and Gabriel Hirschbaeck, co-founders of the platform, shuffled with this idea for a couple of years. Nevertheless, the initiative was consolidated when they found out about a number of teenage deaths arising from ecstasy consumption. It is now known that it was not MDMA that caused these, but two structurally similar chemicals: PMA and PMMA. These two chemicals when taken at a MDMA dose are highly toxic and can be fatal. The drugsand.me team claims that these accidents could be reduced and even avoided with relative ease. If consumers had access to clear and understandable information of what a drug looks like, what its effects are and the recommended dosages, the safe recreational experience could be maximized and the harm would be dramatically reduced. With this primary goal, drugsand.me has become an on-going project of these three student entrepreneurs.
Of course, the transition from idea to reality is never that simple. Although their neuroscience and pharmacology backgrounds equipped them with a basic knowledge for developing the content of the website, they claim that finding and summarizing the information took them long hours of reading and discussing. However, all the reading, discussing and designing has paid off. Although some may argue that similar platforms such as Erowid and Talk to Frank exist, Pablo and Ivan say “what distinguishes drugsand.me from other platforms is that it’s unbiased: it’s made by and directed to students”. This is a cogent point because we do have the tendency to take into account to our peers’ advice, before we listen to any guidance coming from above.
Drugsand.me also “aims at presenting scientific information, supported by academic evidence, in layman’s terms and in a visual and interactive way”. In other words, drugsand.me combines academic support from Prof. Valerie Curran, UCL Professor of Psychopharmacology, and a partnership with Digital Artist Brian Pollett, among others. These three young entrepreneurs have also managed to catch the attention of David Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and epitome of British drug-policy. However, collaborations with scientists and artists are only the beginning. They emphasize that “it’s a project still in progress; we want to expand the scope and include information about other drugs like psychedelics, methamphetamine etc. ”. Moreover, by collaborating with Dansafe (USA) they will soon launch a volunteering programme to promote health and safety in festivals and nightclubs along the UK.
After talking to Pablo Lubroth and Ivan Ezquerra, I was truly inspired by how far a good idea can get when you put enough effort into its consolidation. Their advice to other entrepreneurs is “to distinguish what’s important from what’s not, because there is a lot to do in a limited amount of time. But, mostly, keep your enthusiasm alive and be brave!”. Of course, the social stigma around drugs has made it tricky for them to launch the platform. However, little by little, they are building an important tool that could have great social impact, not only in drug policy, but also in the well being of a society that doesn’t contemplate a healthy consumption of recreational drugs. Furthermore, they believe that this is perfect timing to introduce solutions into the latent world of drug-policy.
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Featured Image Credits- Flickr
Article Images- Drugsand.me