Responsible drug use essentially implies reducing or eliminating negative and harmful impacts, current or that might occur in the user or among the individuals from his closest surroundings.
The use of psychoactive substances is a socio-cultural phenomenon, an occurrence present from the past till today throughout the world. Despite all possible prohibitions, legislative regulations and billions of dollars spent on the so-called “War on drugs”, in essence, none of the restrictions led to putting an end to or eradicating drug use. On the contrary, drugs, legal or illegal, are mass produced, sold and used.
The predominant stereotypical excuses for drug use are curiosity, experimentation, stress release, escape from reality and other problems etc. Users describe the effects of drugs or the “high” as extraordinary, unusual, transcendental, deep experience that changes the perception of things, life or one’s view of life.
Occasional or recreational drug use
Recreational drug use is defined as occasional use of legal, illegal or controlled psychoactive substances which alters one’s mental state through changes to the central nervous system that create positive emotions and feelings. This popular phenomenon is largely tolerated throughout the world as behaviour, and it does not necessarily lead to psychological or physical addiction, severe health, habitual or social problems.
Occasional use in terms of frequency implies drug use at weekends, several times a month or a year. Occasional drug use does not cause concerns regarding one’s potential psychological or physical addiction, socio-habitual disorders, has no negative influence on work or studies, family life etc. The most often used drugs, occasionally or recreationally, are ethyl alcohol (alcoholic beverages), cannabis, nicotine (cigarettes), caffeine (coffee) and controlled substances listed in the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs such as cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), amphetamine, LSD, etc.
The type and range of risks caused by occasional drug use largely depend on the type of drugs, dosage, whether they are mixed and the frequency. Studies on the harmful effects of drug use reveal that not all drugs have the same capacity to cause damage. Alcohol is mentioned as one of the most dangerous recreationally used drugs, with the exception of heroine, crack and methamphetamine, while cannabis, ecstasy and LSD are mentioned among the low-risk drugs with lesser harmful consequences.
Responsible drug use
Responsible drug use implies proper education and research on drug effects, as well as psychophysical preparation before using. Precaution measures are prerequisite before using psychoactive substances in order to secure safe and comfortable experience. Different factors can influence the experience itself, therefore users should consider them prior experimenting with psychoactive substances. Psychological and physical effects, dosage and combining several different drugs, addiction, psychophysical preparedness, the ambient in which drugs are used and surroundings can significantly influence the experience.
Responsible drug use essentially implies reducing or eliminating negative and harmful impacts, current or that might occur in the user or among the individuals from his closest surroundings. This is a concept familiar among many influential people in history, such as artists or intellectuals who were conscientious drug users and successful in their work.
The responsible drug use concept suggests restraining from driving a vehicle under the effects of a certain drugs or discouraging activities that might harm the individual or his closest surroundings. Responsible drug use emphasizes its benefits and reduces the risks and negative impacts.
Responsible drug use is primary preventive technique in harm reduction drug policies. Harm reduction practices became popular in the late 1980s, although the first steps were made in the beginning of the 1970s in the United States with the distribution of comic books on responsible drug use. The harm reduction concept strives towards avoiding or minimizing harms resulting from the use of different types of psychoactive substances.
Responsible drug use involves appropriate dosage, i.e. the individual should be careful not to exceed the doses the body cannot handle physically or mentally, and still function responsibly and conscientiously. Responsible drug use involves avoiding combinations and mixing different drugs which might endanger the health or cause a disorder.
Being informed and educated is crucial for responsible drug use. Drug users should above all have sufficient information on the effects, the legal status of the drugs they use and the doses, as well as take additional measures in cases of an overdose. If possible and available, users should check the composition and purity of the drug – an excellent precaution measure in drug use.
In terms of the ethics of responsible drug use, drug users should not encourage others against their will or without their knowledge. Drug use should not endanger important aspects of life, such as finances, performing the working obligations or studying, social or family life.
The recommendations regarding safe drug use are using the smallest possible dose to achieve the desired effects, in relaxed settings and with supportive companions. In terms of health, there is the risk of an overdose, injecting drugs, potential psychological or physical addiction, being aware of certain harms to the health from frequent drug use.
Responsible drugs use and drug policies
The illegal status of many psychoactive substances additionally impedes the possibility for responsible drug use. Government’s policies and (in)actions make responsible drug use further complicated, risky and costly. People who use drugs find themselves in risky situations and commit offences in order to buy drugs from the underground market. Legislation regulations and prohibitions merely encourage the unstoppable illegal production and the profitable underground drug market worth 330 billion dollars a year. Drugs on street markets are costly, with suspicious or unknown quality and purity in most cases, which further increases potential risks and harmful impacts.
The author is a doctor of medicine, graduated general medicine at the Faculty of Medicine within the St. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, Macedonia. Davor Smilanov, MD is the head of the Medical Service at the Harm Reduction Center in Kapishtec within HOPS’s Harm Reduction Program. He has participated in numerous national and regional projects, conferences and campaigns for harm reduction.