Jumping on the Banned Wagon

This weekend just gone, revelers, ravers and rapscallions attending the Secret Garden Party festival in Cambridgeshire were given the option to have their drugs tested for free.

Whilst all samples of drugs tested were destroyed afterwards, it gave festival goers and drug users a chance to see whether or not what they were taking was safe, or whether or not it was actually drugs. From the data supplied by The Loop, a community interest group, festival goers could see exactly what they’d bought, and make their mind up as to whether or not they wanted to take it.

Every year, around festival season, we see numerous stories about festival goers being found dead in tents, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out just how they died. Whilst overindulgence is always a problem when it comes to drugs, we hear every year about how someone died because they were sold dodgy drugs at a festival/house party/nightclub.

Whilst those of a Mail disposition will cluck their tongues and say they shouldn’t have been taking illegal drugs, it’s always going to happen. Legal or no, people will take drugs, and for the most part, that should be a safe experience. You can still die from drug use, alcohol included, but dropping down dead because you had a couple of dodgy pills shouldn’t be a factor.

Yes, long term drug use can cause you serious health problems, same as booze, coffee, and McDonalds, but I can double fist a Big Mac and a large Americano whilst thinking of a bottle of whiskey without repercussion.

But the real question is – do you know what you’re taking?

The black market & drug trade is hardly open to regulation, aside from a couple of burly coppers in Clarkson-esque jeans knocking down front doors at 6am, and the Cocaine Ombudsan sounds like one of Jez and Super Hans’ bands in Peep Show. So without anybody controlling what is and isn’t safe to go into your drugs, that little baggie you just bought could have anything in it.

Your cocaine could have rat poison in it and your pills could be pesticide, but how the bloody hell would you know unless you had them tested? You might well know who you bought it from, but I’ll bet you anything you’ve got no idea where it came from. Dealer’s aren’t exactly gunning for five stars on Feefo and to enhance the customer experience, they want fat wallets, by any means necessary.

I’m not trying to put a downer on your uppers here, by all means, take as many drugs as you want. I mean, just look at Keith Richards, for fuck’s sake! Plenty of people over the world have a whale of a time with a sack of whizz, but they’re one dodgy drug away from death.

The bad thing is when someone of the age of 16 drops down dead because some nasty bugger sold them a bag of dodgy pills. It’s a front page tragedy with subtle hints of villainisation for the deceased, police are quick to warn everybody that taking this certain pill can kill you, but it’s far too late. People die, people wind up in hospital but we’re back in the same position in a few months. Nobody knows what they’re taking and nobody with an iota of power seems bothered.

Critics are already quick to claim that testing drugs legitimises the use of them, but to those, so what?

Whilst drug use might not be the most legal thing in the world, people are doing drugs. Poor people are doing drugs, rich people are doing drugs, politicians are doing drugs, rockstars are doing drugs, and that makes it a Legitimate Thing indeed. Drugs are a thing, doing them a thing, and doing them safely is an Even Bigger Thing.

Testing lets you know what your drugs have been cut with, and also lets you know how potent it is. If you know that your bag of unnamed substance is strong enough to turn you into a human rocket, you might think it’s a good idea to do less. If you know that you’ve actually got a bag full of flour and rat poison, you’ll know that you’ve been royally mugged off – but you won’t get sick & die, and that’s a very good thing.

Despite the fact that buying, selling, doing and making drugs are illegal, it’s happening right now, and despite what the Home Office try to jam down your throat, it ain’t gonna stop any time soon. The chap next door’s sparked up a joint whilst watching Jeremy Kyle, and your mate is furiously trying to sort out something for the weekend. It’s happened for always going to happen, but nobody talks about it.


Drug use needs to become transparent. Whilst it’s doubtful that all drugs will be legalised, the use of them can be made safe. And although researching what you’re taking and testing to see it’s safe isn’t exactly the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll, it might be the difference between the time of your life or a Very Bad Time indeed.

I know you can’t quite imagine Keith Richards reading a pamphlet on heroin and sticking a sample in a test tube before shooting up, and Ozzy Osbourne tossing a silver platter of cocaine in the bin because it’s no good, but sod it, it’s safe.

Whilst you can’t expect former Home Secretary, Theresa “I Only Have a Small Sherry at Christmas” May, to give her blessing on widespread drug testing at festivals and clubs (and if you do, what’s in your fucking drugs?!), but volunteer . Speeding’s illegal and deadly, and we plow a few quid into campaigns to make sure people drive safely.

In an ideal world, you’d rock up, hand over a little bit of drugs to be tested, and make your own assumptions from what you’re told. No questions are asked as to who you are and where you got the drugs from, no further actions are required. If you’re found out by the sniffer dogs, stewards, bouncers and police officers beforehand or during, that’s some bad luck, or if it’s been cut with cyanide and talcum powder, it’s some good luck.

Informing drug users of the potential risks that come with taking drugs shouldn’t be a topic that’s swept under the mat. Forewarned is forearmed; if you know what you’re taking, what’s in what you’re taking, and what you’re taking will do to you, you’re in a much better position than the person next to you sticking baking soda up their nose. Maybe snorting baking soda isn’t dangerous, but you can buy it for less than £20 a gram.

Drug testing is already commonplace in Dutch and German nightclubs, and such practices should become the norm in Britain’s clubs, festivals and maybe even our homes. There’s a negative stigma around drug use, and in order for that stigma to go away, we need to make it transparent, we need to make it safe to do drugs. Criminalise it all you like, you won’t stop people from buying, selling, doing and making drugs, but you can make sure that nobody’s needlessly dying because of them.

But, until then, please enjoy responsibly.