A matter of the mind (altering substances)

If there is one social issue that I don’t understand, it is the drug debate. I have tried desperately to take a side, to pick a team, but there is one little problem getting in my way.

It all keeps coming across as a sad little comedy.

I know the issues around recreational drugs are serious. I’ve read, and read, and read. I’ve read definitions, and experts, and arguments and counter-arguments.

But none of them quite get to the heart of the issue. None of them dig right down and ask the fundamental questions about what is going on, the questions I want answered. None of them, for example, seem to wonder at why we feel such a desperate need for drugs – desperate enough to fight for a law change – in the first place.

I’ll come clean. I’m one of the 25 per cent who never have tried cannabis. I have had my chances, thanks to flatmates, friends and neighbours. But I never felt the need. To be brutally honest, I was already happy, already having fun without help, so to waste money on mind-altering drugs seemed pointless.

And that’s what gets me. Why do so many people seem to feel such a pull towards pot? Why do so many seem to really want weed?

It’s this same mentality that shocks so many of our European visitors when it comes to alcohol. We don’t seem to be able to celebrate anything in this country – birthdays, weddings, someone’s life or even the weekend – without getting wasted.

I’ve seen my share of it. In High School my mates were vomiting or lying comatose on couches by 10pm at night as our German exchange students looked on in horror. Every weekend at University was a drinking binge, and I would watched it unfold in all its grotesque glory. The jumping out of second story windows, the sobbing about boys, and the unrelenting, incoherent rants were in equal part hilarious and deeply, desperately tragic.

Once I got into the workforce things weren’t much better. There were just the complications about what to do with kids when planning a bender, and how to deal with your boss after they had seen you wasted. That, and handling the hang-over, of course.

And that brings me back to my question again. What makes mind-altering substances such a necessity in this country? Is it social anxiety? Curiosity? Depression? Boredom? Existential crises? The question, I freely admit, has pounded all the more urgently in my head because I read The Herald’s haunting series on youth suicide in New Zealand this week.

And yes, I know what you are thinking. I have had all these conversations before: How could I understand the debate if I haven’t tried drugs? After all, it’s just a bit of fun! And by the way, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it..

But I could say the same right back.

Is it really that hard to conceive of enjoying life without some sort of mind-altering substance frequently at hand? If so, doesn’t that tell us enough about the real problem?

That’s what I mean about cannabis. Whether or not we get to do drugs seems so ludicrously irrelevant a question to ask when we haven’t stopped to wonder why we might want to.

What, when we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, with every opportunity spread out before us (relatively speaking), makes us feel like we must have marijuana?

After all, when you really get to thinking about it the happiest people in the world surely aren’t the ones free to do drugs, but those who don’t feel the need to in the first place.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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