Steve – Charity Director and recreational drug user
Posted In: cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, Partying, Prohibition, Recreational drug use, tobacco
Comments: 2 Responses
Know Drugs is primarily a video project. Over the last three years we have been collecting video interviews with a large number of people. In these interviews they talk about their use of and history with drugs. Over the coming weeks we intend to share some of these interviews with you. They range from recreational users, to problem users, to people who use only alcohol, to experts, artists and specialists in certain areas. In their totality we hope they will build a broad picture of drug use that gets closer to a realistic depiction than anything you’ll find elsewhere in the media.
The first interview we’re choosing to put out is with Steve, who’s the director of a charity. He’s been using drugs recreationally for around 20 years. In this interview, he talks about coming into contact with tobacco, alcohol and later cannabis, ecstasy and LSD. He also shares his opinions on other controlled drugs – and on where he stands with the laws on drugs.
TEXT OF STEVE’S INTERVIEW
1/8 Why be interviewed here and why identified?
My name is Steve Peake. I’m 39 years old. I’m a Charity Director by profession. The companies and charities I work with deal a lot with disadvantaged communities, with educational issues, with disadvantage and regeneration, social justice…
There are issues in revealing my identity, partly because I work quite a lot with young people and the companies and charities I manage work a lot with young people: so it’s not without risk that I’m speaking – and happy to do so – publicly. But it’s important that people take a stand and speak openly about these issues because part of the ‘conspiracy of prohibition’ – almost – is the veil of moral panic surrounding drug use: the simplisticism and the intimidation by the authorities and the demonization of drug users perpetuate the control that prohibition represents. Unless people – respectable, upstanding citizens, dare I say like myself – get up and speak openly and honestly about the issues then the conspiracy of prohibition will be continued.
2/8 – Parental advice and first use of cannabis
When did you first take illegal drugs?
My parents are both teachers, fairly progressive but quite conservative culturally, and they were happy to toe the just-say-no line which I observed for all of my childhood and most of my student years before succumbing to (not quite peer pressure but) the kind of people who obviously knew the other side of the story.
In my third year at university, flatmates of mine were spliff smokers and I’d always been a bit “ooh, no” because I wasn’t a big fan of smoking because my dad was a big smoker and it really impacted quite seriously on his health.
So the first time I ever used cannabis: there was a party going on and everyone was going out and somebody suggested that I have a hash tea and I was “all right, tea, that’s ok, I’m not going to need to smoke.” So that was my entry level. It was pleasant, it was quite innocuous I think, to be honest, it was no big deal. And I think that says a lot, really, that people make a big deal out of these things when in fact it’s just really not that big a deal at all. And I think once I realised that actually it wasn’t that big a deal and that obviously I’d been lied to for quite some time then that opened the way to a bit of excess, as inevitably things do – the forbidden fruit factor…
Who lied to you?
Well, my parents lied to me. I forgive my parents because they don’t know any better: they’ve not tried anything, so what do they know? They just believed the government line and basically perpetuated the myth that drugs are bad, not wanting to distinguish between drugs in any way, just perpetuating the delusion. Once you find out that that’s not true, then all sorts of things become possible.
3/8 – Moving into heavy cannabis use
After that it would be “No, I’m not going to smoke”, and then “Ok, I’ll have a pipe but not a spliff” and I did that for quite a while. Then I succumbed to the spliff smoking and I went through a period of quite heavy cannabis use, particularly after my Masters. I was smoking quite heavily for a couple of years and that did impact a little bit on my lifestyle. I started lunching out quite a lot, my motivation went.
I remember, for example, getting a call for a booking for one of the bands that I represented and taking a message and thinking “Oh, I’ll call them back tomorrow”, then just not calling them back, which is, y’know, you can’t do that.
The whole culture surrounding cannabis I found a little bit boring after a while. A lot of the people I was working with were smoking a lot, very disorganised, very forgetful, not particularly motivated, not particularly on the case and I realised that I didn’t really want to be like that for much longer; I wanted to get on and achieve in life and smoking too much was pretty incompatible with what it was that I wanted to be. So the first thing I did was take a conscious decision to stop buying, but then I got a big reputation for being a bit of a scrounger. So then I decided to stop and I have been more or less stopped since then for the best part of six or seven years now. I have the occasional spliff but not very often.
4/8 Ecstasy and LSD experiences
What other illegal drugs have you tried?
Well, for quite a while I was quite heavily into ecstasy and LSD and doing probably a little bit too much ecstasy.
How much is too much?
Two or three pills a night, perhaps. I mean, I had a fantastic time and certainly the experiences I had at that time had a major impact upon my personal development and on my professional development as well.
In what way?
The work that I do is related to music and dance, and the social world of music and dance, and bringing people together to celebrate a sense of community. The sense of empathy and interconnection that I experienced on the dance floor in the ‘trance’ scene in Brixton in the early to mid-90s was quite revelatory and quite inspirational because we live in quite an atomised, individualistic society where we don’t really connect very much with each other. So the sense of connection that you get, albeit transitory and slightly artificial, is quite poignant. Also, the sense of liberation that you get, albeit transient, is quite inspiring and I found myself thinking “Hey, this is a wonderful way to be. I wish I could be like this all the time.” Ok, then you go back and you realise that that’s not really realistic but it opens your eyes to different ways of living and different ways of being.
The only negative side is a slight element of memory loss, though maybe that’s related to just getting a little bit older. I suspect that a little bit of the memory loss was caused by a bit of overuse on occasion.
5/8 Opinions on tobacco and alcohol
What do you think of different drugs now?
Tobacco, I think, is a total mug’s game. My dad smoked heavily. He was a pretty good athlete when he was younger and kind of blew it on tobacco. I grew up in a household that stank of tobacco and I hated tobacco when I was a kid. There was never the possibility that I was going to get into tobacco.
Alcohol: as a student I drank quite a lot, probably a bit too much on occasion, and then stopped when I started smoking spliff, which I think is one of the good things that spliff does, actually: it tends to reduce alcohol consumption.
6/8 Opinions on cocaine and heroin use
You mentioned cocaine and heroin. Have you ever tried any of those drugs?
Not heroin, no. Cocaine, yes, on a few occasions. I’ve never really got much off cocaine except a good night’s sleep, to be honest. Maybe three or four times. Don’t like the culture surrounding cocaine at all. Don’t tend to move in circles where cocaine use is prevalent. Wouldn’t want to. Doesn’t really appeal. The whole image of cocaine as being quite an egotistical, materialist, kind of glitzy-glam-crowd drug is the antithesis of what I’m all about. Plus when I’ve tried it I haven’t really got much off it, so, frankly, no.
7/8 Advice to children about drugs
What will you tell your children about drugs?
Well, my son who’s eleven at the moment is a bright kid and quite philosophical. He wants to know what’s going on philosophically and spiritually, so what I will tell him is
- Don’t go anywhere near tobacco, cos it’s a mug’s game
- Try not to drink too much but you may well do in your student days and it’s probably ok
- Don’t smoke too much dope in your student days because you might lunch out on your exams and you need to get a good education.
But I think the thing about kids is that if you tell them not to do it, that’s a good reason why they are going to do it. It’s moderation and it’s control and it’s safety. There are benefits associated with drug use and there are damages and harms. It’s about harm reduction and benefit maximisation so, yes, I can conceive of scenarios in which maybe we might do things together. There are things like rites of passage that you can take young people through and I would like to think that my son would appreciate doing things with his dad because that’s the kind of relationship that I have with him. On the other hand he might think that that’s the last thing in the world he would want to do when he gets to be that age, I don’t know.
8/8 Why do people use drugs?
Exploring and understanding why people do drugs is key and it’s a question that is not often asked. I think that, again, it comes down to the different drugs people use. Not just nice, privileged, white, middle-class people like me, but also a whole load of working class people use drugs recreationally.
I think quite often people use drugs to self-medicate. People living fairly desperate, grim existences in poverty and hopelessness will self-medicate; alcohol and particularly opiates are classic examples. But all sorts of people self-medicate, not just poor, working-class people. As a medicine and as a form of alleviating unhappiness, that’s an important use of drugs, and therefore understanding the origins of that unhappiness. Why do people feel the need to self-medicate? – that’s a crucial question as well.
If somebody’s self-medicating, or can’t handle their level of drug use and is getting addicted, what they need is support and help. The last thing they need is criminalising and sticking in jail, let alone having to steal and commit crime to feed their habit. What they need is health interventions, not criminal justice interventions. In fact, prohibition prevents people from accessing the services and the support that they need, because all the money and the resources are going into the criminal justice system to punish people for “crimes”, rather than going into the health system to treat illness.
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