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Drugs - Irvine Welsh

A Lethal Edge. The Reality of Drugs in Mainstream Society

Irvine Welsh with Jason Allday


There's always an antecedent for for any phenomenon in our society. It's no different with drugs and all the baggage it carries. When asked about this issue, I'm not really sure that there is a drug problem. Drugs tend to be symptomatic of something else. Every time you have a society in transition, there is an epidemic of some kind. Our society is in transition now, as capitalism declines from its industrial high and we move into a world where all the technological development is counterintuitive to profits and paid work. Thus there is a tremendous gap in what people can do to progress their lives. Whenever there’s a gap, drugs will always be there to fill it. 

In some respects, we ourselves actually justify the very existence of drugs, which are part and parcel of our humanity. Human life is about work and play, about celebration and festival. This, in turn, equals intoxication, which equals drugs. So drugs are ubiquitous across all types of human society, from native cultures to post capitalist ones, and lionized in all religions. Even Islam's dervishes whirl to unleash naturally intoxicating chemicals into the brain, while other religions seek to reach transcendent states through chanting and mediation. It's impossible to conceive of what a world without drugs would even look like; music, art, religion, politics, probably wouldn't exist as we know them. 


Anyone that’s being honest and who has any critical faculties, will see the widespread hypocrisy with mainstream society and its view on drug use. I think the only thing we need more than drugs is a war against drugs. Anti-drug hysteria is one of the strongest drugs around. If you could bottle it and sell it, you probably wouldn't need anything else. Without 'wars' on drugs, terror, black people, cops etc, our communities would probably disintegrate rather than slowly tear themselves apart. All that seems to hold our states, and indeed our culture, together now is a sense of some external threat. 


Something that is always discussed are the gateway and easy access drugs - alcohol and prescription drugs. These aren't just gateways to other drugs, but also potentially dangerous drugs in themselves. Most people who fuck themselves up with drugs never get past those legal and readily available ones, because they don't really need to do so. 


Something that really needs to be looked into is a more logical approach to the 'war on drugs'. I personally believe that if the effort and money invested in a more relaxed approach to the drug issue, you could really be onto something. I think you have to take the both the state and criminals out of the drug scene and just leave people alone. A lot of places have tried more 'liberal' regimes; Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, some US states, have all adopted different but successful experiments in drug legalization/ decriminalisation. It'll happen across the world one day, as it's completely irrational to have a prohibitionist policy on drugs. 


I'll give an example on how things are working, or not! You get a college student, say in California. They are out one evening with some pals, celebrating the passing of their mid term exams and decides to simply cut loose and have a joint. The next thing they know, campus security have got them in handcuffs and before the now arrested student can give any legitimate complaint or defense, they have lost their scholarship, standing in society and any future in their chosen field. I'm not a judge or any part of a jury, but is that rational action? That's why I asked myself a long time ago: is there a true 'war on drugs'? No! It's a war on citizens, a war on youth. 

In the movies or biggest villains or criminals are the clichéd gun-wielding, rabid, working class accented, scar-faced, steroid monsters. This is nonsense. In the drug world the biggest criminals are the pharmaceutical companies. In America, they have created a whole generation of drug addicts by encouraging a prescription culture and buying out the medical lobby. It is in their interests to have a market for drugs, that is, to have a large number of people using drugs. Because drugs are what they sell. If I was to be any part of fixing the so called drug problem, the first thing I would do would be to nationalize all big pharmaceutical companies. 


In broader terms, all nations have to operate in consonance with their cultures (different, of course, from being slaves to the negative aspects of that culture) so while there can’t be a 'one size fits all' solution, good practices can be developed universally. It’s sensible to promote decriminalisation/legalisation, education and, where appropriate, treatment, as generals way to approach the issue.


Here’s an anecdotal example of why there's failure and misdirection with this issue. There was an interview some time ago with a very well known Hollywood socialite, who said a better spokesperson or advocate for an anti-drugs message would be someone that's resisted them (drugs) their entire life; not someone that's been there and done that. This, of course, is arrant nonsense, as it's exactly what we have had for the last sixty years with the war on drugs. Most people who pontificate about the dangers and horrors of drugs are exactly the same ones who never have and never would take them. Thus policy makers and administrators are largely operating from a position of ignorance and fear before the debate has even commenced. People who claim to the best on advice, really should have, for no better lack of a phrase, experience or understanding in the subject and not be someone that's simply looking in from the outside. There are some top notch treatment centers, that are run with a huge success rate, not by academics, or champagne socialites, but by former users. This makes perfect sense, as nobody knows the temptations and seductions, the horrible and destructive outcomes, the pros and cons of treatments, and the pitfalls of integrating back into mainstream society better than them. 

It's been said and largely reported that drug addiction is as much inherited as it is learned.


My belief is most drugs are psychologically addictive and are tied up with the obsessive-compulsive behavior that consumer society encourages. Few are physically addictive, even ones that are, like heroin, are only that way for a few weeks until you detox. Yet many people who have detoxed will go back on heroin. There are obviously other (societal) factors at work. If you have nowhere to go, then you are stuck with a drug that is in your emotional vocabulary, and is always present there when you feel frustrated or down at your lack of life prospects. If you are a rich kid, why not act out and get fucked up and go into a nice rehab centre where you will be indulged until your trust fund kicks in, or you get bored and take up a paid internship? This makes perfect sense to me.

Over the years, due to the nature of my writing and my past experience with drugs, I’ve had more than my share of discussions with people trying to get a handle on how all this relates to me and how I feel about it, Generally, it’s simply people trying to get a better insight to my initial start in popular book and film work, as with Trainspotting, but for all the interviews, countless YouTube and TV panels I've appeared on, I'm unsure if the direction or the questioning isn’t really always about trying to either demonise or glorify my past with drug usage. Whichever one it is, I always feel slightly depressed about this. This is because all those interviews take place in the social context of our reality of the war on drugs, where drugs must, by definition, equal ‘good’ or ‘bad’. When you substitute the word ‘drugs’ for ‘Muslims’ ‘poor’ ‘rich’ ‘black’ ‘white’ etc, you see the pathetic, tribal nonsense we’re getting trapped into, where, as with any war, the first casualty is truth.   


Recently, a pal said to me "I'm still looking for that 'edgy' defiant anti-establishment rhetoric to come from your interviews". Well, all I can say there is that I'm glad I took loads of drugs, and I've absolutely no regrets personally about it at all. It probably gave me an edge as a writer, helping me expand my consciousness and cultural awareness. I had loads of great adventures. But I sailed very close to the wind, and ultimately, I'm also very glad that I knew when to stop. It's a young person's game, and best suited to a life when you have scant concept of your mortality. They simply don't work as well after that, and it all becomes diminishing returns. You get very tired and sick and it starts to become hard work, just like having a job. And I already have one. But a lot of people don't, so drugs are their job. But you don’t want to be working all the time. So like most things in life, maybe it is all about moderation. 

"Anyone that’s being honest and who has any critical faculties, will see the widespread hypocrisy with mainstream society and its view on drug use." - Irvine Welsh