Curious and away from home, some overseas Chinese students try their hand at hard and soft drugs to their detriment
When 27-year-old Beijinger Leona Chen went to Toronto, Canada back in 2008 for school, she was surprised at how drugs such as marijuana were easily accessible there.
“One time, a foreign friend of mine opened a bag of cookies. He told me it was magic cookies, that it had some strong effects,” she said. They turned out to be marijuana cookies.
“I believe that half of my Chinese friends and classmates in Toronto have tried drugs. Marijuana is the most common one. Most of them ‘play’ with marijuana occasionally. Only a few of them have used drugs that have a stronger influence than marijuana, such as crystal meth and cocaine,” she said.
Although Chen had been offered drugs on several occasions, she has never tried it. She said students often try them at house parties, while clubbing, or after a final exam to blow off steam.
“Without rules and restrictions, it’s natural that many Chinese students want to try them,” she said.
However, experimenting with drugs comes with a price. In July, the Beijing Youth Daily reported an incident where a Chinese student returned to China in a wheelchair after developing an addiction to nitrous oxide also known as “laughing gas” while studying in the US.
According to the report, the girl, who is referred to under the pseudonym of Lin Na, is now being treated at a Beijing hospital and still cannot walk.
It is normal that Chinese students studying abroad would become curious and experiment with new things, such as drugs, after they leave their home and the watchful eye of their parents. But many of them do not seem to be aware of the terrible consequences.
Student drug use trending up
The use of soft drugs, such as marijuana and other substances that are comparatively less addictive, has increased among young people because they appear “cool” or “fun” to try.
According to a September 2014 article published on the University of Michigan website, daily use of marijuana hit a threedecade high among students. The article, which referred to findings from a nationwide Monitoring the Future study (MTF), said “51 percent of all full-time college students surveyed had used an illicit drug at some time in their lives” and roughly four in 10 or 39 percent used at least one illicit drug 12 months before the survey.
The same article said daily or near-daily use of marijuana, which is defined as use on 20 or more occasions within the last 30 days before the survey, had been on the rise – from a low of 3.5 percent in 2007 to 5.1 percent by 2013.
The abuse of other substances such as nitrous oxide or laughing gas is also on the rise. With its medical use established as far back as the early 20th century, nitrous oxide has been used as an anesthetic, tranquilizer and painkiller over the years. But it is perhaps most well-known for its use in dental surgery, where its euphoric effects give patients comfort during tooth extractions. It is this same euphoria that attracts substance abusers.
Nitrous oxide is also used to make whipped cream, which means it can be purchased online from places like catering companies – easily accessible to substance abusers.
Dubbed laughing gas because of the happy feeling it gives users, nitrous oxide can have dire consequences for people who abuse it. It can even lead to death (due to lack of oxygen) in some cases, according to a July report by China News Service.
When curiosity is dangerous
A North America College Daily survey of a public WeChat account that has many overseas Chinese student subscribers speaks to the level of curiosity and willingness to try recreational drugs. The survey asked whether individuals had tried drugs while studying overseas. A total of 5,113 people participated the study.
Among them, 16 percent of the participants said they had tried marijuana, 4 percent said tried drugs that were stronger than marijuana, and 11 percent said they had not done drugs but wanted to try them. The remaining 69 percent said they had never tried drugs and never will.
Lorenzo Rao works at a financial company in Beijing. He went to the US for university in 2006 at 17. He recalled sharing a room with an American student who liked to get stoned at least twice a week.
Marijuana is legal in several states in the US, but not in New York where Rao lived. In the beginning, Rao hated the smell. But as he spent more time around people who smoked it, he became more used to it and wanted to try it “to see what the fuss
“I worried about side effects like addiction and whether it could damage my brain, but I figured I would only try it one time, so nothing bad would happen,” Rao said. “It was really just curiosity that got the better of me.”
Rao smoked his first joint of marijuana at one of his friends’ party and woke up at about 3 pm the next day.
“My roommate told me that I did many funny things after I got high. He said after he carried me back to the dormitory, I opened my wardrobe and talked to my clothes one by one, telling them not to be afraid, we will pass the finals,” Rao laughed.
“My head felt woozy and my stomach felt funny for days after I got high, I didn’t like the feeling, so I never tried marijuana again.”
Rao said that although he never used marijuana, he would do ecstasy occasionally when clubbing because it helped him to loosen up and dance better.
The cultural root
Many soft drugs are legal in the different countries and regions in the Western world. Limited marijuana use, for example, is legal in many cities around the world. The use of marijuana and other soft drugs in popular TV series has also led some people to believe that things like marijuana and laughing gas are harmless. Chen remembers a public holiday called Weed Day in Canada, where many people from Toronto would camp out at one of the biggest squares in the city and smoke marijuana together.
“It was so common. In that environment, we all thought marijuana was legal and a common thing, just like some people smoke cigarettes, some smoke cigars and some smoke marijuana,” Chen said.
Although Chen didn’t try marijuana or any other drugs while she was in Canada, she said many of her Chinese friends tried it because it was viewed as normal.
“Overseas Chinese students were influenced by the Western culture and lifestyle,” Chen said.
“Even if they didn’t know about drugs, once they go to a party with the locals, and they smoke drugs, the Chinese students would learn about that, and some of them would want to try.”
Recreational drug use is also somewhat rooted in local culture. Western culture advocates the maxim of work hard and party hard, so some people use drugs to boost their spirit and party harder, according to Chen.
“I love the motto of work hard, play hard. Actually, my motto is work hard, play harder. But there are other healthy ways to play hard instead of hurting yourself by participating in toxic activities like drugs and gambling,” Chen said.
“The students are young. Their world view of what’s right and what’s wrong is still forming. They can be easily influenced and tempted into trying things that can be bad for them,” she said.
“Though I had many opportunities to try drugs, I have never tried it. I believe it would damage people’s health and can lead to addiction. Although it’s a soft drug and it’s common, it’s still a drug. I guess I am an old-fashioned Chinese.”
Some Chinese students abroad are trying drugs out of curiosity and to let off steam.
Recreational drug use is a gateway to addiction, experts say.