Slip­pery slope

Cu­ri­ous and away from home, some over­seas Chi­nese stu­dents try their hand at hard and soft drugs to their detri­ment

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Zhang Xinyuan

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

was about.”

“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.”

Photo: IC

Some Chi­nese stu­dents abroad are try­ing drugs out of cu­rios­ity and to let off steam.

Photo: IC

Recre­ational drug use is a gate­way to ad­dic­tion, ex­perts say.

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