Cocaine’s fundamental flaw

Ellie Lee sees the hypocrisy between some students' ethics and their drug use

Source: Flickr

Oxford is a world-renowned institute for education. Hand-in-hand with this reputation is the sort you see manifested in things such as ‘The Riot Club’: dinner parties and an air of general debauchery. While, as recent articles have shown us, the Bullingdon Club has lost its spark, some Oxford students feel the need to maintain a party lifestyle. If you’ve ever dived into the sweaty depths of Cellar or The Bullingdon this will be a familiar sight. Of course there is no harm in a bit of fun, but it is easy to forget that sometimes this ‘harmless fun’ can be at the expense of other people.

It cannot be denied that people take drugs. According to government statistics for last year, Cannabis remains the most popular recreational drug, with 29 per cent of 16 to 59 year olds reporting to have used it in their lifetime. More controversially, cocaine use has increased in popularity. Some have linked this to the introduction of a two-tier market, making a lower quality product available to more people. Thus, the drug is no longer a luxury only the wealthy can afford. Figures for 2013/14 showed that around 1 in 24 of people between 15 and 34 in the UK admitted to taking the drug in the last year.

Although it still slips into headlines for celebrity dabbling in the drug, it has become much more mainstream. As Dominic Streatfeild, author of Cocaine: An Unauthorised Biography said in an article in 2015 “The availability has gone up in the last 20 years while the quality has gone down, so it certainly should have become less desirable, but I suspect it hasn’t because of the way it’s reported on in the media”. While the glamour it used to hold in the public eye is definitely slipping away, cocaine’s popularity hasn’t.

Whilst scrolling through the endless depths of Facebook recently, the satirical headline from Wonderground Music, ‘Vegan horrified to discover fiver he uses to snort child slave farmed coke contains animal fats’ caught my attention. This article picks up on a double standard I can’t say I haven’t noticed. There’s a certain breed of millennial who will recycle, buy The Big Issue, drink fair-trade coffee, and partake in social media activism, yet conveniently forgets that cocaine is an unethical drug. This could perhaps be forgiven if this information was difficult to come by, but there’s no shortage on comment on cocaine and its impact in the media. The topic is frequently covered by Vice and other media outlets popular within the millennial demographic. It seems as if students are willingly turning a blind eye to the reality of their lifestyle choices.

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With other drugs one can be assured of somewhat of a grey area—there’s a good chance that the cannabis in a joint was grown in a tent in someone’s spare room, and MDMA is mostly produced in the Netherlands. The dubious supply chain for cocaine, however, makes it near-impossible to come across an ethically produced batch.

Columbia was once a hotspot for cocaine production, supplying up to 80 per cent of supply, and now it is Peru. Both countries are located in the Amazon rainforest, a perfect location for the growth and harvesting of the most important ingredient in Cocaine: the coca leaf. It’s pretty natural and harmless at this stage, but in order to extract the psychoactive alkaloid a rather pollutive process takes place. The final product contains a whole host of toxic chemicals, including hydrochloric acid. According to National Geographic, 14,800 tonnes of chemical waste goes in to the Amazon River basin from cocaine production process each year.

The human side of the process should not be ignored either. Reports have linked 34 per cent of murders in Mexico from 2007 to 2014 to drug cartels with other estimates going up to as high as 55 per cent. Tony Saggers, head of the NCA’s Drugs Threat division, has argued that “buying cocaine funds the exploitation of impoverished people, destroys and pollutes large areas of rainforest, forces people from their homes so coca can be grown on their land, and results in the murder of police officers and others who stand in the way of powerful crime groups.”

Of course, if drugs were legal, their production could be regulated. Historically, drug prohibition policies are unsuccessful in reducing usage. Drug users and small dealers end up in over-crowded prisons whilst those at the top usually escape unscathed. But that’s another article, and it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon. So for the time being avoiding buying cocaine and funding a corrupt industry would be a pretty decent thing to do.

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People still take cocaine despite knowing much of what is outlined here. This is one of the reasons drug culture is so interesting. Why do people still consume narcotics on a regular basis? Most obviously, they make you feel pretty nice. Cocaine use comes with a feeling of euphoria, self-confidence and sociability. Further to this, many users report feeling perked up after drinking. So, if one was out drinking all night, before coming home to write an essay, it’s not the most illogical thing to do. But one could also make a more sustainable choice and take a pro-plus (it’s less effective, but it is also cheaper).

All this being said, who doesn’t partake in a bit of doublethink on a daily basis? Few of us are guilt-free from such behaviour (even if we’re not indulging in illegal drugs).  Most consumer products aren’t particularly ethical, unless bought from specialist lines such as The Body Shop or the H&M ethical line. Similar to cocaine, avocados are rising in popularity, and moreover are not exactly great for both fair and sustainable trade. Not only are they one of the most water-guzzling crops, but their farming is also leading to deforestation of mature pine forests. We’re all guilty of being hypocrites, even those of us who pride ourselves on how much we care about the lives of others.

Needless to say, if this applies to you perhaps you should consider a new year’s resolution. I think it’s a pretty clear why more students should be keeping their noses clean.