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Why do drugs have so much stigma?

Illustration of human mind

Written by Nikol Naydenova

Imperial College London undergraduate & Drug Science Honorary Research


Having grown up in a household where drugs were NOT considered a taboo, I was always very open to learning, asking, and talking about drugs. This was a blessing and a curse, as unfortunately the majority of people’s experience is the other way around. My openness to drugs eventually transformed from merely a curiosity to confusion about why there was such a strong aversion to understanding the true reasons why people take drugs and the potential benefits they may have.

In my home city, Barcelona, cannabis is as commonly used and spoken about as coffee. In fact, citizens are allowed to grow up to 1 cannabis plant per person in a household for medicinal reasons. Growing up, there were ‘weed café’s’ where individuals could purchase and smoke cannabis products but only within the premises. This all seemed logical and modern. However, in the last 5 years, the government has shut down these facilities with the aim of discouraging tourists who come specifically for cannabis. Considering the economy of Spain is almost entirely dependent on tourism, it was a complete shock to me as to why the country decided to move away from modernisation and progress.

Having delved further in drug science and policy, I now understand this has, unfortunately, been the case in many countries, including the UK.

My true fascination with the science of drugs stemmed from psychedelics. Over the last 50 years, the field of neuroscience has developed rapidly and uncovered more about how the human brain functions. However, even with the discoveries made, there remains a big gap in our knowledge. Most importantly, mental health disorders are more prevalent than ever in our society but with still no existing or consistently effective treatments. However, psychedelics, alongside therapy, have the potential to help fill that void. By allowing individuals to open their mind and view their problems from a different perspective, psychedelic medicines can act as a guiding hand through the difficult process of dealing with anxiety, grief, and depression. They are being shown to be more efficient and less harmful compared to current mental health treatments. Despite this, governments aren’t listening to the truth, and so psychedelics remain illegal. Uncovering more and more about the science of these drugs and their potential medicinal use, at the same time as discovering the unjust and irrational drug laws that govern us, drove me to seek out a volunteering position at Drug Science.

Becoming an Honorary Research Assistant has opened many doors and allowed me to learn from experts in the field. Attending Drug Science events has given me the opportunity to meet patients suffering from life-long conditions who have found drugs like psychedelics and cannabis to be transformational. Moreover, I have had the honour of writing articles to spread awareness about these individuals with the hope of helping to move medicine forward in our society. Drug Science has provided me with the chance to meet new people and learn more about the science and policy of drugs. Their Student Society Network provides a platform for like-minded students to communicate, organise events and share information about job and volunteering opportunities within the field. Moreover, Drug Science’s podcast, blog articles and books cover a vast range of topics which have allowed me to educate myself further from the comfort of my own home, alongside my busy university degree.

From drinking the world’s first GABA spirit at the House of Lords, to attending the first ever UK Medical Cannabis Patient Conference, Drug Science has been an educational journey for me to learn about the world in ways that we’re not taught at home, in school or at university.

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