Drugs

Note: I am not advocating drug use. This is an informative article aimed to educate the readers on drugs by showing how stigmas develop, provide scientific evidence from studies and research into the danger and addictiveness of drugs and provide a foundation as to my view on drugs for future articles.

If you are continuing to read, please do so with an open mind as you will likely read things that will surprise you.  Evidence is provided but may contradict your current views and knowledge.

Introduction

Drugs. Whether you love them or your hate them, they are here to stay. Peoples views on drugs come from a variety of places including drug education at school, media articles, religious beliefs and word of mouth from friends personal experiences.

The most two common anti-drug arguments are:

  • “Drugs are illegal. They wouldn’t be illegal if they weren’t bad.”
  • “Drugs are bad. See what they did to that person on the news?”

Legality is an interesting thing. In Australia, it is legal, although highly unethical for people with stakes in oil to be part of environmental protection agencies. In Victoria, only licensed electricians are allowed to change lightbulbs.

This is an absurd law, and there are many others just like it that can be found in almost every countries justice system. The legal system has also let out prisoners prematurely, only for them to commit rape and murder and end up back in jail for good.

The legal system needs to be redesigned from scratch, with proper logic, current evidence and ethics to be the foundation for the new system. Until that day, I’ve chosen to base my opinions on my own research, logic, morals and scientific evidence rather than legal status.

Legal vs Illegal

It’s interesting to note that the prohibition era in the United States of America caused more harm than good. Here is a list of negative effects of the criminalisation of alcohol. They include higher organised crime rates, strain on the justice system and countless cases of physical harm.

Conversely, the decriminalisation and of drugs in Portugal has seen reduced drug use, reduced deaths and new HIV cases (caused by sharing needles), and reduced strain on the healthcare and legal system.

The quality of drugs can also be controlled, monitored and taxed so the government makes money and people will be ingesting chemically safe drugs. Currently, many people ingest chemically unsafe drugs that are mixed with harmful chemicals made by the illegal suppliers.

Some Background Information

Before we get in to how stigmas arise, I’m going to clear a few things up.

The types of users:

  1. The Recreational User – uses a drug (legal, controlled, or illegal) with the primary intention to alter the state of consciousness (through alteration of the central nervous system) in order to create positive emotions and feelings.
  2. The Addict – a person who is addicted to an illegal drug.

There is a huge difference between addicts and recreational users. It’s interesting to note that due to the lack of education, experience and stigmas, that recreational users are often seen by non-users as an addict, or someone who will inevitably turn in to an addict. It’s also interesting that the same people (generally) don’t see alcoholism as a major problem, or on the same level as drug addicts, when by definition alcoholism is the addiction to alcohol.

The Harm of Drugs

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol and tobacco are among the most harmful drugs. This study explains the data found below. In a nutshell it states alcohol is the most dangerous due the aggression it brings out, which increases the likelihood that people will commit a crime.

In alcohols defence, it also states that if heroin and crack cocaine were more accessible, they would probably rank higher than alcohol, but with current data these are the statistic. Tobacco isn’t dangerous in the short term, but it’s ranked so high because of the long list of long term impacts in can have.

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In countries where the healthcare system is funded by tax-payers, the admission of users into the emergency department of hospitals has a negative effect on the economy.

This study not only confirms that alcohol dangerous, but shows an increase in alcohol related emergency room visits on the weekend, most of which are due to traumatic injury.

This study shows the breakdown of 198 patients by substances taken that led them to end up in the emergency room. In 73% of patients, only alcohol was abused, most frequently chronically (71%). In 13%, there was only illicit drug use, and in 14% alcohol abuse was combined with illicit drugs including cannabis (54%), cocaine (41%), amphetamines (39%) and opiates (39%).

Of course the above study is localised and a small sample, so here, here and here are some more statistics to back up the fact, not claim, that alcohol is a serious contender for the most dangerous drug.    

How addictive are they?

One of the most interesting things when it comes to drug education is the lack of information on how addictive specific drugs are. The assumption is then made that all illegal drugs are extremely addictive and eventually everyone that uses will be ‘hooked’.

The reality is that when ranked by dependency ratings, alcohol and tobacco, two of the most available and dangerous drugs both physically and economically rank 6th and 3rd respectively.  This comprehensive article explains it all in detail.

So where does the stigma come from?

School

The first thing we are taught about drugs is that they’re ‘bad’ and illegal for a reason. We then start to associate drugs with criminals and ‘lowlife’ people and as we get older, we’re taught about the negative physiological and psychological effects drugs have on the users.

This is taught in a shallow, unspecific way that makes the listeners think that if they touch drugs, they have a high chance of developing a mental illness or psychosis, or die. These are of course possibilities, as with any foreign substance you put in to your body, however they’re highly unlikely and based on factors such as genetic susceptibility to mental illness and current state of mind. Many legal medications can also have these severe side effects.

It’s interesting to note that because the governments class most illegal drugs in the same category as heroin and ice, that people assume all are as dangerous and addictive. Schools teach students using this information and they develop this common misconception, which has been proven false by the above studies.

A huge emphasis is made about illegal/illicit drugs and the negative physiological and psychological effects they have on the body. This is delivered with a negative bias and provides no information as to why people take the drugs, or how they can affect the person in a positive way, which many can.

The case studies used in schools are the most extreme cases of addicts, and we all know how illogical it is to base an entire argument on outliers. This further develops the stigma about drugs and their users. By the time we are of the age where drugs become more accessible, we have extreme images and stories engrained in our minds and are turned off by them. As I mentioned earlier, extreme cases are horrifying and inevitable and people must know what they are dealing with, but they are far from standard.

If I argued that no humans should eat peanuts, based on their being a small percentage of people who died, or nearly died from their allergies you would call me crazy. The same logic applies to arguing that all drugs are harmful.

It’s ironic how many students get diagnosed with ADHD and are prescribed with Ritalin, which can be habit forming, insomnia, headaches and nausea. On the same note,  little is said about adverse reactions legal prescription medication such anti-depressants, painkillers, or other drugs such as Chantix, an anti-smoking drug that has been linked to numerous suicides can have. The reality is, all drugs, legal and otherwise can have negative effects that may vary from person to person, but many also have positive effects.

It’s interesting that most of the time you wouldn’t know if you were talking to someone that is a recreational user, because they are normal people. Instead of drinking, they chose to alter their state a different way. They are nothing like the extreme cases you see in the drug education class, but if they are open about their use, most people will look at them in a different light.

The media

There was recently a story in which a young Australian says the ecstasy (MDMA) he took caused serious adverse health reactions, leaving him debilitated. While he may have taken a pill with MDMA in it, a more probable scenario was the other chemicals in the pill caused the problems, not the MDMA; or he may have mixed it with another unknown drug which when combined with MDMA had an adverse reaction. There are numerous articles to be found with similar cases, where the media draws massive attention to the dangers of specific party drugs without having the drugs tested to confirm the drugs in question, leaving the wrongly educated public to believe what they hear without research.

Friends experiences

Friends can be a useful source of information when it comes to drugs, as they have first-hand experience with their effects, however many people take drugs thinking they are something when in reality they aren’t. Without proper testing, they could be taking something mixed with something else, or something different all together.

For example, a person may take a pill thinking it was MDMA, but it was MDA or speed. This will lead the user to associate that experience with MDMA, even though that’s not what they took. This can lead to negative experiences and misconceptions about specific drugs and their effects.

My Story

I used to have a huge, unjustified stigma against drugs to the point where I said I would never drink alcohol. I was a very judgemental person when I was younger. Eventually I cracked and had my first alcoholic drink just before my 18th birthday. From there I said I would never smoke marijuana because I associated it with all the drugs we were taught about in high school. I also didn’t want to try it because it’s often referred to as a gateway to other drugs, and I didn’t want to end up an addict.

After high school, I started a mechanic apprenticeship, a physically awkward job and had become a very stressed and anxious person. I had constant pain in my neck, back and hips and was getting deep tissue massages, seeing a chiropractor and getting acupuncture. All of these helped in the short term, but maintaining treatments was very expensive, and my job would reverse the effects of the treatment. I got to the point where I was ready to try anything.

I’d heard marijuana is a good muscle relaxant and mellows you out. Initially I was very hesitant to try it, but after some research, decided to do so for its medicinal properties instead of the high. I had a great experience and definitely felt a slight awakening where I became a little more open to ideas and less judgemental. I understand why we’re taught marijuana is a gateway drug, but I wasn’t interested in trying anything else after that.

I smoked a few times few times that year, but wasn’t a regular user. Around a year later some of my friends moved forward with more ‘illicit substances’. MDMA, speed, mushrooms, LSD, ketamine and GHB to name a few. I didn’t understand the whole culture or appeal, and had the motto “I don’t need drugs to have a good time”. During this time, I’d drink to excess when I went clubbing, and didn’t think of alcohol as a drug or understand how harmful it can be.

I’d always considered myself a deep thinker, and one of my friends suggested we have a magic mushroom day.  At first my answer was a straight up no, with no hestiation. After some thought I was extremely hesitant, but decided to research the effects of them. After I understood what they did and had read numerous trip reports, I decided to try them.

At that point in time, that was the most profound experience of my life. I’d definitely grew significantly as a person, but as it was my first time I was more amazed at everything than anything else, so I didn’t take as much away from it as the next time I did them. I remember developing a deep appreciation for the sky, animals and music and would often catch myself staring at the clouds.

Around a year later, my friend invited me to a music festival, where I had decided, after extensive research to try LSD and MDMA. I also tried ketamine with little research, but had seen many friends do it and trusted them enough to know it wouldn’t likely harm me.

That weekend became the most profound experience of my life. I developed more into the person I wanted to be, or knew I was all along and embraced it more than I had done in the past. I had dropped the façade I had made to fit in and started to not care about people’s expectations and negative/uneducated opinions about things I’ve researched. My friend had given me the ultimate gift. The path to self-enlightenment and self-actualisation.

Now I’m not saying everyone needs drugs to be comfortable with themselves and their place in the world, but I am saying that certain drugs, specifically the MDMA and LSD helped me see things from a different perspective and appreciate things that I hadn’t even thought about appreciating, such as the sunset, the clouds and peoples’ individual beauty.

It also allowed me to feel affection towards woman again; something I hadn’t been able to do since my relationship ended and it opened my mind up to things I had stigma against, and freed me from it.

I decided that I would see a psychologist to work on my emotional health (something many men, including my prior self, wouldn’t do because of their pride). The drugs allowed me to see issues I hadn’t begun resolving and I thought I should get a professional opinion.

From a psychological point of view, my experiences had a positive impact on my neuroplasticity, which was confirmed by a psychologist. I knew I’d been struggling to move on from a relationship, supressing my anxiety and allowing things I couldn’t change to make me anxious, but I wasn’t accepting of this until after the weekend.

I want to make it clear that I do not have serious mental health issues, and would have seriously reconsidered taking the drugs on them without research as to the effects they can have on a specific condition. They can help some, but they can make others more severe. DO YOUR RESEARCH!

All these things I was suppressing had physical effects on my body and I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue, and prescribed with anti-depressants, a common western approach to treating almost any health problem. I want to note that I was never diagnosed with depression. but because anti-depressants can possibly help chronic fatigue patients, I was prescribed with them.

Many people report that anti-depressants were horrible for their bodies and emotional health. The irony being that they’re legal, and many people report positive experiences using illegal drugs.

Since then I’ve been to one more festival where I experienced an even more profound LSD trip and emotions brought on by the MDMA. It was hands down, the best weekend of my life.

The LSD trip was very dense, and the time dilation made it feel like months had passed, which was hard to come to terms with. I had to process what felt like over a months’ worth of experiences all at once. The 2 things I took away from the festival and LSD trip were; the motto “the time is now”, and how beautiful woman are and what qualities I want in my future partner.

I had a small comedown that lasted a few days, but I think it was more that I was missing the friends I’d made at the festival. It felt very similar to the post-travel depression that everyone talks about when they get back from a holiday, but would disappear whenever I wasn’t alone. Not a bad trade-off for the positive effects have lasted a month and counting.

And here I am today, with a few experiences with certain drugs that can have positive impacts on emotional and mental health, a different person. Backed up by the personality test I took prior to my experiences found here. I changed from the architect to the protagonist as the experiences have led me to be more accepting, less anxious due to living in the moment, and generally happier, more appreciative person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to get a great GPA

Note: There is no ‘one size fits all’ method to get a great GPA. The strategies outlined in this article worked for me in an engineering degree. Some of these things may be applicable to your course and others may not be. If you are looking for some ways to improve your GPA, hopefully these tactics can do for you what they did for me.

P’s get Degrees

Everyone’s heard the phrase and many people follow it. It’s perhaps the worst motto a student can live by. If this has been your attitude in the past, you’ll know how well that semester went for you; not very. Whenever I see or hear the phrase, and most people who say it deliver it as a joke but are serious about their views, I see someone wasting their time and money, and setting themselves up for failure.

Here’s why:

  1. Many people I’ve studied with that had this attitude failed a subject and subsequently had to spend another semester repeating the subject, and pay for it again. If they don’t repeat they are left with a HEC’s debt for the subjects they took and no qualification. If they did ‘just pass’ like they planned to, but didn’t achieve the GPA needed to enter a post-grad course, they will have to pay for the subject in full before taking it again.
  2. If you just pass a subject that is a prerequisite to a more advanced subject, the foundation knowledge you are supposed to have won’t be as strong as expected. You’ll find yourself asking simple questions and having to learn what you should already know. This means you’ll have to work harder to keep up to date, or you’ll fail that subject and have to repeat it.
  3. There is a 0% chance of receiving an academic scholarship, which is both a very satisfying accomplishment and helps reduce financial stress significantly. You are invited to become part of a network within the university, which provides you with the opportunity to make contacts, as well attend free self-development classes.It also looks great on a CV.
  4. Many people regret how they approached tertiary education and according to this study more than half wish they could go back in time and make the most of the opportunities. You don’t want to be someone with regrets.
  5. Everyone has a degree in something these days. In the real world, who you know is a major factor when looking for employment. If you don’t know someone in a managerial position in your field, you’ll more than likely lose out to someone who did well at uni. Many large companies shortlist potential candidates based on their GPA, meaning you may not even get a callback if you had a sub-par GPA.So yes, the pass average may get you a degree, but it will be useless when competing against people who did well.

If anyone reading this article has the ‘P’s get degrees’ motto and are planning to stick with it, do yourself a favor. Defer and work full time until you’re ready to study. It’ll save you lots of time and money and you’ll be able to have enough financial freedom to travel, have some incredible experiences and make some amazing memories; or change to a course you’re interested in. One where you look forward to learning the content.

How to approach the semester:

Lectures –  It’s a good idea to go through the slides prior to the lecture. If you understand the content, you can skip the lecture. If you want to cement the content in your head or need a more detailed explanation, go to the lecture. I found going to the lecture even if I understood the content allowed me to remember it longer, as some things were explained in a way that made more sense than my interpretation of it.

Tutorials – Tutorials are a MUST for any student in any class. This is the time to ask questions on topics you don’t fully understand and take detailed notes so you won’t be caught off guard in an exam or assignment. It’s also good to try and squeeze some information out of the tutors about assessments and tests.

Assessment tasks –  Contrary to popular belief, the best way to approach an assessment task is to base your work on the marking criteria, not the task sheet. This ensures you cover all bases and minimizes how many marks you can lose. Sometimes you may complete everything on the task sheet but still not receive a good mark, and this is generally the reason.

Understand how the semester works – This may be hard for new students, but generally speaking most subjects have their workload spread throughout the semester like this. You can find a time-frame for each semester in the unit outline.

  1. The first few weeks there are only a few tests or assessments. If you have subjects with semester long assignments or portfolios, you’ll will generally be given these during this time period.
  2. Just before the mid-semester break there MAY be tests or assignments due.
  3. After the mid-semester break there WILL be tests and assignments due.
  4. The following few weeks will be relatively easy in terms of amount of work due but you’ll be learning a lot of content that will be on the final exams.
  5. The last week or two have the rest of the assignments and tests due. This time is very stressful as you may also be trying to prepare for final exams.tumblr_o1kqafizbe1ukgxyzo2_r2_500

    Image by The Peaceful Study Room

Time management – Never leave things till the last minute. Whenever I was given an assignment, had to write up a lab report or study for a test I started as early as possible. You’ll have to prioritize these based on their due date, but in general my plan went like this.

  1. Lab Reports – I wrote the report straight after the lab. This is when the content is still fresh in your mind, you fully understand what is expected and are in the best mindset to write up the report. People that waited till the day before it was due were always asking questions they would have known the answer to had they done it straight after the lab.
  2. Major Reports & Portfolios – Whenever I get a semester long project early in the semester, I start on it straight away. During the first few weeks you have the most amount of free time, and to minimise stress later in the semester, doing the majority of a large project early on means you won’t have to worry about it when the other subjects become more demanding.
  3. Tests – When a tutor would give us a date for a test, I’d start re-writing my class notes as soon as I could. This ensures you relearn all the content, and also gives you enough time to rebuild the knowledge before attempting practice questions; instead of getting to the practice questions and needing to use worked examples more than necessary.
  4. Oral Presentations – In my course, these were based off the major reports. After completing the report, I would open PowerPoint and Word, and snap them so they have half a screen each. I’d then create slides for the important topics and copy, paste and simplify the content from the report onto the slide.

You may think “this person has no life during the semester”, but this is far from true. I still went to parties, hung out with friends and had time to procrastinate, but when I knew I needed to study I studied.  It’s all about time management and self-control.

At the end of the day if you want to pass, you’ll have to complete all the work which means you’ll have to make sacrifices anyway. If work is not done early one, the sacrifices are just made late in the semester, when you’re stressed about meeting deadlines and have a large pile of accumulated work to complete. Understanding that the workload of semester is only temporary leads to the making of better decisions and better grades.

Mid-semester break

Mid semester break is a time to recover, but it’s also a time to get ahead. If you don’t, you’ll  probably suffer the shit storm that will be your life after the break.  I use my mid-semester break to finish any work I have, regardless of when it’s due. Even if it’s due at the end of the semester, I will finish it on my mid-semester break.

Using your mid-semester break to get ahead is the thing that can really set the students that do well apart from the others. Because you aren’t learning any more content, you can spend some quality time learning the content for the tests you’ll have when you return, and get ahead of the 8 ball with the major projects.

By the time end of semester and final exams come around, all you’ll have to do is re-read and edit the work you completed during the mid-semester break, finish the assignments you were given after the break and study for exams.

Almost all the other students will be stressing about work you have already completed and rushing to finish that, while you’re studying for exams. You’ll find that you’ll generally get better marks on both the assignments and exams, because you’ve had more time to work on both, have been more focused and less stressed about other things you have to do.

Part-time Work

When you are studying, studying takes priority over everything except your health. If work is increasing your hours and working will take you away from your study, tell them you can’t work; providing your financial situation permits. Doing one better would be informing your work before they do the rosters that you won’t be available on specific days.

Many people don’t do this because they are feeling like they are letting their team down. Part-time jobs are temporary and you shouldn’t sacrifice the time needed to work towards what will be your career because McDonalds needed you to flip burgers because someone called in sick. It is not your problem.

The Small Tasks Count

One of the best ways to boost your subject score and reduce the pressure going in to the final exam is to do well in the small tasks that are worth 5-10%. Lab reports, small assignments, case studies, E-tivities.

Many people neglect these and by mid semester they are already limiting themselves to a credit or distinction. Combined, the small tasks for most subjects contribute 20-30% of the overall mark. They’re generally easy, don’t require much time or effort and you’ll more than likely need to know the content they cover for the final exam anyway. The better you do in these tasks, the higher your study score and the less you have to worry going in to the final exam.

The best way to keep on top of these tasks to do them as soon as you get them. That way you aren’t left with 10 weeks worth of work at the end of the semester (provided the due date is the end of semester) to do on top of everything else you have to do.

Tips

Eat a banana just before an exam and have a coffee too. The coffee will temporarily increase your IQ and the banana will keep your energy levels stable throughout the exam (as well as provide numerous other health benefits) especially when the caffeine kick starts to ware off.

Reduce stress as much as possible. Many stress reduction techniques are found here. I personally love progressive relaxation or doing yoga in a park, followed by some mindfulness mediation. If something isn’t working for you, don’t try and power through it. Take a break, relax and come back to, just make sure you do come back to it.

Sleep! Sleeping is important for memory. This study provides a detailed explanation as to why. It is better to spread study over a week than to cram, as you’ll remember more and for longer. It is also important for concentration the following day.

Study smart. If you know what kind of questions are going to be on your test, or you have a practice exam, go through questions similar to those ones. There is no point being fantastic at a specific part of a subject if it isn’t going to be tested. Focus on the important topics!

Attempt every question in an exam. Even if you don’t know the answer, write something down. It is better to be wrong than have nothing down and most of the time you’ll get consequential marks, which can be the difference between a D and HD.

A Few Motivational Quotes

“What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” — Alfred Mercier.

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is just a little extra” – Jimmy Johnson

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