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Voices From The Drug Culture

By Harrison G. Pope. Jr. 144 pp., paperback. $2.50

By Jeff Magalif

PEOPLE WHO smoke dope don't really care how intelligible their doing so is to anybody else. It's not as if they were poor people, who need outsiders to understand their poverty and help them fight it. Most drug users like being drug users; for them the "drug problem" consists of getting enough. A new book written by a Harvard Med student, who based it on plentiful contacts with drug users which began four years ago while he was writing his undergraduate thesis here on the subject, recognizes the realities of the current drug situation and does a good job of analyzing some of its aspects. "What is the single most important reason why middle class American youths take drugs?" asks Harrison G. Pope, Jr., in Voices from the Drug Culture,soon to be published by Sanctuary. "The answer is simple: for fun."

Adults have a hard time accepting this for several reasons, according to Pope. For one thing they assume that "drug use is such a formidable and frightening thing that no one would try it unless he needed it badly," whereas in fact "the vast majority of users (the potential user) he sees will be enjoying themselves." Pope also sees "the work ethic" behind adults' failure to realize what is going on: "Why should someone deliberately go out and do something with his time which he knows is neither useful nor contributing to his future if not to satisfy a need?"

POPE QUOTES a Harvard student recounting an LSD trip during which he was in the Adams House swimming pool: "as I swam, the lights sparkled on the water around my hands, and suddenly I was swimming through a sea of rubies and diamonds and emeralds...It was just experience, man! Pure, unadulterated experience!" The author finds it hardly surprising that a high school kid with access to acid would rather drop than "watch TV, go for a ride with his friends, study math, (or) take a date to the hamburger stand..."

Grass, hash, and limited quantities of acid rarely produce bad aftereffects, Pope has found; the drugs that worry him the most are speed and depressants. A number of young people described to him "a sequence beginning with marijuana, then a rise to a plateau of hallucinogen use, followed by... a retreat to opiates, barbiturates, and alcohol." Pope thinks that because of the older generation's heavy use of downs, "depressant use may inspire less guilt or anxiety in youths than does marijuana or the hallucinogens."

One interesting discovery made by the author is a link between drug use and homosexual behavior: in a survey of college students, "one in seven of the male heavy users reported a homosexual experience to orgasm since coming to college, a figure more than six times as great as for the non-users." Rightly, he postulates no cause-effect relationship, but suggests other explanations.

Some of the drug culture voices which Pope has recorded in his book are fun to listen to. One talks about a high school teacher

who always used to go on about how people who were smoking grass because they didn't want to confront life and their responsibilities and their problems and so on. You know, the old "drugs for escape" thing that most adults believe. Shit, man, there wasn't any life to confront in that town!

Another kid, acid-tripping, explains why he wore two pairs of pants to a dance:

Well, when I was getting dressed for the dance I opened my closet and all my clothes were flying around saying. "Wear me! Wear me!" and then these two pairs of pants got into an incredible fight with each other about which one would be allowed to be worn, so finally I settled the argument by deciding to wear both of them, and that way they were satisfied.

The conclusion Pope draws from his research is that "the dangers of drug use are far less than is popularly supposed... And many users have almost surely learned more...than they would have if they had never been exposed to drug use or the drug subculture."

We suspected it all along.

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