Friday, February 08, 2013

Some ways that knowledge is power

Andrew Stevens says of my previous post,
I once met a young woman who told me that A) she didn't even know anything about drugs until she was in DARE and B) shortly after she was in DARE, she started using drugs. So my very unscientific conclusion would be that it probably promoted drug use.
This is in a way true, and is the second of my DARE stories (of which there are only two). Apologies to those of you who've heard this story before in real life.

In the classroom instruction portion of DARE, we were supplied with information about the many kinds of narcotics to which we might find ourselves just saying no. We'd all heard of cigarettes and probably marijuana before the sixth grade, and those of us with a predilection for YA novels and after-school TV specials had run across the names of a few other controlled substances, but basically, we were clueless about the composition of these drugs and their varied effects on our psyches. There were stimulants and depressants, and there were their different effects, and the different ways they should and should not be mixed, and there were even quizzes about all this to ensure that we would retain it when we found ourselves roofied (depressant) at a party at which we had been drinking (depressant) and smoking (stimulant) and would be saved by this information.

In order to escape such situations, however, we had to also learn the "street names" of the drugs we'd be resisting, in case we might be so foolish as to think, when offered some "rock" by one of the many gang members in Starter jackets lurking in mean streets of Skokie, Illinois that what he meant to give us was sidewalk sediment (neural effect unknown) and not crack cocaine (stimulant). Accordingly, we memorized the street names for common drugs, including marijuana - pot, weed, grass, bud, mary jane, etc. (We also learned that gang members could be identified by their Starter jackets. That the entire male population of my middle school could also be identified by their Starter jackets diminished the usefulness of this information somewhat.)

Weed and grass. Now these were interesting. Don't weeds and grass grow everywhere? My friends (the same ones responsible for the anti-drug anthem of the '90s) and I were curious. Some of the drugs we learned about in DARE sounded very scary, like cocaine, which they told us was so addictive that if we tried it even once, we would be stealing televisions to feed our addictions by the following week. But marijuana's pleasures were tied to only vague ill-effects and claimed to be eventually addictive, but not on the first go. Generally, we were not the type to seek out gang members in Starter jackets from whom to procure illicit substances, but if it was true that marijuana was basically just our front lawns, then why not give it a try? So we agreed to meet after school and smoke the lawn.

We had not yet at 12 been exposed to the idea of supply and demand, so it did not quite occur to us that marijuana would not be expensive if it consisted of lawns. Nor did we consider that the other street names for marijuana did not bear such a literal correspondence to the composition of the drug. We did not, for example, think to smoke the kitchen pots. However, grass was a plant we knew, and marijuana was a plant we did not know, and so it seemed perfectly likely that marijuana was therefore grass.

So we again gathered at my friend's house and set out to collect grass. That task complete, we had a brief debate about whether the grass had to be dried before it could be smoked, but concluded that drying would take too much time, and my friend's mother would be home soon and she couldn't be permitted to see us. Whatever essential marijuana-esque qualities were contained in the grass would certainly come out as well from fresh as from dried grass, maybe even more, just like fresh fruit tastes better than dried fruit. This agreement was followed by some doubts about the correct joint-construction procedure to be followed, since none of us had ever rolled a joint or even a cigarette before, nor had we ever strictly speaking examined such an item at close enough range to comprehend its structure. But how hard could it be? Filling, paper, adhesive. So we brought the grass inside, rolled it in a sheet of printer paper, and taped it up. Perfect grass cigarette. We lit one end and began to smoke it.

Well, none of us quite knew how to smoke either, but we assumed that part would be fairly intuitive, since DARE had already taught us that only stupid people smoke or do drugs, and surely we were smarter than stupid people, the very evidence for which fact was that we had never smoked or done drugs. But no, it turned out that stupid people had something on us, because first, we couldn't figure out how to inhale the stuff without coughing it back up, and second, the cigarette burned at an uneven rate, the printer paper going quite rapidly while the wet grass hardly at all, making smoking it a danger to our fingers. Finally, after a few passes, we gave it up, and scrambled to clear the bathroom of smoke with an overdose of air-freshener.

It was not in fact immediately evident to us after this episode that the reason for our failure to smoke the lawn was that the lawn is not marijuana, or a smoke-able substance of any kind. We chalked it up to many possibilities - one being botanical mis-identification, but also potentially that we had simply gone about it incorrectly. Maybe the grass should've been dried after all? Or maybe the scotch tape we used to seal it got in the way of the effect? Nonetheless, we let the issue rest because, as we concluded righteously from our experience, "Smoking sucks!" "Yeah, it feels terrible in your throat, and it's soooo bad for you. I can really tell!" DARE was thus vindicated.


Phoebe said...

An attempt to smoke random house-plants is (I'm citing anecdotal evidence re: my peers circa age 10-11) probably incredibly common among kids that age, including those who only heard of DARE years later, when their peers were wearing those t-shirts ironically. In my recollection of my classmates' adventure, it was not known that for something to be smoked, it first needed to be lit.

Miss Self-Important said...

I wonder if the advent of the internet has curtailed the phenomenon of absurd childhood misinformation on such topics? Having watched children actually use the internet, I'd guess no. But who knows.

Ari said...

These DARE posts are the best. I never got past the ideation stage with the front lawn, but my classroom experience was basically identical. Also, when I many years later did get into trying out these illicit substances, all of that DARE education contributed significantly to the sense that this was something good kids did not do, and therefore was cool.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes, or more specifically, that smart kids didn't do this, so it was cool. Being a stoner was a way to counteract the nerd stigma (and also sometimes the fact behind the stigma if you let things get out of hand).

But I sympathize with adults about the perennial specter of the Coolness Demon - just how do you persuade children not to do something without making it cool by dint of your prohibition? This is like the supposedly level-headed argument of people who've spent two weeks in Europe and "discovered" that exposing children to alcohol early and regularly habituates them to behave more moderately around it later on, whereas all our draconian prohibitions lead to rampant binge drinking. Well, if England is any example, then no. And even if that were true, what's the narcotic equivalent of youthful indulgence - should we feed kids moderate amounts of coke in grade school so that they don't OD later on?

profmondo said...

For my circle, it was dead oak leaves wrapped in notebook paper -- "Smoke 'em if you got 'em" being something we took seriously.

Additionally on the subject of substance nomenclature: A kid recently offered to buy a ceramic thing the Spawn (age 15) made, saying he could "keep [his] weed in it." She declined, and told me about it that evening. The next morning, I said something about making "dope receptacles." She stopped dead and said "Wait! Weed is dope? I thought dope was just for heroin and stuff."

Miss Self-Important said...

Apparently drug nomenclature is the downfall of many misguided youth. Maybe there should be a public service campaign aimed at children discouraging them from trying to smoke everything within reach.