Enlightened hedonism? Independent drug checking amongst a group of ecstasy users.

Taylor, Stuart; Ayres, Tammy and Jones, Emily (2020). Enlightened hedonism? Independent drug checking amongst a group of ecstasy users. International Journal of Drug Policy, 83, article no. 102869.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2020.102869


Research indicates that a body of ecstasy users across the globe employ ‘home’ drug testing technologies to learn more about the content of their drugs – a process referred to throughout this article as independent drug checking (IDC). Whilst a small number of studies offer accounts of this process, they do so through a narrow lens of harm reduction, potentially overlooking wider socio-cultural factors which may affect this. In response, this article draws on Slavoj Žižek's political theory of the cultural injunction to enjoy, situating IDC in the wider political economy of neoliberal consumer capitalism to contextualise and interpret its use as integral to pleasure and leisure.

This empirical study documents the thoughts and experiences of a group of UK ecstasy users who independently use a privately owned drug-testing kit. Drawing on qualitative data generated through 20 semi-structured interviews, the article considers two research questions; what role did drug checking play in the group's drug journeys and leisure activities?; and is drug checking thought to be purposeful?

For this group of ecstasy users, issues of safety and self-responsibility interweaved with the pursuit of pleasure as they sought to enjoy their drug consumption, but in a way that navigated potential harms. IDC therefore served to maximise pleasure via its ‘guarantee’ of a prolonged, enjoyable, authentic consumer experience whilst simultaneously safeguarding wellbeing via its premise of more responsible and controlled consumption practices.

IDC allowed this group of drug consumers to partake in ‘enlightened hedonism’ – demonstrating their conformity to the imperatives of capitalism and its social norms. Despite recognising the limitations of IDC and disclosing potentially harmful outcomes, the group's engagement with capitalist markets provided a belief that investment in your consumer experience can both improve it and make it safer – premises that belie the empirical reality.

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