So you’re off backpacking for the first time, heading to far and foreign lands in search of adventure and new experiences… For many, this means the chance to let your hair down, to do whatever you want to do. For some, it means experimenting with drugs for the first time, knocking back a mushroom shake or picking up some Pakistani hash.
I smoked my first joint whilst backpacking in India. I was nineteen and soaking in some truly stunning mountain views. Unsure of what to expect, I had joined a small smoking circle of travelers and was curious to see what all the fuss was about. The first hit of THC hit me like a soft pillow to the face. I smiled, lay down and watched the clouds go by…
On my travels, I’ve experimented with a few different drugs on the road… a whole alphabetic soup of tasty experiences. Whenever I write about this topic, I tend to get angry emails from people but at the end of the day drugs on the road are very much a part of many backpacker’s experiences whilst travelling.
Whilst I do not recommend that every budding psychonaut down a mushroom shake, I do think it’s important to arm backpackers with the information they need to make an informed decision and to practise safe drug use – yep, there is such a thing.
This is usually the most popular drug available to backpackers as it is cheap and relatively easy to find. Sharing a joint whilst relaxing with mates or enjoying a cheeky smoke whilst overlooking the mountains of Pakistan is a great way to end the day.
I myself have gone through phases of smoking a lot of weed and hash, currently, I’m taking a bit of a break as I focus on getting fit again – smoking too much can screw up your chest and adversely affect your energy levels so be sure not to overdo it.
Slowly but surely, marijuana is becoming legalised in more and more parts of the world and hopefully one day it will be decriminalised everywhere – until that happens though, you really don’t want to get caught smoking weed whilst travelling…
Some countries still have very strict laws surrounding all drugs, including weed, and there are plenty of scams out there – especially in backpacker hubs like Goa; be careful who you buy from. Thailand’s drug laws especially are very strict so you need to watch yourself…
Magic Mushroom Shake
The most widely available psychedelic on the backpacker circuit, shrooms can be found in many party hubs and are especially easy to find in Laos and Thailand. Most of the time, shrooms are blended up into a not-so-tasty mushroom shake. Banana or mango is a good choice of mixer.
I’ve taken mushroom shakes a few times in the past, personally, I prefer other psychedelics. If you are going to try a mushroom shake (keep an eye out for happy shakes and happy pizzas!) be sure not to overdo it and to be around people whom you are comfortable with.
For mind-blowing sex or a rave to remember, MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy) is the drug of choice for many travelers. The problem with ecstasy pills is that it’s impossible to know how much MDMA they actually contain and whether or not the pills have been cut with something else, usually, they have and usually, it’s speed. In general, you get what you pay for so beware of super cheap drugs whilst travelling. Be seriously careful with dosage when taking ecstasy and avoid mixing with alcohol – the results can be pretty horrendous.
LSD (or acid) is a truly mind altering substance that is very difficult to explain with the written word. I’m not going to try to cover what LSD actually does, but I am going to offer you a word of caution. LSD is strong, it’s not to be messed with – that means that taking it for the first time at a rave or large event is a truly bad idea, in my humble opinion. I believe LSD is best kept for spiritual exploration as opposed to partying. I strongly recommend sticking to half, or three quarters, of a tab when you try it for the first time. Erowid has a lot of great information which I recommend checking out.
It’s also well worth reading The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, which will introduce you to the legend that is Ken Kasey. Beware when buying LSD – sometimes unscrupulous individuals will sell the identical looking Nbombs and pass it off as LSD; Nbombs will fuck you up. LSD can often be found in many backpacker hot spots as it’s easy to travel with.
This is really only for backpackers travelling to South America, especially Colombia or Bolivia. Coke is a great party drug and, in South America, is seriously cheap. It is however seriously addictive and kicking the habit is fucking horrible – expect cold sweats, nightmares and irrational thoughts. If you plan on doing cocaine whilst travelling in South America, try to keep a lid on it and not to do it too often.
There are of course many more types of drugs available whilst travelling but the above are the most widely available and, in general, are the safest options. Steer clear of opium and ketamine, they can push you deep into yourself from where it is hard to climb back out.
Drugs on the road
Many first-time travellers are also first-time drug users. I know plenty of backpackers who smoked their first joint, sipped their first mushroom shake or took their first pill whilst letting their hair down in the crazed party meccas of South East Asia. Some backpackers are interested in trying drugs simply because they are there, others are looking for something a little bit deeper. Whilst I don’t want to flat out condone drug use I am extremely reluctant to condemn it. Drugs are, to some, tools and they have been around for thousands of years.
Like any tool, certain drugs can only be used for certain tasks. Much like a workman attempting to hammer in nails with a saw, you can get into real trouble if you use the wrong drug under the wrong circumstances. And like a kid attempting to operate a jackhammer, you can find yourself in danger if you don’t know what you’re doing.
There is a compelling amount of evidence out there to suggest that psychedelics have important therapeutic applications. Recently, I met a wandering nomad who had suffered a life changing injury when he was younger. He told me that it was only when he began experimenting with psychedelics that he was finally able to put everything into perspective, let go of some negative feelings and move on. For some, discovering psychedelics can be a life changing moment.
On the other hand, if you have a history of mental illness within your family, it’s best to give drugs a miss. Marijuana, for example, has been linked to schizophrenia by some studies. At the end of the day – the most important thing to remember with drugs is to partake in moderation. As much as I like smoking weed, I find myself slipping into lazy habits when I smoke too much – in the same way, that drinking too much alcohol can get in the way of your everyday life, over the top drug use is not a good thing.
If you are planning on experimenting with drugs on your travels, it’s important to play it safe. Here are some tips for experimenting with drugs for the first time…
Practising Safe Drug Use
Place: The most important part of any drug experience is the setting. You need to feel comfortable, you don’t want to feel overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.
People: Make sure you trust the people you are with, people can act differently to what you are used to when they are stoned – in the same way, that your best mate can be a total idiot when he’s pissed. Ideally, you want to be with a few friends you know well
Dosage: Don’t overdo it, if you’re trying a mushroom shake for the very first time then don’t go crazy and down the whole thing, pace it out.
Identify Risks: Be aware of the risks, when you are on drugs, or drunk for that matter, your ability to recognise risks can be impaired. Keep away from water (don’t go swimming) and traffic.
Alcohol: Do not drink alcohol and mix drugs, the results can be unpleasant.
Don’t drive: The biggest cause of death and injury to backpackers is still motorbike accidents… the chances of something going wrong dramatically increases when you are drunk or on drugs and decide to try and drive home. Just don’t do it.
Stay hydrated: Seriously, drink plenty of water.
Beware the rabbit hole: Avoid negative thoughts, they can spiral.
Just Be Careful
When it comes to drug use on the backpacker circuit, there’s no ignoring it, it is out there and it won’t be going away anytime soon. For many backpackers, travelling is all about trying new experiences and drugs are a small part of that.
For a ton of useful, practical advice on staying safe on the road – read this post.
Travel far, love often and, as always, only experiment with drugs if you truly want to. Never feel pressured to get involved in something which doesn’t interest you – whether it’s a cheeky smoke in India, a mushroom shake in Thailand or anything else at all.
Some backpackers prefer to watch a sunset with a cold beer in one hand, others prefer a joint. Each to their own, live and let live and wherever you may be on the road; enjoy the journey.
Disclaimer: Drugs are illegal and can get you in sticky situations. I don’t condone drug use of any sort. If you intend to consume, please be safe. This article is not intended to persuade, but rather to inform. Please also note that all references to drugs on my travels are entirely fictional and definitely did not happen…
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Writer and entrepreneur. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will has been on the road for thirteen years, travelling to far-flung lands on a budget. Today, he runs a number of online ventures, including The Broke Backpacker – the world’s largest budget travel blog. He is passionate about solving the plastic problem and cleaning up the oceans. Currently, Will is based in Bali where he plans to open his first Tribal Hostel in 2020.