Did you know there’s a YouTube channel sponsored by the Dutch government in which the hosts take LSD and cocaine then masturbate? No, for real.
The channel is called Drugslab and is financed by Dutch public broadcaster BNNVARA.
Like many science shows aimed for teens, Drugslab is shot in a high-school lab set – but the difference here is that it doesn’t depict kids making foaming carton volcanos or performing tricks with magnets.
The hosts, Nellie Benner, Rens Polman and Bastiaan Rosman are there to sample any drugs suggested by commenters. Each episode revolves around explaining the effects of each drug and how it changes human behaviour.
They measure blood pressure, temperature and perform a series of coordination, cognitive and sensory tests, which include playing games and, um, masturbating.
Much like sex education, it’s a lack of information which entails real danger. The more we know, the less vulnerable we are.
According to Drugslab’s producers, the show takes all the steps necessary to keep their hosts and audience safe. The Ministry of Health’s Drugs Information Monitoring System checks beforehand all the substances used and there is always a medical assistance team standing by during the shoots.
But as revolutionary and open-minded the show can be, there are some who believe it doesn’t go far enough.
The producers and hosts have made it clear they draw the line when it comes to heroin and methamphetamine, stating they won’t use substances that “you will get addicted to after only one time.”
Some say that decision marks a missed opportunity to address the major risks these drugs entail, falling into the same misconceptions and stigmatisation present in mainstream media.
Seth Fitzgerald, founder of popular site The Drug Classroom, said: “If you portray yourself as offering a sympathetic perspective of drug use and proceed to spread misperceptions of the most stigmatised drugs, you’re contributing to the problem.”
“Drugslab has chosen to adopt mainstream perceptions of drugs when it should be challenging them. Drugslab’s position is that it’s better to preach a ‘just say no’ message for certain drugs than to encourage harm reduction.”
To Fitzgerald, while it’s an obvious prerogative for Drugslab’s hosts to decide not to take heroin or meth, the show could address the facts around these heavily stigmatised drugs in an effort to protect the public from misinformation.
The initiative exemplifies the Netherlands’ novel approach to illicit drugs as a health issue, in complete contrast with countries like Australia, Mexico and the US, which all tackle it as a criminal one.
The country has adopted an ever-evolving drug policy since 1995, aimed at preventing drug use through education while providing proper treatment and rehab for addicts. Their legislation is designed to mitigate the health problems drugs cause, rather than prioritising criminalisation.
When it comes to marijuana consumption, the country’s stats are similar to data from the US, and higher than most of those of the European Union.
Yet, when it comes to stronger substances and drug-related deaths, there is no comparison. In the US, more than 52,000 people died from drug overdose in 2015, nearly 10 times the Netherlands’ overdose death rate of 197 in the same year. For reference, the Netherlands’ population is 17 million, while the population of the US is 323 million.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is a Washington-based international non-profit focused on reforming drug policy and ending the war on drugs.
Vilmarie Fraguada Narloch, drug education manager for the organisation, told Mic that “the bottom line is people use drugs and they have for all of existence.
“It’s nothing new. So really the idea is safety — if they’re going to choose to use something, that they have the proper knowledge of what they are taking, how to take it and how to do it in the safest way possible.”