Do the drugs still work? Why Gen Z are getting their kicks elsewhere

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From our sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll issue, Sparks & Honey’s head of cultural strategy Zoe Lazarus tracks the latest trends in drug culture.

Google's Deep Dream Generator

Drug culture continues to be fertile ground for emerging trends and ideas, but the cultural sands are definitely shifting at the moment in terms of new attitudes and behaviours. Gen Z today is taking far less drugs than previous generations as they strive to achieve new standards of health and wellness.

A generation up, the Guardian recently found that one in three Londoners don’t drink as much as they used to, with sober movements, dry bars, parties and festivals all rising in the UK. London, a traditionally alcohol fuelled city, is now host to a rising number of bars like Redemption (motto: ‘spoil yourself without spoiling yourself’) which are cropping up in some of the trendiest parts of town. Health and wellness have become important signifiers of youth identity as the growing #healthgoth trend demonstrates, and green juice replaces the Starbuck’s Venti as the cultural signifier du jour for today’s millennials.

That said, for those who do want drugs, there’s never been a better time to access them, safely and anonymously. A recent Global Drugs Survey reveals the continuing explosion in the online marketplace for legal highs via the dark web. Government bodies are currently struggling to introduce legislation that keeps pace with back street lab innovation, often with tragic consequences.

Although easy to access obscure drugs via the dark web, prescription drug consumption continues to rise, particularly in the US where it is being blamed for a fourfold increase in heroin addiction. Meanwhile, the growing consumer culture of the legal marijuana industry highlights the paradoxes within society and the fact that we truly are living in changing times.

Culturally there has been a gradual softening of attitudes and growing acceptance of ‘softer’ psychedelics and mindaltering substances. Some interesting analysis from Vice recently highlighted the gradual ‘feminisation’ of certain aspects of drug culture, such as ecstasy (‘from Gary to Molly’) which in may ways could be seen to be reflective of a broader feminisation of cultural generally over the last few years. All of this is being reflected in the aesthetic of contemporary visual culture. Not since the 60s has pop culture been so awash with psychedelic imagery, with experiments like Google’s hugely successful AI created visual app Deep Dream Generator making it easy to recreate the hallucinogenic vibe. The success of Deep Dream imagery on social media is arguably similar to the 90s ‘Magic Eye’ posters some of us might remember.

VR’s promise of truly immersive fantasy words looks set to provide us with new spaces for mind-altering experiences, but while not everyone will necessarily be taking drugs, the desire to escape or experience an altered view or perspective will remain attractive

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