The normality of drug use at festivals in the Netherlands

Written by Dyonne Onyema

‘’I’m having the time of my life here at festival Thuishaven’’, says Owen, a 22-year-old boy, while dancing to the electric music that’s coming from the big stereos. Every 10 minutes, when the beat changes a little bit, he screams with the rest of the crowd.

One of the tents at Thuishaven is dark and very hot. Many small lights are shining on all of the people who are swinging their arms up and down. The music flows through their bodies, while they repeatedly do the same dance move over and over again. Different kinds of colorful lights are moving through the area. Owen’s eyes light up and his pupils are slowly getting bigger from the ecstasy he has taken.

Drug use at festivals is becoming more common nowadays, especially in the Netherlands. Sixty percent of younger people who regularly visit a festival or party use the drug ecstasy. Other drugs that are commonly used in the Netherlands include speed, cannabis, GHB and cocaine. Almost everyone who frequently visits a festival in the Netherlands will admit that drug use is becoming more popular. At many festivals there are even so-called ‘drug control stalls’ to test the drugs before the user uses it. These stalls are not meant to condemn drug users, but to respond to questions from their fellow party-goers about use and risk reduction.

Whereas in the past, party drugs weren’t a big thing, they are now incredibly popular. Especially among young festival-goers who love electronic music like house, techno and hardcore. The popularity of party drugs today can be explained by the lower price of pills such as ecstasy compared to the higher price of drugs like heroin. Many Dutch citizens want to legalize the use of these kind of drugs. ‘’Ecstasy has no addictive effect and the crime and waste disposal associated with ecstasy can be solved by legalization’’, says Kees Kramers, a doctor from Nijmegen. Many Dutch parties are still discussing the legalization of party drugs.

The Trimbos Institute recently came up with new statistics: a quarter of a million Dutch people, between the ages of 15 and 64, use ecstasy from time to time. Last year it became clear that drug use in Europe was nowhere as high as in the Netherlands. Over the last couple of years, the standard has shifted, that is clear.

‘’Of course, I use drugs at these kinds of parties, but I have to admit, not always. That’s also the reason why these parties are not a regular thing for me’’, says Laura, a 20-year-old student. She’s a huge fan of electronic music. Drops of sweat are sitting on her forehead. With her hand she tries to wipe the sweat off her head. Whilst Laura is busy with her forehead, she’s also mimicking the beat of the songs and tries to concentrate on the music: ‘’I think it’s very normal that people use drugs at these kinds of parties. If I’m being honest, I expect people to use drugs rather than not use drugs at this festival’’.

Every couple of minutes Laura brings her water bottle to her mouth, to slightly take a sip of the water. One of her friends brings a big yellow balloon to her. Her legs are leaning against the bar and she reaches out to the balloon with her hand. She puts the opening of the balloon in her mouth, slightly above her tongue and takes a deep breath. The gas in the balloon, slowly reaches her brain. Laura breathes out and directly after takes another deep breath. The balloon grows and shrinks continuously until her yellow balloon has shrunk all the way. She closes her eyes and her hands start shaking for a couple of seconds. Her hands grab the counter of the bar while she gently moves her head. Her mouth turns in a smile while she takes another sip of her water and starts dancing again.

Laura is questioning why the Dutch government is still discussing the legalization of drugs like ecstasy: ‘’Drug use is already so common in the Netherlands. I don’t get why they won’t just legalize it’’. Many people believe that the legalization of drugs reduces accidents such as pills with the wrong components. But for now, drugs like ecstasy and speed are still illegal in the Netherlands.