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Podcast DrugsDr Suzanne (Suzi) Gage is a researcher and lecturer in Psychology at the University of Liverpool. Her podcast ‘Say Why to Drugs’ is widely acclaimed for its exploration of everything we know – and don’t know – about recreational drugs.

Following her appearance on the University of Liverpool Podcast, here are six things we learnt that are helping to drive Suzi’s work on drugs and recreational drug use.

6 insights driving a thoughtful approach to understanding recreational drugs

  1. A British rapper provided some early inspiration for Suzi’s podcast
    Following an unlikely series of events, Suzi appeared on ‘Distraction Pieces’, a podcast hosted by rap artist Scroobius Pip. When she mentioned her own idea of a podcast focused on drugs, his reaction was instant. “He was incredibly supportive,” says Suzi. “He came up with the name in about five minutes, whereas I’d been trying to think of one for about four years.” He also suggested Suzi join his podcast network, and volunteered to be her non-scientist co-host on the show.
  2. The traditional approach to recreational drugs may be failing
    Suzi believes a one-size-fits-all approach is not proving particularly effective. “The problem that can quite often happen with the ‘Just Say No’ message,” she says, “is that it loses credibility when you have friends who have tried a drug, for example, or you’ve tried it yourself and nothing bad has happened.” Suzi believes a blanket ‘Just Say No’ attitude leads to more questioning and more doubt from sceptical audiences. In response, ‘Say Why to Drugs’ is deliberately open and non-judgmental, inviting the audience to make up its own mind.
  3. There is a problem in getting accurate data on recreational drug effects
    The complications surrounding recreational drug use mean it is extremely difficult to conduct conclusive research. From funding, ethics issues and doubts about whether full information is obtained or withheld, through to external factors such as habits and life circumstances of drug users (both legal and elicit), it is a major challenge to conduct accurate investigations. “You’d want to take a group of individuals and randomly assign them to either use the substance or not, and then follow them up over time and see what happens,” says Suzi. “But obviously, you can’t do that. It’s impractical and unethical. So you’re reliant on what people choose to do.”
  4. The most harmful drug? You might be surprised
    According to a 2010 study by Professor David Nutt, the findings of which were published in The Lancet, alcohol is the most harmful drug – above heroin and crack cocaine. However, Suzi believes there are multiple factors to consider. “There are so many individual differences,” she says. “Where you are when you’re using a drug, and your state of mind and physical state when you’re using the drug, have a huge impact on how you’re going to react to it.”
  5. Your body copes better with drugs when you’re in familiar environments…
    Research has shown that people can withstand more alcohol if they drink at home than if they drink in a pub, club or restaurant. The same applies with other drugs, too. “If an individual uses heroin in a new location, they’re more likely to have an overdose,” says Suzi. The body somehow appears more ‘prepared’ for drugs when it is in familiar surroundings, although scientists are still trying to establish why. “The mechanisms aren’t really understood, but it’s a fascinating documented phenomenon.”
  6. … or if you’ve got the right genes
    Not everybody processes drugs in the same way, says Suzi. And while this may seem obvious, the science behind it is still being explored. “If you’ve got a protein that breaks down alcohol into something toxic, like acetate, but you don’t have the protein in the next step of metabolism to get rid of the acetate, then you might have really, really unpleasant responses from drinking alcohol.” Suzi believes researchers are only just “scratching the surface” in understanding the link between genetics and behaviour in terms of drug use.

About this podcast

The University of Liverpool Podcast aims to bring listeners closer to some of the academic experts, authors and innovative thinkers from the University who, through their in-depth analyses, research and discoveries, are affecting positive change in the world today. Each episode features one or more of our academic experts discussing research in their specialist field. Subscribe to the University of Liverpool Podcast via iTunes, Tunein and Google Play Music (US and Canada only).

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