Travel that is for the purpose of obtaining or using drugs for recreational or personal use is often referred to as drug tourism. Drug tourism can also be discussed in relation to using illicit substances when on a trip, at a particular destination. Drugs can be both legal such as alcohol or cigarettes, or illicit such as cocaine, mushrooms or marijuana.
Indulging in drugs while in a different country can add to the experience of travel. Or it can cause severe and life-altering reactions. Not knowing the dealer, not knowing the strength or even what the drug may be can have fatal consequences. Stories of people getting caught by local authorities with illegal drugs are commonplace, as are stories of bad trips or overdoses. Some individuals may also get pressured or coerced into agreeing to smuggle drugs through regions or across borders, with disastrous outcomes.
Common regions for tourists to visit to indulge in the experience of drugs include South East Asia (especially Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia), South America, India, and The Netherlands. Mexico is also very popular for young Americans to travel, where they can drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and have access to illegal drugs. All of these regions have a variety of cultural and natural sites that are often overlooked in the pursuit of the party.
Tourism have positive and negative impacts for the destination country. Tourism can bring money to economically depressed regions, and poor nations can develop quickly to become popular destinations. Services such as the internet, health care standards and communication increase due to demand of the foreign traveler with hard currency. But along with these changes, there are a number of negative impacts. Loss of culture and traditions, and coarsening of intercultural relations are some issues that commonly arise. Tourists may come with money in their pockets to spend on having fun at parties or getting high, but the money may not in fact go to local communities. Package deals, internationally owned and run hotels, convenience stores and foreign owned tour companies rarely filter money down to the local level, and the result is that poverty is maintained.
If the tourism in a region is largely based on drugs, there will undoubtedly be an increase in criminal activities. The local population will have an influx of drug producers, dealers and sellers who may instill feelings of fear and crime into the local area. Drug abuse among local populations may also increase.
Visitors to South America are typically well aware of the regions cocaine-producing claim to fame. This area has been the site of coca and cocaine production for many years and unfortunately there is a percentage of tourists who are simply coming to countries such as Colombia to sample the drug. Anecdotes suggest that drugs are very easy to find, that they are sold by everyone, used by everyone and are very good quality. But these anecdotes often do not describe the negatives – that they have been taken advantage of, that violence is commonplace and abuse, binging and overdosing is common.
Despite South America being the largest producer of cocaine worldwide, the drug is in fact illegal to use or possess. Colombia has been fighting the war on drugs for many years and the risks involved in purchasing drugs are high. Sentencing for drug offenses in many of the countries such as Colombia are severe. Tourists could be used as an example of successful policies against drug use. Individuals should never consider that they may be above local law enforcement if they engage in illegal activities.
Many of the hordes of young tourists that visit South East Asia come for the beaches, the unique culture and for the apparent ease of getting drugs. Stories prevail in colleges and universities across America, Australia and England about getting stoned on marijuana on the beaches in Thailand, taking magic mushrooms while floating down the river in Vang Vieng, Laos and of methamphetamine (especially yaba), and opium that is available across the region. Mushrooms and marijuana are also widely available in the Gilis of Lombok, Indonesia.
Among these stories are good and bad experiences, overdoses, accidents, coerced bribes, imprisonment and the occasional death. The experience of traveling to these far-away places combined with mind altering substances can be a life-changing moment. People may decide to take their life on a different route after indulging in these substances, or they may simply return home and have some wild memories of things they did. With Generation Y, the tendency to engage in substance abuse binging has increased the danger. The enormous full-moon parties which have developed from a few dozen people to thousands and thousands has also increased negative outcomes.
What is often forgotten when taking drugs in these countries is that the use of these drugs is not allowed. Marijuana, mushrooms, amphetamines, opium and heroin are all illegal in these countries and the punishments for using or being caught with the drugs are severe. Individuals caught in possession of drugs can face jail time, big fines or worse. In some areas such as Koh Phangan where the Full Moon Parties are held every month in Thailand, there are many stories of police setting up tourists by selling the drugs to them and then forcing them to pay big fines or face jail time. Similar stories have come out of Laos.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands is a common destination for tourists from all over Europe who go to this vibrant and lively city to indulge in more illicit drugs as well as the legal red light district. Marijuana and hashish are legal to use in public places and to purchase from shops or cafes that are licensed to sell. It should be noted that there are laws around the sale of the drugs. Sales are limited to under 5 grams, only permitted to adults, no minors on premises and no advertising is allowed. Not all drugs are legal. Cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, amphetamines and heroin are illegal and sentencing for possession and use can be severe. Psychedelic mushrooms were previously available in Amsterdam but a policy change in 2008 made them on the same list as other hard drugs. Some mushroom spores are still available to purchase and use however.
The Netherlands’s liberal approach to drugs has made it a very popular destination with foreign tourists. But with these tourists have come many problems. Many of the tourists come from bordering countries such as Germany, Belgium and the UK and visit the Netherlands to drink, smoke and ingest drugs and carouse. They cause problems with local residents, flout local laws and as a result, changes to the laws on drug use are imminent.
Ibiza in Spain and Goa in India are destinations that many people visit purely to party. Travelers visit Goa to get high at trance-music parties, dance on the sand and use marijuana, LSD, ecstasy and cocaine. Similarly, Ibiza’s rise to fame came from its influence on dance music and partying and drug use is commonplace. Drug use is often open in these places, drugs will be offered by many and taken by many. Laws clearly state that drug use is not tolerated in either of these party destinations, and being arrested for drug possession is a very real possibility. Unfortunately in both these destinations, reports of criminal activities, overdoses and sadly deaths due to drugs are common.