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10 of the Top Travel Destinations to Get High

Here are some travel spots where the drug culture is as fascinating as Italy's cuisine.
 
 
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Drugs have always been a part of the human experience, and while governments illegalize substances and punish their users, people all across the world continue to seek out different states of mind. In many regions, drugs, like food, are culturally embedded in local tradition. And like tourists seek out travel destinations known for their great cuisine or music, many travelers are in search of local drug culture. From South America’s shaman-guided psychedelic trips and cocaine bars, to the Golden Triangle’s opioids and growing ecstasy market, countries far and wide have long lured tourists seeking the secrets of locals’ mind-enhancement. For an atypical summer escape, here are 10 travel spots where the drug culture is as fascinating as Italy's cuisine. 

1) Amsterdam. If you want to browse through menus of weed before lighting up in a smokey cafe, now is the time to hit up Amsterdam; tourists may soon be banned from some of Holland’s legal weed shops, though a coalition of activists seem to be successfully fighting against the effort. The Dutch government stopped the sale of dry and fresh psychedelic mushrooms a few years back, but you can still trip out on some psilocybin truffles before hitting the Van Gogh museum or cruising the canals.

Weed and truffles aren’t the only “soft drugs” available in Amsterdam. Amsterdan’s “smart shops”—though dwindling to less than a dozen left -- sell a variety of substances to induce all kinds of legal highs. In addition to a variety of hallucinogenic products like herbal teas and peyote cactus, smart shops stock stimulants to provide focus or an excited buzz, relaxants to chill out, “herbal XTC” similar to MDMA, and extracts of Karton—a southeast Asian tree with effects similar to opium. They’ve also got “before-and-after products” to test your supply and then recover from it, be it alcohol, ecstasy or cocaine. For a full list of products to alter your mood or consciousness, browse the famous Magic Mushroom smart shop’s online menu. 

2) Peru. In the Peruvian Amazon’s breathtaking rainforest are the Urarania, indigenous peoples whose religious sacrament includes a shaman-guided ayahuasca experience. Taking ayahuasca is not like taking LSD or mushrooms: It means handing your consciousness over to the “spirit vine,” and the fear-ridden path it lays out for you. Experiencing, or coming to terms with death, is often reported.

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic South American brew, often loosely defined as any combination of the psychedelic DMT with a MAOI, an enzyme inhibitor that allows DMT to be active when swallowed. Adding P. viridis, or other DMT-containing plants, to the MAOI-rich B. caapi vine can induce a profound hallucinogenic journey often accompanied by vomiting, aka “the purge.” Ayahuasca users report two to six hours of peak effects with one to eight hours of lingering effects, depending on dosage and the person.

One ayahuasca user explained how her shaman-guided trip spiraled into a terrifying nothingness; she felt herself die. Then, she said:
“Suddenly I think I hear vague traces of music somewhere far away, but I’m not sure. Like a dim light in the darkness a sound of an instrument becomes more and more clear. ...The world explodes into beautiful music, colors and patterns as I finally realize that I’m alive. I am sucked back up from the dark void and my flame starts burning again. I cry and sob in gratitude as I return to the living world. Life isn’t over, I have been given a second chance. This time I promise I will do better. “Thank you, Thank you, I will do better!” I repeat it like a mantra, I don’t know for how long. I can feel the life energy returning to my body and it is fantastic.”
The region is also famous for its mescaline-rich San Pedro cactus, which, once ingested, can completely alter the user’s reality. A mostly visual experience, the San Pedro is reported to change your perception of your environment, causing tunnel vision, chessboard or honeycomb sensations, and spirals. Four to eight hours after ingestion, the world’s patterns and lines return to their natural state.

One user explained:

The feeling the cactus tea gave me for the first three hours was one of stimulation and joyfullness. At around the 3-hour mark, the stimulation gave birth to a profound blissful euphoria with the world around me transformed into another place entirely. Everything looked familiar to me and was akin to a childhood perception of world that was brand new, being seen for the first time.
3) Bolivia. Coca is deeply ingrained in Bolivian culture --  locals grow, ceremonialize, drink, cook, and otherwise ingest the plant with great pride, often stressing that “coca is not a drug.” Like the difference between eating a grape and drinking wine, chewing coca leaves is very different from snorting cocaine, but coca does provide mild mental and physical stimulation, and helps soothe altitude sickness.

Unfortunately for locals who want only to keep their coca, the Andean region is ideally suited for cocaine cultivation and production.  Resting in a valley in the Andean mountains is the capital city La Paz, home to the world’s first cocaine bar, Route 365, where “strong cocaine” costs 150 (Bolivianos) a gram.  

4) Czech Republic. While possession of small amounts of most drugs is not a crime across the Czech Republic, tourism has helped make Prague a party capital for backpackers looking to pass a joint or pop some ecstasy in drug-friendly clubs. CityPilot recommends Roxy and Cross Club, among a few others. Still, before you buy drugs in the club, try to find somebody else who’s recently scored, as dealers are known to rip off out-of-towners. Weed ($10-$15 per gram) and ecstasy are common, and some late-night clubs—reportedly Styx—might sell some Amsterdam-style smart drugs behind the bar.

5) Morocco. From the Rif mountains in Morocco comes somes of the best hashish in the world. The Berber people lead an independent  lifestyle in which hashish—called “kif” -- is deeply ingrained, regardless of government attempts to stamp it out. The setting, a site for mass production, is ideal for curious travelers. As traveler Joseph Mayden wrote on Cannabis Culture, “Relaxing in one of the Rif’s caves is an experience that makes Morocco a perfect destination for all avid smokers,” because the area is “home to myriad caves, inhabited by the local Berbers, who bring forth hashish in its most pure form.”

Mayden explained why the Moroccan hash high is so desirable:
The hashish high, which permeates throughout the upper portions of the head, gives the smoker a feeling of weightlessness and spiritual nirvana. The high is different than that of marijuana. Hashish gives a feeling in the brain that allows for a sort of otherworldly experience that marijuana just cannot give. The full body intoxication is a feeling only Moroccan hashish brings, they said.

The laborious method Moroccans use to make hash pays off in the quality department. First, they dry out cannabis, often removing leaves and buds from the stems. Then, they place the cannabis into a large covered container or sac, which they beat and crush to sift the resinous trichomes (THC/CBD-stacked outgrowths from buds and leaves) through a mesh or silk cloth at the bottom. The resulting powder is pressed into blocks and burned solid. Watch a video of it here.

Still, while hash is common among locals in Morocco, it is still illegal, and unlucky travelers can be arrested if caught. Visitors are advised not to buy near streets, which police may frequent looking for deals.

6) The Golden Triangle. Opiates made the Golden Triangle connecting Thailand to Burma and Laos a name in drug tourism long ago, but opium and heroin are not the only drugs available in the region. Ecstasy, mushrooms and weed are becoming increasingly easy to score. 

Eve Turo reported on the growing drug tourism for the Atlantic:
Signs of addiction proliferated in local communities and it wasn’t long until visiting tourists began to catch on, attracted to the famous drug of the Orient: opium. Soon, travelers were not just seeking temples and great noodle soups, but a drug experience withheld from them or seemingly too dangerous to attempt at home. The exoticism of dank, dark rooms covered in pillows and shadowed by opium smoke enticed outsiders.
Today, tourism is on the rise in Southeast Asia, up 15 percent in 2011 from 2010. And while some argue the opiate haze is clearing, new research shows the infamously drug-friendly lands are only drawing more people experimenting with illicit substances. The choice of drugs is expanding, with magic mushrooms, ecstasy, prescription drugs, speed, and cannabis readily available —and all for a quarter of the cost back home. In some areas, drug menus are presented at restaurants, allowing a visitor to get a fix for any kind of craving.

But, be warned --- just because they’re easy to get doesn’t mean you won’t face tough penalties for getting caught. The Golden Triangle is fighting the burgeoning drug trade with harsh laws. The penalties for drug use in Myanmar are so strict the government has criminalized addiction, and addicts are required to register with the authorities and undertake inpatient drug treatment. Failure to register, or being unsuccessful in treatment, can result in a three-to-five year prison sentence. In Thailand, the death penalty can be inflicted for drug offenses like trafficking, and long prison sentences accompany many drug crimes. While Laos officials say no one has been executed for drugs since 1989, the death penalty, life imprisonment, and otherwise lengthy sentences are still within legal punishments for drug crimes. The best advice for drug-seekers in the Golden Triangle is to avoid carrying drugs and buy from people you have either seen use or were recommended to you by someone you trust.

7) Indonesia. Psilocybin mushrooms are a popular commodity on Indonesia’s islands, and tourists are increasingly taking note. Bali is known for its psychedelic mushroom milkshakes, where for about $8 you can get a shake that will seriously enhance your visit. Be aware that if servers at restaurants on Bali’s Lovina Beach ask, “Would you like mushrooms with that?” -- they don’t mean shitakis. Still, as Jamie Clifton recently wrote for Vice, "Less than an hour away from Bali is Gili Trawangan, a tiny, idyllic island where magic mushroom milkshakes are sold on the side of the road like it’s no big deal.”

Muslim locals note that while drinking is taboo, mushrooms are widely accepted, allowing for a culture where the streets are lined with signs advertising “Mega Maximum Radical Mushrooms -- Your Return Trip to the Moon.”

As Vice notes, the drug culture is very out in the open for a country with harsh drug laws:
“Weirdly, for a place where it’s totally acceptable to spend four hours intently gazing at a wall in a shroomed-out stupor, getting busted for smoking weed can land you five years in jail, and you’d be lucky to escape the death penalty if you were caught dealing...Right after we paid him for the milkshakes he got this sock full of bush weed out of his shorts and tried selling us some before leaning over the balcony, waving the bag around, and shouting prices to the tourists below.”

8) California. The feds are busting up weed dispensaries and farms across the country, but California is still home to the country’s first medical pot shops. Still, out-of-staters without a pot card need not worry too much. Californians are known to share—and smoking on the street (or the beach) is only a ticketable violation. As Cali kids say, “It’s chill.” Getting a card, on the other hand, requires a bit of a process. First, you must submit an application to a licensed physician (some advertise their propensity for weed), who may complete documentation of medical records. After an evaluation, ADD, which often costs between $40-100 in fees, you can often walk out with a letter from the doctor and into a dispensary.

California dispensaries sell a variety of strains, from relaxing indicas like Grape Ape to energizing sativas like Purple Haze. In general, sativa is a more stimulating, brain-high, good for daytime use, while indica offers more of a chilled-out body buzz that makes it well-suited for pain management and bedtime use. Still, there are many strains that offer different combinations of the two, and smoking is not the only way to use marijuana. For the inhalation-adverse, marijuana llozenges, spray tinctures, foods, and candy are sold in many California dispensaries.

You may know Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, one of California’s most famous dispensaries, from the Discovery Channel documentary series "Weed Wars." The largest dispensary in the world, Harborside doesn’t just sell pot, but offers home-grow classes and other health services like accupuncture and yoga. Despite local respect for the institution, Harborside may soon be a victim of the federal crackdown on medical pot:  The dispensary recently received a threatening letter from US attorney Melinda Haag. (Should the forfeiture threat by executed, Harborside’s 1,000 patients may have to switch shops or enter the black market, while the city will lose $3 million in taxes per year.)

9) Portugal. Portugal is leading the world in drug policy reform: Up to 10 days of any drug’s supply is not a criminal offense. Since Portugal decriminalized small amounts of drugs 11 years ago, youth drug use (as well as HIV and overdose deaths) decreased, but the country has not become a mecca for drug consumption. Rather, for those looking to use drugs safely (or see what sane drug policy looks like), Portugal is the place to go. Needle exchanges and opioid substitution programs help to reduce the harm of use and addiction, alongside about 73  specialized treatment facilities, 14 detoxification units, 70 public outpatient facilities and 13 accredited day centers.

Also of note is that, while marijuana is illegal but widely available, Portugal has a legal hemp market. There are shops across the country, including Metamorfose and Planet Sensi in Porto, that sell hemp products and double as head shops. There’s also cognoscitiva, a hemp/grow shop with multiple locations (including Lisbon) selling all the seeds and tools necessary to get a good grow going.

10) Uruguay. Uruguay never criminalized the possession of drugs for personal use, and is now considering a government-run marijuana program. Tourists are not included in the plan, but if the proposal goes into effect, scoring some quality pot without risking arrest should be far from difficult. Cocaine paste-- an intermediary stage in cocaine preparation -- is also popular in Uruguay, and contributing to a growing addiction problem legalizing marijuana may gather the funds to help treat. Because near Uruguay is where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, the region has long been important territory for drug traffickers, and is responsible for Uruguay’s high-volume cocaine market.  

The bottom line is that, even if Uruguay’s legalization plan will only sell weed to locals, you won’t get locked up for buying it (or other drugs), and can enjoy the country’s beautiful beaches with a good buzz, minus the paranoia.

 

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne