Experimentation & Harm Reduction

Mormons who experience a faith transition often go through a phase of experimentation after being released from the strict behavioral regulations of the LDS Church. Many non-orthodox Mormons feel the need to “catch up” on the things they missed during their years in the church. It is also common for people who grew up in the church to have little to no knowledge of subjects such as safe sex or drugs such as alcohol, making them particularly vulnerable to making harmful decisions. In that light, we’d like to provide a brief explanation of harm reduction relating to drugs, sex and other activities.


A brief disclaimer:

We do not endorse, encourage, or condone any unsafe or illegal activities that may be mentioned in this article. The purpose of this article is simply to provide accurate information to help reduce harm for those who decide to participate in these activities anyway.


Coffee & Tea

Coffee and tea, while banned by the church, are relatively harmless and very commonplace.

The main psychoactive drug in both coffee and tea is caffeine, a stimulant drug of the Xanthine class. Caffeine lasts roughly 4 to 6 hours and causes effects such as wakefulness, focus enhancement, mood enhancement, increased heart rate and blood pressure, appetite suppression, and many other effects.

Caffeine is an addictive drug, but withdrawal effects are comparatively harmless and may include effects such as headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate, drowsiness, insomnia, and pain in the stomach, upper body, and joints, which can last last from only a day or two to a little over a week depending on duration and intensity of caffeine use before stopping. Caffeine is lethal in large quantities of approximately 10 grams or more, but is almost impossible to reach without pure powder, as it requires 50 to 100 cups of coffee to consume that much caffeine.

Tea also contains a compound known as theanine, a mild relaxant that is well known to take the edge off of caffeine jitters. This is a reason why tea can sometimes have a calming effect while coffee has the opposite, although this is also due to coffee having several times more caffeine per cup than tea. Both coffee and tea also contain other components such as alkaloids, antioxidants, and diterpenes. Coffee and Tea are generally considered to be healthy and are associated with a wide variety of health benefits, such as lower rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, cancer, or Parkinson’s disease, among others.

Generally, drink coffee or tea only in the morning, as late night caffeine consumption often causes insomnia. Avoid heavy or daily caffeine use in order prevent caffeine dependence or withdrawal. As is the case with all drugs, find out what consumption patterns work for you, as subjective effects vary from person to person, sometimes in radical ways.

Sex

Many Mormons are given an abstinence-only sex education, which is wholly inadequate, especially once the expectation of no sex before marriage is removed. Unsafe precautions related to sex may lead to unwanted pregnancies or STDs.

ALWAYS use a condom. This isn’t just to prevent pregnancy, but also to help prevent the spread of STDs. Ideally, pair condoms together with another form of birth control, such as birth control pills

Just because you no longer have a religious moral obligation to abstain from sex outside of marriage doesn’t mean you shouldn’t proceed carefully. Unlike what the church may portray, few people outside the church are engaged in frequent orgies or one-night stands. Most people’s sex lives outside of marriage are still confined to committed, monogamous relationships.

Alcohol

Alcohol, despite being relatively commonplace, is one of the most harmful recreational drugs used by humans. For example, 88,000 alcohol-related deaths occur per year, compared to just 64,000 other drug overdoses in 2016. Just because a drug is legal or commonplace doesn’t mean its safe. The best example of this is tobacco, with a whopping 480,000 tobacco-related deaths per year. Compare this to the 40,200 fatalities from car accidents in 2016.

Alcohol is one of the few recreational drugs that metabolizes into a toxin and carcinogen. Long term health risks of excessive alcohol use include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, and dementia, as well as breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon cancer.

To avoid excessive alcohol use, stay under the US government recommended limits of 2 standard drinks a day for men and 1 standard drink a day for women.

A standard drink of alcohol is equal to 12 ounces of 5% beer, 5 ounces of 12% wine, or 1.5 ounces of 40% liquor. Alcohol is metabolized differently according to weight and gender, but as an example, a 150 pound male who immediately consumes two standard drinks will have a Blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.06, above the 0.055 limit for driving in the state of Utah (DO NOT drive while under the influence of intoxicating drugs, including alcohol). That BAC will drop at a rate of about 0.015 per hour, and this individual would be sober in about 3 1/2 hours. BAC levels above 0.15 reduce the enjoyable effects while increasing negative side effects, and levels above 0.25 may lead to alcohol poisoning, loss of consciousness, and death.

If you decide to drink, follow all applicable laws, have a designated driver, or use ride-sharing apps or public transportation, and limit your alcohol consumption. Experiment cautiously to find what levels of alcohol consumption have what effects for you personally, and decide from there what consumption patterns work best for you.

Occasionally, people with malicious intent may spike drinks with date rape drugs, such as benzodiazepines, GHB, or ketamine, with the intent to make the drinker black out or become so disinhibited as to make sexual assault easy. To avoid these, don’t consume any drinks you didn’t watch get made or opened, and keep an eye on your drink at all times.

Names and types of Alcoholic drinks are extremely varied and will take a long time to learn. Be patient with yourself. A more experienced friend that can help you through things like your first bar experience or liquor purchase is very helpful.

Drugs

Drugs is a very broad category. Here, we will focus specifically on psychoactive, illegal, recreational drugs.

A wide variety of misconceptions exist around drugs. For example, people often consider street drugs to have no medicinal or therapeutic value, but cocaine is used in many countries as a local anesthetic for operations, methamphetamine is sold as a prescription medicine for ADHD called Desoxyn, ketamine is used as a clinical treatment for depression, and MDMA (ecstasy) is in Phase 3 FDA trials as a treatment for PTSD. Some people also think that some drugs, such as weed, are safe and non-addictive, when in fact weed can be addictive, and long-term use can have negative side effects. Even a benign drug like caffeine isn’t perfectly safe.

It is also commonly assumed that illegal drugs must be much more dangerous than legal substances, but in the alcohol section above, we outline how alcohol and tobacco kill many times more people than drug overdoses do. Also, not all drugs are made alike when it comes to harm. Rating the harm of various substances and comparing them to each other is very difficult due to the dozens of different ways you could rank harm, and different studies will produce different findings, but generally speaking, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and tobacco rate at the top of most lists, while psychedelics such as shrooms or LSD rate towards the bottom.

One of the biggest risks related to illicit drug use is the uncertainty of what substance you’re actually ingesting. For example, one study sampled street MDMA (ecstasy) and found that only 39% of these drugs were actually MDMA only, while 46% contained no MDMA at all! (see also https://www.ecstasydata.org for active testing of current MDMA and other batches). While some of the MDMA sold above were harmless or inactive compounds such as sugar, some were also substances with a greater chance of causing harm than MDMA.

Street opioids are especially dangerous because of fentanyl and other fentalogues being cut into opioids. Only a couple milligrams of fentanyl can kill you, and its cousin, carfentanil, which has been found being sold on the streets, is a hundred times more potent than the already-potent fentanyl and can kill in the microgram range, amounting to less than a grain of sand. On occasion, these fentalogues have shown up in non-opioid street drugs as well, such as cocaine, meth, and ketamine.

NEVER ingest a drug without testing it to know exactly what substance it is. Test kits are cheap, easy to find and easy to use. The Ehrlich test is cheap and covers most street drugs. You can buy this test kit here, as well as other test kits such as marquis, mandelin, and mecke, the main reagent test types. Don’t ingest any drug without first researching it and knowing exactly what to expect, such as duration, effects, risks, addiction potential, and so on. Again, NEVER ingest a drug without testing it.

If you or anyone around you plans to use opioids, you MUST have naloxone on hand. If injection is involved, ensure the user has sterile needles and uses safe injection techniques. If you or anyone around you plans to use psychedelics, it is advised to have trip killer such as benzodiazepines on hand. If you or anyone around you plans to ingest any of these drugs, a trip sitter or other sober person is highly recommended to help in case the person needs to be given naloxone or trip killer, given a glass of water, helped to the bathroom, or moved into the recovery position.

Follow recommended usage guidelines when using any of these drugs to reduce the chance of damage. For example, do not use MDMA more than once every three months due to neurotoxicity and possible resulting brain damage, and do not combine it with SSRI’s to prevent the possibility of serotonin syndrome. Tolerance levels for most drugs reset after one to two weeks of abstinence and should not be used more often than that as a basic maximum usage guideline.

The chances of adverse outcomes increases exponentially when you start combining drugs. Do not combine any drugs, even if one of the drugs is just alcohol or one of your prescription medications, without researching and being absolutely sure that there will be no adverse effects. Reference this chart for more info: (http://wiki.tripsit.me/wiki/Drug_combinations)

Again, we do not condone or support the use of any illicit drugs. With drugs as well as with sex, abstinence is the safest and only risk-free policy.

Reminder about participating in these activities while at BYU

BYU’s Honor code forbids sexual relations outside of marriage or the consumption of coffee, tea, alcohol, or illegal drugs. If you are found involved in any of these activities, you will likely be brought into the honor code office and penalized with probation, suspension, or expulsion.

Additionally, if you live in BYU-approved housing, as most BYU students do, your housing contract also forbids the above activities. If you are found doing any of these things by your landlord, you will possibly be evicted. In Utah, you are only given 5 days notice for eviction, and you are required to pay rent to the end of your contract, even after being evicted. If illegal substances are involved, the police may get involved, and you may face legal punishment. Utah is an especially strict state when it comes to legal enforcement of drug prohibition, including weed.


To repeat:

We do not endorse, encourage, or condone any unsafe or illegal activities that may be mentioned in this article. The purpose of this article is simply to provide accurate information to help reduce harm for those who decide to participate in these activities anyway.


If you choose to participate in any of these activities, understand that you risk potential eviction and expulsion or even imprisonment. Be extremely careful when and where you pursue these activities and who you discuss your behaviors with.