tue 17/09/2019

Legally High, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Legally High, Channel 4

Legally High, Channel 4

Award-winning film-maker Dan Reed digs into the world of mail order narcs

Dr Zee and his pals' warehouse of legal naughties

“How much risk are you willing to take when the only benefit is pleasure?” asks toxicologist Dr John Ramsey, as if pleasure in itself were not worth risking much for. He has a collection of over 29,000 psychoactive drugs but doesn’t seem to have much fun with them. He pulls them out of their little drawers, prods them and tells us how in the old days he and his toxicologist chums would have a celebratory drink when a new drug hit the market. Nowadays an avalanche of them is upon us. The message throughout Legally High is that Britain is being swamped by new drugs but every time the government bans one a chemist somewhere– very likely the pseudonymous Dr Zee, interviewed extensively – invents an analogue to replace it.

Documentary make Dan Reed, who has won three BAFTAs, including one for his mesmerising Terror in Mumbai, chews into issues closer to home with this 50 minute film. He shows a group of young people in Redcar, Yorkshire, led by one very damaged individual called Baxter, as they attack an array of legally available powders, a fury of snorting, injecting and smoking.

It was relatively clear-eyed and non-judgemental about the issues

The programme reveals this stuff can be bought on the internet or even in specialist head shops as long as it’s clearly labelled “Not for Human Consumption”. More civilised and middle class is “psychonaut” Chemical Ali and his girlfriend, a student and a teacher respectively, who order an MDMA-alike called 5MAPB through the post. They sit on a sofa, he with pupils like bulbous onyx marbles and she gurning gently, and talk about “waves of euphoria” as they occasionally slump into each other.

Most of these drugs appear to have originally been synthesized and tested by Dr Zee, an Israeli-born mathematician based in Holland where his business partners make millions bulk-selling his creations (he claims he doesn’t see much money). He was the chap who gave us Mephedrone – Meow Meow – that the tabloids had such fun with before it was banned in 2010. Dr David Nutt – the one who was kicked off the government’s Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs for pointing out that recreational drug use wasn’t really that dangerous – points out that, in terms of the death count, mephedrone isn’t really that dangerous.

The shocking imagery that sticks, though, is the messy Redcar drug-users, Baxter and his mate Riley especially, injecting a ketamine analogue and turning into gibbering wrecks, flopping about all over each other like lobotomized lovers in a lunatic asylum. The programme took a relatively level approach to its subject matter, essentially pointing out via Dr Zee’s observations that there are many thousands of derivatives for every banned substance, which makes erasing their existence a fools’ errand. However, the drug users, accompanied by the predictable, horror film-like backing music, come over as not really having very much fun, pathetic delusional messes and needle-users (Baxter becomes a heroin addict in the end). Given society’s general incomprehension of drug culture and the way it permeates every aspect of life, it’s too much to expect a programme to show what a good time most recreational users have on drugs. Happily Legally High was relatively clear-eyed and non-judgemental about the issues and ramifications this brings up.

Watch the trailer for Legally High overleaf

A group of young people in Redcar, Yorkshire, attack an array of legally available powders, a fury of snorting, injecting and smoking

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Comments

This review is a much more balanced than the telegraphs!

First of all 'Riley' does not exist in the programme however Rylan does. 'pathetic delusional messes' How can anybody be so harsh on someone who was obviously having a such a soul destroying time in there lives, is there no sympathy for the weak?

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