Chinese Schools Are Using Psychedelic VR to Scare Kids off Drugs

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One thing that strikes me, when reading international news about drug use, is how alike all we humans are—and how fucking stupid everyone in charge is, everywhere.

Not that we necessarily endorse either—ahem—but virtual reality and actual reality-benders, like psychedelic drugs, are cut from similar cloth.

Show us an Occulus Rift set, and we’ll show you a way to experience the “ego death” of an acid trip without a chemistry set, consulting the works of Owsley or Alexander Shulgin, and the need for a quiet, comfortable place in which to retreat while your reality reassembles itself.

Pretty cool! All of the profound, life-changing cosmic benefits of acid—oneness, total connectivity with the universe and with others—without the acid. (Or, the singular opposite of the isolation, disassociation and utter lack of community and empathy that a technology-saturated life delivers to many of us.)

In China, authorities are leading schoolchildren through a similar experience, using a VR headset to mimic the feeling of a cosmic brain lit up by chemicals.

But, as Mashable is reporting, instead of turning on, the idea behind showing school kids “psychedelic colors and swirling shapes” is designed to be a lifelong turn-off.

Yes: thought leaders are giving kids a taste of another universe in the hopes that it will be so terrible, it will scar them for life—and keep them off of drugs.

A video (which has since been removed from YouTube) shows a brief glimpse of what appears to be a club scene, with jarring camera movement and the eventual somewhat-psychedelic splash. How does it match up with the genuine article?

I mean, not terrible. Preferable to food poisoning, or a daylong alcohol hangover.

The impetus behind trying to scare kids away from drugs by giving them a tiny taste of what the drug life is like is twofold.

One, it was a way to celebrate the UN’s “International Day Against Drug Use and Illicit Trafficking.” (If your American school failed to mark this occasion, well, it’s not the first time China’s kicked your ass.) Second, it’s a trial balloon to see what, if anything, can halt China’s growing “drug problem.”

As many media outlets and think-tanks have observed, as China continues to prosper and disposable incomes grow, Chinese people are confronting the hollowness and vapidity of a consumer-driven life and are turning to drugs, mostly ketamine, methamphetamine and MDMA.

And China’s role in America’s opiate crisis can’t be ignored: According to U.S. authorities, much of the synthetic opiates with which many street drugs are now cut come from clandestine labs in the country.

But how do you replicate a k-hole or the profound effects of speed with a VR headset?

It appears the idea is to demonstrate the worst “side effects,” such as the “dizziness and fear” that accompany a come-down. Left unsaid is what happens when a kid happens to enjoy the experience, and then has to choose between replicating it via a $700 headset or a $10 bag.

As Mashable noted, some Chinese officials plan to use the VR headsets in some of the official, government-run rehabilitation centers, to which the country’s 2.8 million and counting “registered drug addicts” are sent. By showing the “hallucinations, seizures, confusion and nausea” that are the official “side effects” of drug use, both experienced users and would-be first-timers will steer clear, the argument goes.

Because scare tactics always work.

China’s trajectory with its very own drug war is so far mirroring America’s. Despite draconian penalties, including death sentences for drug dealers, confounded authorities are nevertheless confronting a “growing” drug problem.

And now, just like in America, instead of confronting drug use as a symptom of a different malaise—economic inequality or stagnation, pain, trauma or existential ennui—drug use is considered a problem unto itself.

Whether teasing the experience is enough to make the next generation forswear it remains to be seen. If it doesn’t, look for China to embrace the foolproof “smoke the whole pack, while I sit here and watch” strategy.

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