By Evy Gallagher
* “Euphoria” spoiler alerts
In “Euphoria,” the concept of drugs is a very heavy subject. It deals with AA, overdosing, violence, brutality and how terrifying these topics are. Though on the other hand, there’s also this idea of euphoric feelings: strobe lights, sex, glitter, manic states and starry eyes. While “Euphoria” follows the life of a drug addict, Rue, it somehow still portrays drugs in a way that seems like drugs can make life exciting. It glamorizes them.
“When talking about substance abuse, there is a tendency in the media to polarize the information that is shared with the audience,” said Dr. Wilson Compton, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “It is often glamorized or demonized, when in reality, drugs and drug use are complex.”
The drugs used in “Euphoria” range from cannabis to morphine, which unfortunately doesn’t just lead to streams of glitter that pour from someone’s eyes. It’s important to have a rough understanding of different drugs, how certain they can make people feel and their negative, and even dangerous, side effects.
Wilson said that it is important for the media to navigate the fine line of not romanticizing drugs but also working to “[dismantle] the stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs and [encourage] treatment and recovery.”
Breaking down the drugs in “Euphoria”
Molly (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine; MDMA): The quote from season one of Euphoria that has probably been most quoted by avid watchers is Maddy Perez’s iconic, “I don’t know if your brain is all scrambled from like, all the molly you take, but I never said that.” In the show, the use of Molly was portrayed as creating feelings of pure exhilaration and heightened feelings. That may be true, as Molly, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, can create an “enhanced sense of well-being, increased extroversion, enhanced sensory perception and emotional warmth.” What “Euphoria” does not include is Molly’s negative side effects. Molly can interfere with how the body regulates its temperature which can lead to hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature. There are also instances of depersonalization, which is a detachment from oneself and panic attacks.
Reality check: “Euphoria’s” version of Molly led to Cassie, one of the characters, to have a little too much fun on a carousel. In reality, Molly will create a heightened sense of awareness for three to six hours. This will include wanting to dance, touch and talk until serotonin levels are depleted which causes an immediate sense of sadness or depression.
Cocaine (Coke; Blow; Snow): “Euphoria” doesn’t shy away from Cocaine. It’s used by a multitude of characters and what seems like on a pretty regular basis. Usually, it’s shown as being snorted or rubbed under the gums. Cocaine can create that euphoric feeling that the show does a good job of showcasing. In season two of “Euphoria,” there was an instance where Rue almost went into cardiac arrest after snorting a line of cocaine. While it did show the dangers of cocaine for a split second, it reverted back to lighthearted humor seconds later.
Reality check: According to Talk to Frank, a teenager advice website for drugs and alcohol, using cocaine can lead to heart attacks or strokes for even young and healthy people. The risk of overdosing increases exponentially when using other drugs along with cocaine. Just like any other drug, cocaine can also lead to mental health problems resurfacing.
Opioids (Codeine; Fentanyl; Oxycodone): Opioids are highly addictive substances. In “Euphoria,” Rue first gets addicted to drugs after trying her dad’s prescribed pain medication for his cancer. In season one, Rue goes to Fezco’s house as he’s about to get more drugs from Mouse. During the intense following scenes, Rue begrudgingly takes fentanyl from Mouse and drifts into a catatonic-like state.
Reality check: According to the Addiction Center, “opiates produce euphoric and tranquil effects when taken in amounts that are larger than prescribed. The pleasant, carefree feelings a person experiences when taking these drugs are often what leads to destructive patterns of abuse.”
Dr. Ross Nathan, Orthopedic Hand Surgery Specialist, said, “For years I’ve thought it was evil stuff. Live with the pain and it will eventually get better. Then you’ll be happy and not addicted.”
Slowly but surely, doctors have tightened the reins on opioid prescriptions because of how easy it was for patients to get addicted and abuse their so-called medicine.
“People should know that there are safe and effective medications for opioid use disorder, withdrawal and to reverse an overdose,” Wilson said. “These medications can save lives, but they are rarely mentioned in TV or movies, even in thoughtful, nuanced depictions of addiction.”
Cannabis (Marijuana; Dope; Weed; Pot): Cannabis is probably the most commonly used drug in “Euphoria.” It is also the only “soft” drug, besides Acid, that is used in the show. According to the Government of the Netherlands, soft drugs are drugs considered to be not as addictive and not as damaging to one’s health, unlike hard drugs. In “Euphoria,” cannabis is commonly shown being smoked at parties or with friends. The effects are usually something along the lines of being calm and relaxed, which can be true, but again, it depends on the user.
Reality check: According to Healthline, cannabis can also be used medicinally to treat anxiety or epilepsy, yet there are still a lot of unknowns about the drug. Its potentially negative side effects consist of impaired judgment, a weakened immune system and memory problems. While cannabis is a non-addictive drug, it’s important to know its effects and realize that it may not affect everyone in the same way.
Acid (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide; LSD; Dots; Mellow Yellow): LSD is a hallucinogenic drug. Rue and Jules decide to take acid together and the result is basically a beautiful, slow-motion, glittery daydream. This scene is what caused a major influx of people to recreate the “Euphoria” eye makeup look.
Reality check: According to KidHealth, “LSD causes the senses of space, distance and time to become altered. People say they ‘hear’ colors or ‘see’ sounds, and have strange feelings and strong emotions.”
Acid is described as mind-altering and “trips” can last anywhere from 2-12 hours. According to Drugs.com, some LSD users can experience bad trips that can cause panic, terrifying thoughts or fear of insanity or death. The drug creates a different reaction with every user and is, therefore, part of the reason it can be so dangerous.
Keep in mind
“Euphoria” is nonetheless a show that covers a multitude of harmful and addictive drugs. Pop culture, especially shows geared towards teenagers and young adults, have more influence than they think. Due to the craze a show can create, Zendaya, the actress that plays Rue, posted a message on her Instagram before every new episode release explaining that the show is for mature audiences, and it deals with topics that can be “triggering and difficult to watch.” What’s seen on television is not reality and therefore drugs should not be taken recklessly or without knowledge of what they really are.
“No one who’s actually in high school should be watching Euphoria because of the significant drug use,” Callen Woodard, a senior finance and economics major at The University of Alabama said. “It’s definitely a mature subject for mature audiences.”
*If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)