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The concept of responsible drug use is that a person can use drugs with reduced or eliminated risk of negatively affecting other parts of one's life or other peoples lives. Advocates point to the many well-known artists and intellectuals who have used drugs, experimentally or otherwise, with few detrimental effects on their lives. Critics argue that the drugs are escapist--and dangerous, unpredictable and sometimes addictive; therefore, responsible drug use is an illusion.

Philosophy of Responsible Drug Use

The philosophy of responsible drug use—which applies to alcohol, tobacco, and medical products as much as to any other drugs—asserts that to use drugs responsibly one must adhere to the following principles[How to reference and link to summary or text]:

  • Understanding and educating oneself on the effects and legality of the drug being consumed
  • Measuring accurate dosages and taking other precautions to reduce the risk of overdose
  • Taking the time to chemically test all drugs being consumed to determine purity and strength
  • Not driving, operating heavy machinery, or otherwise being directly or indirectly responsible for the safety or care of another person while intoxicated
  • Having a trip sitter when taking a drug with which one is not familiar
  • Not attempting to trick or persuade anyone to use a drug they are not willing to use
  • Not allowing drug use to overshadow other aspects of one's life
  • Being morally conscious of the source of one's drugs

Duncan and Gold (1982) suggested that responsible drug use involved responsibility in three areas: situational responsibilities, health responsibilities, and safety-related responsibilities. Among situational responsibilities they included concerns over the possible situations in which drugs might be used recreationally. including avoidance of hazardous situation, not using when alone nor using due to cercion or when the use of drugs in itself is the sole reason for use. Health responsibilities include avoidance of excessive doses or hazardous combinations of drugs, awareness of possible health consequences of drug use, and not using drug recreationally during periods of excessive stress. Safety-related responsibilities include using the smallest dose necessary to achieve the desired effects, using only in relaxed settings with supportive companions, avoiding the use of drugs by injection, and not using drugs while performing complex tasks or those where the drug might impair one's ability to function safely.


Critics believe that recreational drug use is inherently irresponsible (in that they see drug use as potentially dangerous, or as a fruitless escape from reality, and that it is illegal in many societies) and that drugs can therefore never be used "responsibly". [How to reference and link to summary or text] One reason for this is that the unpredictable, unregulated nature of many illicit drugs carries inherent risks that might not be avoidable, even with great care, although proponents of responsible drug use would reply that these problems can be solved by legalization and regulation. Some types of drugs are very addictive, and even moderate use may result in a strong physical need for an increased dosage, with possible concomitant physical and social problems. While some people may be able to use some drugs for many years without serious consequences, others may have an unexpected reaction to the drug, even on first use. A single use of some recreational drugs may cause death or some other negative reaction, including a loss of control that may result in harm to others. Many critics consider it unrealistic to think that very many people will adhere to the principles of responsible use. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

The stigmatized concept of a "recreational drug" is not known to some societies. Members of the Rastafari movement, for example, use cannabis in religious rituals and some have no concept of it as a "recreational", much less "party", drug. Finally, some stigmatized and illegal recreational drugs are, some would say, physiologically and psychologically safer than alcohol (although their long-term effects are not well documented).


Because of the illegal nature of many drugs, quality and potency may be difficult to assess, and this may also have an effect on the ability to use recreational drugs safely. Some people, therefore, argue that government decriminalization of drug production and distribution could alleviate some of the most significant dangers of illegal drug use. The illegality of drugs in itself may also cause social consequences for those using them. The morality of buying certain illegal drugs is also questioned given that the trade in cocaine, for instance, has been estimated to cause 3,000 deaths a year in Colombia alone. Some advocates for responsible drug use claim that the governments are responsible for this drug war by making the drug substances illegal and therefore highly profitable.

Harm reduction

Harm reduction began as a philosophy in the 1970's to minimize the risks of intravenous drug users who had HIV/AIDS. It also focused on condom usage to prevent the transmission of HIV through sexual contact.

Harm reduction worked so effectively that researchers and community policy makers adapted the theory to other diseases that drug users were susceptible to, such as Hepatitis C.

Harm reduction seeks to minimize the harms that can occur through the use of various drugs, whether legal (ie. alcohol or nicotine) and illegal (ie. heroin or cocaine). For example, people who inject illicit drugs can minimize harm to both themselves and members of the community through proper injecting technique, using new needles and syringes each time, and through proper disposal of all injecting equipment.

Other harm reduction methods have been implemented with drugs such as crack cocaine. In some cities, peer health advocates (Weeks, 2006) have participated in passing out clean crack pipe mouthpiece tips to minimize the risk of Hep A,B,C and HIV due to sharing pipes while lips and mouth contain open sores.

The responsible user therefore minimises the spread of blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV in the wider community.

Safe Injection Sites (SiS)

Safe injection sites operate under the premise of harm reduction by providing the injection drug user with a clean space and clean materials such as needles, sterile water, alcohol swabs, and other items used for safe injection.

Vancouver, British Columbia opened a SiS called Insite in its poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside. Insite has been open since 2003 and has dramatically reduced many harms associated with injection drug use. In fact, the research arm of the site, run by The Centre of Excellence for HIV/AIDS has found the following results[1]:

  • SiS leads to increases in people entering detox and addiction treatment
  • SiS hasn't led to more drug-related crime
  • SiS has resulted in less litter of drug paraphernalia on the street
  • SiS has reduced the number of people injecting in public
  • SiS is attracting highest risk users
  • SiS has led to less needle sharing in the community
  • SiS encountered 453 overdoses and saved every single person

The Responsible Drug User's Oath

The Responsible Drug User's Oath (RDUO) is an oath which is intended for recreational drug users who wish to use drugs in a relatively responsible manner, as opposed to doing so in the stereotype of a "junkie".


The RDUO first appeared on the Everything2 website in 2001. It was passed around by email and in 2004 resurfaced in a Dextroverse forum post by the user Nitin, with minor topical improvements.

The RDUO provides guidelines for drug users who wish to pursue a more responsible and non-harmful (to themselves and others) drug-use lifestyle. The document suggests that drug use should be considered a legitimate personal choice, not a crime, personal failure, or societal illness.

Text of the oath

(As is common on Everything2, the text contains links to other parts of the website; they have not been included in this copy.)

I swear or affirm that:
  • I understand the effects of all recreational drugs I take, to the best of my ability. I shall research the neurochemical, psychological, physiological, spirituality effects, the legal issues surrounding the drug and its use.
  • When taking a drug I am inexperienced with, I shall begin with the lowest dose suggested to be psychoactive by the aforementioned research before progressing to higher dosages. I will measure the drug carefully, with an accurate scale.
  • If it is possible that the drug may contain harmful adulterants or in fact be a different drug altogether, I shall have the drug chemically analyzed for purity and content.
  • I will learn the overdose limits for my own body weight and adjust them for any possible synergistic effects due to diet, prescription or other drugs. I will also adjust for dangerous side effects and my own health condition. After calculating my personal limit, I will stay under 75% of this limit, to minimize risk.
  • While under the effects of a drug, I shall not take physical risks such as driving, climbing, swimming, or any other physical activity in which my actions may cause harm to myself or others.
  • When first using a drug I am inexperienced with, I shall take it in the company of an experienced user, also known as a spotter. The spotter will remain sober during this experience, and will also have fully researched the drug.
  • I shall not attempt to sway, force, trick, or otherwise coerce another person to take any drug in a dishonest way; rather, I shall discuss previous drug experiences and research frankly and truthfully, allowing all people to make their own personal decisions about drug use.
  • I shall defend the rights of others to make educated, responsible decisions about drug use. I shall not support any person or movement that attempts to remove or abridge said rights.
  • I shall not allow my drug use to overshadow or disrupt the other important aspects of my life, including social interaction, employment or even other personal pursuits.
  • I will also take responsibility for the drug use of friends and relatives, if their drug use becomes dangerous to their health or personal relationships.
I swear this with the hope of creating a society in which safe, responsible drug use is a personal decision, not a criminal offense.


As of January 2006, other users of Everything2 have added new points:

  • I understand the effects of habituation, and therefore I shall exercise caution and significantly reduce the quantity of any familiar drug I use when taking the drug in a new and different environment for the first time.
  • As a drug consumer, I will embrace responsible drug production and distribution methods, such as growing or farming your own, and shun suppliers who use violence when not necessary for their self-defense.

See also

External links


Duncan, D. F., and Gold, R. S. (1982). Chapter 18: Responsibilities of the recreational drug user. In: Drugs and the Whole Person. New York: Wiley. Available online at

Nicholson, T., & Duncan, D. (2002). Is recreational drug use normal? Journal of Substance Use, 7, 116-123. Available online at

Vancouver Coastal Health (2007)

Weeks, M. (2006). The risk avoidance partnership: training active drug users as peer health advocates. Journal of Drug Issues(36)3: 541-570.

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