YouTube—the online place where you can watch people eat spicy food for entertainment, be told how flat the world is and watch strangers open boxes—is under fire from British parliament. Specifically, over one channel.
Since March of 2016, the YouTube channel Drugslab has posted weekly videos. In them, you can see the young Dutch hosts Rens Polman, Nellie Benner and Bastiaan Rosman give different drugs a test drive, perform reflex testing games and break down the chemical processes causing their highs. In front of the camera, they’ve tried everything from poppers, shrooms and MDMA to peyote, cocaine and OxyContin. Most of the drugs are sourced from suggestions in the comment section. And if that’s not controversial enough, the YouTube channel, which has more than half a million subscribers, is funded by the Dutch government.
Drugslab receives a grant from the country’s Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science as part of the ‘Spuiten en Slikken,’ or ‘Shoot and Swallow’ broadcasting program that’s run since 2005. Simon Hart, an MP for the British Conservative party is taking issue with the YouTubers. Hart believes the channel should be removed from the video platform, stating that “people may conceivably die after doing what the people in these videos are doing.” YouTube has responded, saying even though the videos have young people railing coke in silly Christmas sweaters, the channel serves an educational purpose. (It’s worth noting that overdoses in the Netherlands are well below the curve.)
Polman, Benner and Rosman try to be upfront about the risks of using drugs, particularly in their dos-and-don’ts follow-up videos. In some posts, they even go over the history of how drugs like OxyContin have become epidemics around the world, though that can get lost in the cheery fun and games.
“Young people will come into contact with drugs anyway,” said Benner in an interview. “Not talking about drugs just makes them more curious. We don’t tell people: ‘You have to use drugs.’ We just give advice that is fun to watch. I think it’s important people understand how they work in case they are ever tempted to take them.”
The existence of a YouTube channel probably won’t affect drug use one way or the other. Drug proliferation, as we’ve seen generation after generation, is something of an inevitability. The best tactic for responsible drug use tends to be education. For those who know nothing about narcotics, they may learn something from Drugslab. For everyone else, they can watch a Dutch kid vomit a cactus into the sink.