Can I Get High Legally?
If you had to guess which channel would air a documentary (in inverted commas) with such a title, you’d have to be very, very under-informed to name any other than BBC Three, the home of simple show-titles for simple people. It’s all there. A titillating drug reference to hook the thrill-seekers. A first person perspective to make it appear human and about a journey. Most importantly, it’s framed as a question. It’s intended to be such an attractive query that the potential viewer is quickly whipped into a channel-changing frenzy, forced to swiftly travel to Beeb Three to check out the answer to this one basic enquiry.
The problem is, it’s a stupendously easy question to answer. The answer, if you hadn’t already guessed, is:
OF COURSE YOU CAN GET LEGALLY HIGH, GEORGE LAMB, YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER GOON.
Goon, goon, goon!
Ask anyone who’s picked up a paper, been to a festival or walked down the high street of a provincial town and they’ll tell you! Legal highs have been readily available for centuries, you gigantic tool! Often they come in the form of ‘alcohol’ - varying forms of liquid that’ll make you more sociable and then, as you slug back more of it, increasingly more of a yabbering bore with a big head and a high self-opinion. You become Lamb-esque, if you will.
You can also get these things called fags - which only really offer a sickening headrush at the first point of inhalation, followed by a lifetime of thoroughly enjoyable and ridiculously expensive enslavement.
Didn’t you do your research?
Too busy getting your barnet highlighted, were you?
For God’s sake, George, even my 90 year old Nan’s aware that certain ornament and costume shops vend strange little packets of uncertainly-branded pills, leaves and liquids of dodgy origin! You can read about it in any newspaper you care to pick up - even ones with more words than pictures. So surely to front a show with such a mind-numbingly, offensively shit title is an exercise in utter idiocy? The answer is manifest before you’ve even opened that flapping mockney jaw! We’ve all heard about salvia. We’re all aware of poppers. We’re not idiots!
Still, George finds himself tasked with answering the posited pile of ignorance and we join him as he wanders aimlessly around Camden looking like a lost Afghan hound. Annoyingly, his grey-tone clothing always matches his drizzle-grey highlights and it combines to make him resemble John Major’s Spitting Image puppet, minus distinctive glasses, in a frightful wig. His voiceover semi-boasts in that been there, done that way you tend to find barely experienced braggarts implement when trying to ingratiate themselves with a new social group that he’s had his fair share of illegal stimulants during his time as a manager in the music industry. But he’s so keen to stress it that you immediately disbelieve him and seriously doubt he snorted back properly, perhaps secreting grains of coke in a kind of intricate beak-sack secreted up his hooter out of fear.
But it’s phoney. And this artificial fear of drugs pervades the whole show. Lamb is a young man who, having worked in TV and music, is clearly going to have been around drugs, even if he hasn’t partaken on a massive scale. Yet he immediately demonises the subject matter by differentiating between illegal drugs and legal ones by calling the former camp ‘illegals’ and the latter ‘legals’. And it’s intensely annoying. It’s a horrible fusion of his wideboy patter and the kind of Daily Mail copy used to make asylum seekers seem like undesirables. Essentially, it makes him look like a total twerp with his finger so far off the pulse he’s got it plugged well and truly up his own bunghole.
He meets a 19 year old clubber called Tom and buys some ‘legals’ from a handful of shops in Camden. He then, sitting in a trendy Camden bar with Tom, expresses amazement that they were so easy to purchase. ‘It’s as simple as buying a bag of sweets’ he gasps, despite the fact that they’re called ‘legal highs’.
The clue, Mr Lamb, is in the fucking title.
But nobody in the shops wants to talk to the camera. Possibly because they hadn’t been asked in advance. Undeterred and hell-bent on fulfilling his contract lest he doesn’t get paid, Lamb logs on and checks a number of websites that sell the Legals. Quelle surprise! They’re proper websites! Lamb seems amazed that there are functioning areas of the internet selling this stuff - despite the fact that they’re FUCKING LEGAL!
By this point - and we’re about 15 minutes in to this hellish bout of nonsense TV - we haven’t addressed a single issue of any interest. Toxicity hasn’t been mentioned. The social effect on users? Not even lunged at. To even address any complicated legal jargon would probably blow Lamb’s mind, so we saunter off to meet some ‘crazy party guys’ - three students who, like many of their peers might be, are happy to consume some Legals and take a video camera out with them to document their experience. We watch it back and, as you might expect, it’s wholly unremarkable footage of kids grinning in a club. No conclusion is drawn, because it’s so quickly edited and all dialogue is minimised to the point of absurdity, so any attempt to summon an idea of how their speech, movement or conversation has been affected is lost in the editing suite. Obviously, with only three samples and no idea of how much they’d taken, save for a few shots of lines being snorted, it’d be an incredibly rough idea of how it all works anyway - but it might’ve been nice to have a crack of light fall on the subject we’ve tuned in to see discussed. Mightn’t it?
Eventually Lamb gets an interview with a merchant of Legals, and he travels to his warehouse in Devon where the vendor looks like any average small business owner might when confronted by a camera and an idiot. He looks bemused but approachable. And at this point Lamb becomes worryingly puritanical about the topic, mocking the man from Dr Hemp and going for the easy target - the silly names the products get branded with. Which is a bit like writing the word ‘dope’ on a blackboard and occasionally chuckling at it because it happens to mean both ‘drugs’ and ‘idiot’. As it happens, there’d be more value to watching Lamb do just that, because it might throw up interesting ideas about man’s ability to understand his own nature.
Sadly, that opportunity was missed and Lamb went to see a Doctor. All boxes were being ticked. The obligatory sight of the mock-investigative journalist scanning the web, the door-to-door enquiries and now a visit to an expert. We’d be served later by the compulsory vox pops and the first person consumption - but hold on, because by now the Doctor’s actually bringing some sense to proceedings. He brings up the idea that illegal drugs may actually be less dangerous because they’ve been around for so long and are now so refined that we, in essence, know the enemy. Lamb appeared to twig the concept, but whilst scrabbling for the phrase ‘better the devil you know’ or ‘lesser of two evils’, he lost his way and just nodded enthusiastically as the capacity for intelligent conversation creeped out of his ears and quietly closed the door behind it.
Looking on Youtube and Facebook - again, essential elements for any BBC Three show - Lamb decided he needed to go to Guernsey where the drug laws from their independent parliament are now so strict that the market for illegal highs is thriving, and the substances themselves are a serious market force, with 24-hour delivery of Legals now an option for the wayward teenager in that particular tax haven. Interesting notions arise in the mind of the attentive viewer regarding the rise of the black-market as a result of heavy-handed legislation and, indeed, the problem posed by a black market that is unassailable legally because of its ability to change its product instantly whilst laws take an age to pass. But George skips all that and sits in a car with some kids who smoke legals because they can’t get hold of proper skunk. And they all seem a little bit left-of-centre, and perhaps a little lost, but perfectly normal with it.
Then , in perhaps the show’s most annoyingly brainless act, George decides to test how easy it is to access the 24 hour Legal-line and calls up to order some from a hotel at 10am. And, heavens above, they arrive very swiftly. Because, and I think you’re with me on this by now, they’re legal highs. ‘It’s as simple as ordering a pizza’ says an amazed Lamb, and he’s right - because it’s as LEGAL as ordering a fucking pizza.
Back in London, he Skypes Matt Bolan - the man who invented BZPs as an alternative to the crystal meth that was killing his hometown. Matt is very quick to put his argument forward and explains that he considers people taking BZP a better alternative to meth because it’s legal and therefore less harmful. A flawed argument with more holes than an acid-casualty’s brain, but one Lamb is too dense to follow up, finishing up the interview without gleaning a single nugget of interesting dialogue. At one point he even says ‘if I were to take an ecstacy’, which is almost an unconscious tip of the hat to Chris Morris’s absurd take on the war on drugs. Or it would be, if Lamb hadn’t said it in all seriousness. He might just as well have asked about ’smoking ecstacy pipes out of his drug end’, his attempts at discussion being so skewed by of his lack of understanding of the subject matter that they reduced him to a gormless, incommunicable self-parody.
Finally we arrived at the scene we’d tuned in for. Lamb decided he had to take some of these here Legals to fully gain an understanding. So, despite his holier-than-thou posturing earlier on and his mockery of the vendors of this kind of stuff, he then turns into a gigantic hypocrite and decides to ram some in his brain. ‘But’, you may say, ‘this is strictly in the name of research! Lamb’s doing us a ruddy favour!’ But George Lamb is no Huxley, and while it’s fun to watch him inhale a low dose of salvia and suddenly go giggly, dopey and vaguely likable, the effect quickly fizzles out. Much like the two-minute dose of minor-grade salvia the man breathes in through a luxury ice-bong. And his rhetoric is more from the school of ‘oh wow, man’ than anything old Aldous ever wrote. It’s the unilluminating sight of a media-imbecile getting slightly off his trolley - a familiar sight to anyone who’s ever had a night out in a major city.
Bonus points go to the doctor who gave Lamb his physical before the ingestion, for making him answer questions like ‘what’s the date today’ and ‘what does this simple sentence say’, as it was a lark watching George strain his mind trying to remember what month it was. The Doc also attended the drug-taking ceremony and managed to out-style Lamb, wearing the kind of shirt and tie combo you’d see in the currently very trendy 80s movies of your youth. They should have got him to front the whole programme.
In the closing moments Lamb told us how easy it is to modify an illegal substance and create a fresh, new and legal one, even fashioning a diagram on a flip pad to demonstrate. But by now it was far, far too late to make any actual impact. We’d wasted fifty minutes watching him scrabbling around, making a few judgemental assessments and shedding no flicker of light on the topic whatsoever, so we were too knackered to care less. The chance had gone, been squandered and was now the furthest thing from the mind.
When he delivered his conclusion - inevitably that it’s best to stay away from Legals - it felt like you actually knew less about the market for this stuff than you did when you started viewing. And that, when you think about it, is quite an achievement. If you could bottle and sell that ability to make people feel dazed, frazzled and energetically wound up, then you could probably get away with flogging it to enthusiastic drug-users - marketing it as perfectly above board, completely legal, and neglecting to mention that it may actually be a little bit harmful.