Written by Mayank, our M&E Officer, from India.

Our International Working Group member, Mayank, held a live session on the Blued India dating app, discussing destigmatizing drug use and mental health. This was done as part of the ‘Breaking the Stigma: Drugs and Mental Health Wellbeing’ project that Youth RISE and the Blued App are collaborating on, to provide harm reduction advice specifically relevant to LGBTQ+ people in India. Download Blued App: https://iblued.onelink.me/897140674/126f4614

Youth RISE and Blued India, are working together to create a campaign aimed at providing harm reduction advice to the community of people who use drugs on the Blued app, as well as breaking down some of the stigma associated with drug use and gaining a better understanding of the services available for people who use drugs in India. One element of this campaign is a survey to gather experience and knowledge about drugs from the users of Blued, this survey will be coming very soon, so keep an eye out on both Blued and Youth RISE social media pages!

This hour-long live sessions aim was to informally talk about drug use and their various effects, on both mental and physical health. Mayank used chai and coffee as examples to normalize the notion about drugs and stigma that people might carry, and the common misunderstanding that drugs and people who use them are less than human on the grounds of using an illicit substance. This led to a bit on the history of drug use in India and our drug policy-NDPS Act of 1985. And to base his argument, he described why people get into drug use (such as, peer pressure, isolation, religious activity, to boost self-worth, etc.) and local understanding of drugs or substances. A brief was also given on drugs, set and setting to types of drugs in general, giving accurate harm reduction advice.

Since Blued is a gay dating app, drug use in the LGBTQIA+ community and chemsex were discussed in detail. As data on the queer community is still struggling to make it into mainstream research, we live with prejudices and assumptions about the latter and their practices. Mayank gave a brief introduction to types of chemsex drugs and their effects. One of many reasons why chemsex bloomed as a popular practice was through the internet and the need for MSMs, Trans, and Gay Men to experience a non-judgmental environment to openly practice their sexuality. It might also be placed as a sub-culture in the scope of one larger metropolitan culture, and chemsex particular to the metropolitan setting. Mayank quoted from some articles about poppers being a popular party drug at gay parties and other events in India, and its primary use as a chemsex drug. He referred to a chemsex documentary by VICE and some journals to shed light on slang words used for injecting (slamming), meth (tina), and cocaine (Charlie) as used in the Australian and English gay community. 

Due to gay dating apps, there is a decline in the number of gay bars and districts in London according to recent studies, and recently the Covid-19 situation has added to this wherein people easily score drugs and partners online. Mayank also spoke about body image issues that are seemingly prevalent among gay men, such as desiring a well-sculpted body over unconventional body types, leading to a decrease in self-worth (chemsex training). This was followed by reasons for combining drugs with sex which might be due to sexual attraction, confidence, arousal, longevity, adventurism, and a loss of inhibition. 

In the concluding part, Mayank discussed how can we support men in chemsex through curbing discrimination at health facilities, rejection, and addressing internalized homophobia. The other part of this was discussing the physical harms related to chemsex such as STIs, Hep C, and HIV. Risky sexual behavior can possibly lead to infections, and drugs can sometimes lead to paranoia, hallucination, anxiety, and overdose. People have also reported having faced social and loss of family relations, along with financial stress. 

Lastly, Mayank gave out some basic harm reduction practice at a personal level, such as getting tested regularly for STIs, Hep C, and HIV, avoiding sharing needles, setting boundaries when sober to refer to when high again, not having intercourse for too long (can lead to mental stress and paranoia), and to complete a ‘chemsex first-aid’ training online to gain awareness.