Most of what you think you know about drugs is wrong. Your "information" most likely came from a biased source—either your school's DARE officers and the propaganda machine that spends millions on ads that depict stoners accidentally killing babies, or your high-school friend who studied High Times magazine like the Koran and whose proudest accomplishment was growing a pot plant in a trash can. Ignore them both.

Despite shreds of truth on both sides, drugs aren't inherently cool; nor are they inevitably harmful. Like chocolate cake, fast food, and sex with people you've just met, drugs can make for an experience that is fantastic or miserable. Only you can determine what you're getting, discern between the good stuff and the bad, decide if now is the right time to indulge, and choose to enjoy everything in moderation.

Whether the drug is mild as pot or intense as acid, if you're going to take it, make sure that you can enjoy your experience safely. This requires that you be informed about the drug and its effects, that you take a safe quantity, and that your frame of mind, environment, and future plan is conducive to having a good time, without hurting yourself or someone else.

These factors are your dosage, and your set and setting. "Set and setting"—coined by Timothy Leary, the patron saint of psychedelics—describes the context for drug experiences: your mindset and your physical setting. If these factors are ignored, drugs can get you too high, make you embarrass yourself, or leave you hung over, addicted, hospitalized, or dead. But you already knew that. If you play your cards right, however, drugs can make an already pleasant experience exhilarating and enlightening.

For instance, after years of enthusiastic pot smoking, I decided to cool off on the hippie lettuce. But when I fell off the Volkswagen, I was determined to make my future intermittent pot-smoking experiences worthwhile.

So when my dad invited me to join him for an evening of Macbeth at the Seattle Opera, I resisted the temptation to kick him and politely accepted. I don't have the patience to watch a 30-minute television show, let alone endure a three-act opera. How could this work?

With a neatly rolled joint tucked into my suit pocket, we strolled through the lobby of McCaw Hall and sipped on bubbly. Just as the five-minute bell rang, I slipped outside, fired up my joint, popped an Altoid, and rushed back to my seat. The lights went down and the curtain went up, and there was Lady Macbeth, holding a baby in her palm. In her other hand she clutched a dagger. As the music raced to a crescendo, she stabbed the baby once, twice, three times. Soon, the walls gushed blood, and... curtain. I applauded like a spastic monkey.

Whoa—how did this predictable story keep me riveted motionless for four hours? I give credit to the joint—and the right setting.

However, like alcohol, poor judgment can lead to a highly regrettable experience. As most folks know, drinking a glass (or several) of fine champagne on New Year's Eve makes for an enchanted evening with friends. But chugging a bottle of Cooks over a TV dinner while watching Schindler's List will give you nightmares and a migraine. Likewise, taking acid while hung over and dehydrated with annoying freshmen the day after getting dumped will probably catapult you into an eight-hour introspective tailspin.

While noteworthy drug experiences like this are rare, a walk down the Ave will quickly remind you that plenty of novice drug users—and alcohol drinkers—have ended up as desperate wrecks. Hundreds of pitfalls present themselves. If at any point you realize you're falling into one of them, there are places that offer treatment for chemical dependency on a sliding scale, including Recovery Center of King County at 322-2970. The local 24-hour alcohol-and-drug help line is 800-562-1240.

Despite their unique effects, all drugs come with one common guarantee: a hangover. Ranging from foggy and disoriented to totally incapacitated, after the high is over, your body and mind will reel, trying to stabilize basic functions. So before you chew out your mom for calling at the unthinkable hour of 11:00 a.m., remember that you are the one who's off kilter. The antidotes are lots of water, rest, food, and the heroic multivitamin.

The same drug can have radically different effects on different people. So while some stoners like Carl Sagan can smoke a joint and solve universal mysteries while showering, others like me can only sit slack jawed and bob their heads to overtures. If you are in the latter group, lay off the dummy pipe before the big soiree.

Looking beyond the morning after to the life ahead, some drugs are merely habit forming (such as pot) and others can turn you into a homeless psychopathic liar (such as meth). Not only is the latter more likely to make you an addicted tweaker, it can also slowly melt your brain. Remember, college is supposed to be the beginning of long path to a happy life, not a short, bumpy road to the detox clinic.

Mixing drugs is incredibly risky. You don't want to be a human guinea pig unless you also want to have an equally short life expectancy. Perhaps, though, the worst place drugs can lead is jail. Of the many ways to get busted for drugs, most of them involve being a loud-mouthed fool. Only break one law at a time and know the penalties. Although smoking a joint in Seattle is unlikely to give you a rap sheet, cocaine charges will likely result in spending time in the slammer.

Lastly, future graduate, since you've decided to pursue higher education and perhaps consume drugs, you've already concluded that responsible drug use doesn't inevitably ruin lives. But if you've read this far, it's because you know it comes with risks. It is now your responsibility to use your smarts and understanding to help reform drug policy—to one that gives people accurate information.

For more on what drugs do to you, check out, a vault of information written by experts and peers. More information about drug laws comes from the Drug Policy Alliance at