In 2009 a new legal recreational product, named Synthetic Drugs, emerged in the Australian marketplace causing great controversy in society (Measham, Moore, Newcombe, & Zoe, 2010; The Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 2013). The concern stems from reports of youth deaths and other negative health outcomes in the media. The pervasive view in the media is that the problem with Synthetic Drugs is the ease with which they can be accessed online and in retail outlets – such as tobacconists and adult shops, and how little is known about the questionable chemicals used in their manufacture.
Researchers have identified young people as having a ‘culture of intoxication’ (Measham, 2004; Measham & Brain, 2005) and increasingly consuming legal products such as Synthetic Drugs in their pursuit of intoxication. This has left experts and members of society puzzled by what Synthetic Drugs are, which young people consume them and why (Box & Lewis, 2013). Following the interpretivist Consumer Culture Theory perspective, two studies were conducted to describe and gain an understanding of Synthetic Drugs, their consumers and the market in which they exist. Study one involved a media analysis conducted to describe the market. Study two involved interviews with twenty-five young consumers to gain a more holistic understanding of young people’s leisure consumption and where Synthetic Drug consumption might be considered a part of their leisure activities.
Findings from study one indicated that young people are portrayed as disempowered vulnerable consumers in the Synthetic Drug market who need protecting from misleading product and market information. Findings from study two indicate that some young people agree that consumers need protecting from harmful products – expressing that consuming these products is insensible and irresponsible. Many of the young consumers interviewed, however, demonstrated that young people are aware of the risks of harm involved in Synthetic Drug consumption but choose to consume them anyway because of the perceived pleasurable outcomes. Many young consumers engage in controversial activities to experience exhilaration through exerting mastery over risk.