In recent years Laos has seen a steady rise of drug tourism. Ganja (marijuana) is widely available in Laos, although it’s illegal to smoke it. Tourists who buy and use ganja risk substantial “fines” if caught by police, who do not need a warrant to search you or your room. As in Thailand, there have been many instances of locals selling foreigners marijuana and then telling the police. In Vang Vieng, mushrooms and weed are offered at most backpacker bars – either straight up or baked into a dizzying array of “happy” pizzas – but you should bear in mind that plenty of travellers get sick, or robbed, after indulging.

In northern towns, tourists are sometimes approached by opium addicts who, in return for cash, offer to take the visitors to a hut or some other private place, where opium pipes will be prepared and smoked. Many Westerners feel the romanticism of doing this all-but-extinct drug is just as appealing as the promise of intoxication, but the opium prepared for tourists is often not opium at all, but morphine-laden opium ash that has been mixed with painkillers. The resulting “high” is, for many, several hours of nausea and vomiting. While real opium is not as addictive as its derivative, heroin, withdrawal symptoms are similarly painful. Visitors caught smoking opium (or even opium ash) face fines, jail time and deportation.

In addition, it’s important to consider the local implications of using drugs in Laos. There remains a serious problem with drug addiction in some rural communities, which local organizations are working hard to address, and using drugs while in the country can encourage local people to do the same, thus undoing a lot of hard work.

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