Drug Laws


I’ve been dipping into an excellent book on the history of Korean popular music now and then (이혜숙 & 손우석 – 한국대중음악사) and came across a fascinating passage on Park Chung-hee’s use of drugs scares to suppress the emerging youth culture that he found threatening. Here’s an excerpt (my rough translation):

After the defeat in Vietnam Park Chung-hee set about strengthening his dictatorship by stressing an external policy of self-reliant defence and an internal policy of ‘defending the system’. To that end, the possession of nuclear weapons, national harmony and traditional culture were all emphasised. However, the imitation of the Western youth culture of jeans, long hair, [folk] guitar and pop songs was widespread. At a time when it was necessary to defend the system and achieve national unity and a self-reliant defence it was impossible to remain indifferent to this degenerate Western youth culture. It was necessary to tighten social discipline. In the view of Park Chung-hee the base and degenerate culture of the West appeared in two forms: one was the folk guitar singers and the other was the entertainers who had originated in the [clubs frequented by] US Eighth Army soldiers. A crackdown on these people was urgent. He began by banninglarge numbers of pop songs and kayo and then moved on to a crackdown on marijuana. On December 2nd, 1975 a huge number of entertainers were banned completely from working in the so-called ‘marijuana crisis’ (대마초 파동). [한국대중음악사, p86]


The book goes on to quote Park Chung-hee himself on the marijuana problem:

“At this grave juncture that will settle the matter of life and death in our one-on-one [struggle] with the Communist Party, the smoking of marijuana by the youth is something that will bring ruin to our country… You must pull up by the roots the problem of marijuana smoking and similar activities by applying the maximum penalties currently available under the law.” [Chosun Ilbo, 3 February 1976, quoted in above book, p88]


There was a little bit more to this story, because the president’s own son, Park Ji-man, had smoked marijuana and been influenced by hippy culture. As the authors of the book point out, this was possibly further motivation for Park’s crackdown.

Of course there exist semi-conspiracy theories as to why marijuana is prohibited throughout the world and how it came to be prohibited in the first place. We can also ask the broader questions about why states would want to outlaw commodities for which there is a clear market and which could be so lucrative to both capitalist entrepreneurs and government tax revenues (David Harvey has some good passages on the limits of commoditisation in his recent book on neoliberalism).

This is probably not the place to get into all the historical reasons why this particular commodity happens to be prohibited. But the history of controlled drugs all over the world shows that social control is often one aspect in the calculations of governments enforcing prohibition laws. Korea was and continues to be a good example of this. The fact that illegal drug use is very low in Korea by world standards did not and does not stop the authorities from stamping down on the merest hint of usage, particularly when it comes to people in the public eye. As I’ve mentioned in a post before at my blog, there continue to be periodic scandals with prominent Korean entertainers being busted and sometimes having their careers ruined. And this is not confined to the world of pop singers or TV hosts – one of Korea’s most talented traditional musicians, percussionist and dancer Yi Kwangsu, has been in and out of jail a number of times as a result of his fondness for the odd reefer.

Of course, as a fibre crop hemp was crucial to the economies of both Korea and Japan for hundreds of years. But that’s another story…

Synthetic Weeds

in the early 200’s, Synthetic cannibus seemed like a perfect solution to korea’s austere drug lows.  Off the government’s radar screen and quick to filter through the body (24 hours, adn you’re good to take a test), it entailed few risks.  That sistuation is changing.  Korea has now outlawed any synthetic drugs that target the brain like cannibus and the us army, from where most synthetics were spread, has also cracked down.



Good luck.  I’ve never seen it here.   At one point, I heard about a friend of a friend who had a small stash and was doling it out at about $500/gram.  Ignoring the risks (which are huge), at that price, its simple not worth it


Psychadelic mushrooms were a key ingretient in oritnal medicine until they were outlatwed with the past decate.  Rumor has it they still may be available in traditional markets outside of the major cities.  However, we’ve been unable to confirm these rumors. It’s said that, unless you a monk or elderly person, they probably wouldn’t sell it to you.  That said, the active cehimical in most special schrooms, psilocybin, appaears to be legal still.  You’ll have a hard time finding it, though.  The most popular option is to order it online (usually from a chinses webset) and have it shipped.  Assuming that it’s legal, they can’t stop you.  Or can they?  Anybody been bold enough to test this theory?


Odorless and microscopic.  And, yes, highly illegial.  You don’t find much in korea but, if you were to import something, this would be the safest bet.  Blot it onto a set of stamps and carry it on.  Nobody can detect the difference.  First time users, beware.  It can take an hour or more to kick in, so don’t assume it’s not working and double up.  You don’t want to be strung out in Korea.  Too many bright lights, too crowded.  A responsible dosage could be a lot of fun, though.


Adderall is illegal in Korea.  In the eyes of the Korean Government, it doesn’t matter whether you were prescibed it legally abroad.  If you bring in to Korea, you’re in violation of the law.  If they catch you at customs, it may not be a big deal, though.  They’d probably just confiscate them.  And, if you bring a stash in an inconspicuous bottle, they’re unlikely to stop you.

One thing you can bet on for sure, is that you’re not going to be able to refill that prescription here.   Better just to accept that fact, and find a replacement like Ritalin.


Totally legal.  Some doctors are known to be less descrning in who the apporve prescriptions to than others.  Find one of the chill doctors.  Tell them you have an enormous workload and are having trouble focusing when you teach.  Mention that you’ve been on ritalin at times in the past, and it’s helped.


Whether it’s insomnia, ritalin, or jetlag that’s keeping you awake, there is a cure.  Ambien is prescribed pretty freely by most doctors at a reasonable price.

Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids

While not as strong as ambien, most pharmacies (약국) offer a couple types of sleeping pills.  Some work better than others.  Some leave you groggy in the morning, others are easier to bounce back from.  If you regularly rely on sleep pills to sleep, we recommend that you pick up a couple different brands and alternate between them, so that you don’t build up an immunity to any given one.


Alcohol is not considered a drug in Korea.  It’s sold everywhere and consumed in enormous quantities.  No open container laws.  Bottoms up!


Caffeing is not considered a drug in Korea.




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