Health Advice for the Netherlands

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Health Advice for Netherlands

  • The Netherlands has some of the best 'tap water' in the world. It is even considered to be of similar or better quality than natural mineral or spring water and is distributed to every household and controlled by 'water authorities'. Food (either bought in a supermarket or eaten at a restaurant) shouldn't pose any problem either. The health care system is up to par with the rest of Europe and most cities have hospitals where usually most of the staff speaks English (at least all medical staff). In general, it's a case of common sense.
  • In summer, open air recreational (mainly fresh water) swimming areas might suffer from the notorious blue algae, a rather smelly cyanobacteria which when it dies, releases toxins into the water. When these occur, a signpost at the entrance to the area or near the water should tell you so by stating something like "waarschuwing: blauwalg". If in doubt, ask someone.
  • When walking or camping in forests and dunes be aware of ticks and tick-carrying diseases such as Lyme disease. It is advisable to wear long sleeves and to put trousers into your socks.
  • Prositution in the Netherlands has been legalized to a certain degree but even when endulging into these practices at brothels or other locations in the Netherlands where sex is sold do always use a condom since STD's are still a problem in this industry. 

The Netherlands is renowned for its liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal because international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution.

Note that this does not mean the Dutch are all permanently high. In fact drug usage is much lower in the Netherlands than it is in countries with more restrictive policies. Much of the clientèle of the coffeeshops (see below) is in fact tourists. Be sure you are among like-minded people before lighting up a spliff.

You are allowed to buy and smoke small doses (5 g or less) of cannabis or hash. You must be 18 or older to buy. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop, which are are abundant in most larger towns. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol. Minors (those under 18) are not allowed inside. Coffeeshops are prohibited from explicit advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colors to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view. In the border provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland it is now only possible to buy cannabis products in a coffeeshop if you've got a wietpas ("weed pass") from may 2012. Only residents of the Netherlands can get a pass! This measure will be introduced in an effort to combat drug related crime and nuisance.

Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is often stronger than varieties outside, so be careful when you take your first spliff. Be particularly wary of cannabis-laced pastries ("space cakes") as it's easy to eat too much by accident — although there are also unscrupulous shops that sell space cakes with no weed at all. Wait at least one hour after eating!

Hallucinogenic ("magic") mushrooms, once legal, are banned as of December 1st, 2008. However, "magic truffles", which contain the same active ingredients as magic mushrooms are still technically legal and are sold in some Amsterdam head shops.

It is forbidden to drive any motorized vehicle while impaired, which includes driving under the influence of both illegal and legal recreational or prescribed drugs (such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and mushrooms) as well as alcohol, and medication that might affect your ability to drive.

Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal and is commonly discouraged. The purchase of other (hard) drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not prosecuted.

The act of consuming any form of drugs is legal, even if possession is not. If you are seen taking drugs, you may theoretically be arrested for possession, but not for use. This has one important effect; do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are suffering from bad effects of drug use, and inform emergency services as soon as possible of the specific (illegal) drugs you have taken. Medical services are unconcerned with where you got the drugs, they will not contact the police, their sole intention is to take care of you in the best way possible.

At some parties, a "drug testing desk" is offered, where you can have your (synthetic) drugs tested. This is mainly because many pills contain harmful chemicals in addition to the claimed ingredients; for example, many pills of "ecstasy" (MDMA) will also contain speed (amphetamines). Some pills don't even contain any MDMA at all. The testing desks are not meant to encourage drug use, since venue owners face stiff fines for allowing drugs in their venues, but they are tolerated or 'gedoogd' since they mitigate the public health risks. Note: the desk won't return the drugs tested.

Please note that there are significant risks associated with drug use, even in the Dutch liberal climate

  • while marijuana bought at coffeeshops is unlikely to be hazardous, hard drugs like cocaine and heroin and synthetic drugs like ecstasy are still illegal and unregulated. These hard drugs are likely to be in some way contaminated, especially when bought from street dealers.
  • some countries have legislation in place that make it illegal to plan a trip for the purpose of commiting illegal acts in another jurisdiction, so you might be apprehended in your home country after having legally smoked pot in the Netherlands.

Alcohol and weed

Be very careful with alcohol and weed, don't use any alcohol the first couple of times you smoke weed, drinking one beer after you've smoked can feel like drinking ten beers. However, alcohol and weed can be a very nice and trippy experience, especially for people who don't feel enough from just smoking weed (to some people weed might be a little bit disappointing, others can space the whole night on 0.5 g). Alcohol and weed amplify each other, a little bit of alcohol can cause you to intensely feel the effect of the weed, but a tiny bit too much can make you feel dizzy and/or nauseous. In the end, be careful, pace yourself and know your limits. There's loads of fun to be had, if you act responsibly. 

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