Drug Laws & Taboo In Asia: Part 2

A deep-dive into Asia’s secret drug world: Are Asian countries failing to maintain their drug-free utopia?

Asian countries are notorious for their strict anti-drug laws; its governments have been striving to create a drug-free environment since the Opium War in 1839. Specifically, South Korea, China, and Japan take their anti-drug stances incredibly seriously, with each instilling harsh punishments on those who are caught using or trafficking illicit substances. From celebrities to the average Lee, drug laws are enforced to the greatest extent. Though the punishments are extreme, it does not stop some curious citizens from consuming illegal drugs. Some may argue that it’s the thrill of legality; others say it’s a way to relax. Whatever the case, Asian countries are secretly struggling to maintain their facade of a sober society.


Image by @matteopaga from Unsplash

The smoking and consumption of cannabis have always been considered an extreme taboo within almost all of Asia’s countries. In recent years the taboo has lessened thanks to more education on medicinal cannabis. Certain conservative governments such as South Korea, China, and Japan that are not so easily sued by the recreational lifestyle. However, in recent years, China has quietly become one of the world’s leading “superpowers” in cannabis/hemp production. It is estimated that China has over 600 patents in cannabinoid research, one of these trials testing how the plant can be implemented into military usage. At its current progression rate, Asia’s cannabis testing market is expected to reach $422 million by 2025.

South Korea is no stranger to CBD/Hemp products. K-Beauty (Korean Beauty) is globally renowned as an innovative and “natural” competitor towards western cosmetics/beauty ideals. With an estimated $13.1billion market, K-Beauty is always on top of the newest and most affordable trends, and lately, CBD has captured the attention of many cosmetic enthusiasts. K-Beauty, which also includes skincare, has been in the works with creating CBD infused makeup since the CBD craze took off in mid-2010. However, with legalization being up in the air, Korean companies have yet to find a legal way to include the cannabinoid within their products. While medical marijuana is legal in South Korea, its legality only goes as far as to help those with mental and physical illnesses, not for cosmetic/relaxational purposes. It is estimated that both South Korea and China will both become the epicenters for the CBD cosmetic-craze. With such an emphasis on staying with trends, K-Beauty will undoubtedly become dominated by the CBD market within the coming years, likely even before decriminalizing recreational marijuana. 


clubbing nightlife
Image by @pimmyten from Unsplash

In most countries, places of high drug use are usually associated with clubs and/or involve nightlife, but with Asia’s strict anti-drug ideology, clubbing and nightlife do not publicly revolve around drugs. Unlike parties in Germany and Amsterdam, Asian clubs pale in comparison to the Westernized acceptance of party-drug culture. Yet, that does not mean that illicit substances are not taken by the sweaty, EDM crazed youth of Asia. In 2018, Japan’s government found that only 0.5% of teenagers between the ages of 15-18 have taken illegal drugs, and 1.3 million adults (out of the 105 million) have admitted to using drugs. Strangely, the most popular drugs (common amongst the 1.3 million adults) used are claimed to be cannabis-related and inhalants, these inhalants are usually glue and paint thinner. Regarding the average party-goer, rave culture in Tokyo has been relatively “untouched” by mass drug use, with a reported 0.2 percent of the 300 ravers admitting to taking drugs such as MDMA. However, these numbers might be higher than anticipated as people tend to lie when government officials ask about your drug use. Vice reporters Max Daley and Bobby Van Der List went down to Tokyo where they saw Tokyo’s clubs secretly infested with party-drugs, one clubber even stating,

“talking about it is hard, I don’t think people will admit they’re high, but I can guarantee you that half of the people here are on something.”

In China, the government takes a more aggressive approach to learn about its citizen’s drug habits. A 2016 raid in Shenzhen saw over 300 ravers being dragged by armed military into buses for forced drug testing. Now, club raids have been increasingly popular and with China’s constant increase in surveillance, once a citizen tests positive for any drugs, the government has the right to drug test them at any point. Often showing up to their houses and forcing them to take one. The constant raids have put a damper on clubbers and club venues; when people get caught, their lives get flipped upside down, so the threat of a militarised shut-down will scare even the most innocent partier.

K-Pop’s Secret Drug Problem


K-Pop (Korean Pop) stars are bred to deliver an image of perfection to the western world; they are the pinnacle of what Korea beauty, fashion, and all-around lifestyles are… or at least that’s what the management companies want fans to assume. If a star is caught using drugs while supposedly “maintaining” the country’s anti-drug laws, they are shunned from the public image. Yet behind closed doors, they are welcome to use. K-pop star, Park Bom, most known for being a member of the popular group 2NE1, was caught buying amphetamines from America labeled as “Gummy Bears” and shipping them to her grandmother’s house under a pseudonym to evade punishment. Bom did not get off as easily as she’d hoped; the 2014 bust brought the subsequent end of her K-Pop career. Though the case was eventually dropped due to technicalities, the mainstream media took every opportunity to label Bom as a “drug addict,” tarnishing her image even after making a public apology denouncing drug use.

Similarly, popular “Gangnam Style” singer, Psy, has had his fair share of drug-related controversies. In 2001 Psy was under investigation after being accused of smoking a joint, however, he only got 25-days in jail and a fine, essentially a slap on the wrist compared to others caught doing the same. It’s interesting to notice the correlation between uber-famous K-Pop stars and their secret drug use. Drug use is seen as a “high-society” problem since mostly the wealthy and well connected are daring enough to purchase, and use, illicit drugs. It’s been reported that when male singers go abroad (often to California or Canada where marijuana is legal), they come back sporting shaved heads, usually, to dodge hair follicle testing. Some equate K-Pop idol’s drug use up to “nerves and use it as a way to relax,” while others blame the star’s management to enhance their on-stage behavior. The stress of managing the perfect “lifestyle” of a K-Pop star is one that sometimes slips, causing the public to bear witness to an almost abusive mentality. Drugs are the “out” for most stars.

Park Bom

Daniella Fishman


Daniella is an NYC born adventurer with a love of traveling, writing, eating, and rollerskating. Dani is passionate about supporting local communities and exploring everything from bustling city life to quiet woodland retreats. There is an adventure around every corner if you open your eyes and mind to it.

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