Fun in Controlled Dosages
Dark Matters: The Science of Drugs plus ‘Cooking with Cannabis’ presentation
Telus World of Science
October 3, 2019
review by Wade Buckley
Drugs. They have always existed in at least some capacity in the media we consume, from Scarface and mountains of cocaine, to Breaking Bad and blue meth crystals. News reports detail the rising tide of heroin and fentanyl overdoses. Cannabis becomes legalized in more countries and regions.
Drugs are a part of our lives, but I don’t recall ever learning anything about them. Middle and high school teachers taught us to be drug adverse, but never how they worked. That was why I was excited to attend Dark Matters: The Science of Drugs, to learn about drugs and have fun doing it.
If you aren’t familiar, ‘Dark Matters’ is a series of themed adult-only nights at the Telus World of Science. Themes all tend to touch on subject matter too mature for the underage daytime attendees, and drinks are served.
The drug-centric exhibit in The Science of Drugs included an add-on presentation from Chef Travis Petersen, former Master Chef contestant and founder of The Nomad Cook, called “Cooking with Cannabis”. In total The Science of Drugs ran from 6:30 to 10:00 pm, giving guests free reign of the science center for the duration, including the Ziegler Dome and the IMAX Theatre. Admission to the centre was the same as daytime hours (23 dollars and change), and the add-on charge to attend Peterson’s presentation was only 5 bucks flat, making this a very cost-effective outing.
I started off my night with Petersen’s presentation in the Zeidler dome. If you aren’t familiar with the locale, the Zeidler Dome is a pentagonal theatre, where the dome’s curved ceiling is the screen. A single podium stands in the centre, a theatre-in-the-round in the style of the ancient Greeks. Petersen’s talk was both educational and entertaining, and while I can’t break down his entire talk, I can give you the cliff notes.
He unraveled the process of infusing food with cannabis, and introduced us to terpenes. Terpenes are a botanical component found in plants, giving them aromatic and medicinal effects. Cannabis is a unique plant in that it contains hundreds of different terpenes, as opposed to most plants that contain only one. Canadian chefs have a complicated and exclusive challenge ahead, both because of the insane flavour potential cannabis posses, and because Canada is one of the few countries in the world where working with the plant is legal coast to coast.
If you are interested in how cannabis is innovating the culinary world, I highly recommend checking Petersen out if you can. However, while enjoyable, the “Cooking with Cannabis” talk didn’t really touch on dark matters, if you see what I mean.
Back out in the real world, I wandered the science centre. Every permanent exhibit was open to the public, and even though the place was packed, it wasn’t so busy that you couldn’t fully explore the science center proper. There was also the science stage, which performed live, more grown-up science experiments, which regretfully were not drug themed. Drink bars and the science centre’s restaurant, the Purple Pear, was also open for hungry attendees. I didn’t sample the food, though. I was hungry only for knowledge.
I spent the rest of the night scouring out exhibits and experiments that I hoped would expose me to the forbidden truths of drugs. These stations were manned by both science centre employees and guest presenters who specifically studied the structure and effects of drugs.
For example, one station contained brain slices where I was shown how opioid addiction affects the brain. “This is your nucleus accumbens,” the presenter says as she points to part of a brain slice. “We call it the pleasure centre. Opioid addiction causes it to swell to an unhealthy size and release dopamine, which makes you feel pleasure. This makes future pleasure dependent on the opioid.” Pleasure is rare enough these days, I don’t want to have to pay for heroin to get it.
Other stations featured more audience involvement. For example, guests were quizzed on how much of a substance you would have to consume for its toxins to kill you. Apparently 75 bars of chocolate can kill just as easily as 200 milligrams of morphine. Another stall had attendees filling up vials with sugar. The sugar represented heroin and fentanyl, and you were supposed put as much sugar as you thought the minimum overdose level for each drug was. I had my heroin vial nearly full, and my fentanyl vial at about half. Once we were done, the true amounts were shown. The heroin vial had maybe a teaspoon of sugar, the fentanyl one containing only two little crystals. It was fascinating and sobering.
However, for every two interesting stalls there was one that was mediocre. Some of them were more like tables at career fair, only handing out brochures, and there were representatives from cannabis farms and the RCMP. Practical, but not exactly fun.
The fun stalls were also placed incredibly far from each other, making getting to the next one a bit of a jog. They were also in very awkward positions. One was in a tight hallway between exhibits. If more than four people stopped to check it out then the hallway became super congested. The most interesting stalls were oases in a desert, and as soon as a group of people found a good one everyone in the surrounding area crowded it, desperate to see something fascinating after walking a long way to get there.
There were also awkward time constraints. Multiple stage experiments and talks in the IMAX theatre ran on competing time slots. On multiple occasions I was occupied on one side of the centre and a loudspeaker would state that another interesting event was staring up on the other side of the building. Unless I decided to sprint, there was no way I was getting there.
All in all, the awkward layout made experiencing everything impossible without planning ahead. That’s not fun. This was especially disappointing if you were excited for the drug theme, as that content was what suffered the most from this issue. Perhaps this was due to the illicit nature of drugs, or that a multitude of experiments involving drugs themselves weren’t possible to create or replicate efficiently or legally. However, while it wasn’t as fun as I hoped, I can’t say I didn’t learn anything. I also can’t say that what I learned made me happy or excited. I learned that you can overdose on fentanyl just by touching it. Opioids can irreparably damage your brain tissue.
The next adult night themed event:
Dark Matters: The Science of Art and Music
Tickets at telusworldofscienceedmonton.ca.