A Hedonist’s Guide to Legal Highs (and Lows) in Amsterdam

Fancy enjoying a hedonistic weekend away in Amsterdam and want to know what kind of legal highs you can pick up in the city?

Amsterdam has long had an association with hedonism with its famous red-light districts and coffee shops. The city’s residents have a laid-back approach to life and either embrace the pursuit of pleasure with gusto or facilitate this same self-indulgence for Amsterdam’s many tourists. Blending the famously Dutch approach to life of pragmatism, tolerance and acceptance, Amsterdam is the ultimate haven for anyone who wants to taste those fruits that are often forbidden in other European countries.

In this guide, we take a look at what kind of things you can smoke, drink, ingest and get your kicks with whilst in The Dam.

Amsterdam: Europe’s City of Sin?

Amsterdam is often called the ‘Venice of the North’ and the parallels between itself and Italy’s original city of sin, Venice, run far beyond the similarities of their expanse waterways. Whilst Venice may have had its heyday in the 16th century, boasting over 11,000 prostitutes, 100 casinos and the legendary Casanova, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s prime destinations for pleasure seekers in the modern age.

So, what does Amsterdam have to offer the discerning epicurist looking for otherwise illicit pleasures?

highs in amsterdam sex and drugs
How much you enjoy Amsterdam depends on what you are looking for. Image via Flickr.

Soft Drugs

Though the use, possession and trade in drugs is against the law in The Netherlands, the country has an official policy of tolerance when it comes to the recreational use of soft drugs.

Soft drugs are defined as those drugs that have a low risk of addiction and/or harm. These include sedatives and sleeping pills as well as the ubiquitously enjoyed cannabis in all its forms. Known as gedoogbeleid, the policy of tolerance is as synonymously linked with cities like Amsterdam as the red-light districts are.

Hard drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, amphetamines and LSD are not tolerated and, if found on your person, can result in prosecution.

The laws are a result of the strong Dutch beliefs that adults must take full responsibility for their own health and that hiding ‘negative’ habits is not a solution for anti-social behaviour. The result is a tolerant approach to recreational drug use that the authorities believe is no different to other countries laws on tobacco and alcohol use. Certainly there is strong evidence to suggest that very few Dutch people actually take soft drugs with recent data suggesting that as few as 16% of young people in their mid-20s have ever tried marijuana.

It is worth noting that whilst the sale of small quantities of cannabis is legal in Amsterdam, it is illegal to grow weed or to import/export it. Trying to leave the borders with any marijuana on your person will land you in hot water.

Cannabis and Amsterdam’s Coffee Shops

Though the authorities tolerate the recreational use of soft drugs, there are some limits to where and how you can get stoned in Amsterdam. It is not permitted to smoke cannabis in public, but you can do so in one of more than 250 coffee shops. These venues are licensed to sell small volumes of cannabis for personal enjoyment with the current limits being 5g per person per day. In addition to these limits, there are also a couple of reminders about coffeeshop rules:

  • Patrons must be able to prove their age using photo ID. Most venues are for 18s and over, but some are for over 21s. Always carry your passport or some other form of ID.
  • It is not permitted to smoke cigarettes in these premises.
  • Alcohol is not allowed to be served in coffeeshops.
  • Hard drugs are also forbidden.
  • You are only allowed to visit the same coffeeshop twice in one day.

So, what exactly can you enjoy in Amsterdam’s Coffee Shops?

With over 250 coffee shops to visit in Amsterdam, most menus look quite similar and include a variety of different forms of cannabis including hash, Sativa and Indica as well as processed forms in edibles and pre-rolled joints. You can even use devices like the popular ice-o-lators or bongs to enjoy marijuana in Amsterdam.

An up to date list of all the coffee shops in Amsterdam can be found here, including the latest menus and prices.

hedonists guide to legal highs and lows of amsterdam
You can buy up to 5g of cannabis for personal use but in what form you buy it is up to you. Image via Pixabay.

Types of Cannabis: Sativa, Indica and Hybrid

There are many varieties of marijuana, derived from different types of cannabis plant, that can be divided into three distinct groups; Sativa, Indica and Hybrid. Each plant has its own distinct properties and has different effects on the body when they are smoked or ingested.

Indica is well known for its sedative properties and body highs, they are used more for relaxation and are more popular during an evening.

Sativa is known more for its stimulant effects and is often used during creative pursuits to boost productivity. It is often used more as a social drug and is commonly sold during the day.

Hybrid weed comes in a combination of both sativa and indica plants, blended to enhance different properties of each plant. Coffee shops themselves often sell their own blends, much like a boutique tea, coffee or spice.

coffee shop cannabis amsterdam
Buy pre-rolled or roll your own, the coffee shop culture of Amsterdam is famously laid-back. Image via Flickr.


Unlike weed, which is a simple form of the flower or bud of the cannabis plant, hash has been processed to separate the trichomes from the weed itself. Once separated and pressed, hash is formed into a block which can then be crumbled or scraped to create a joint.

Pre-Rolled Joints

Newbies to the cannabis scene can purchase ready rolled joints so they don’t have to look like an amateur in the coffee house. Not only does this save you some face but means you don’t have to carry around all the accoutrements to create the perfect spliff. It saves time but does cost a little more than if you roll your own.


As well as smoking cannabis, you can also harness some of its properties by ingesting it. Marijuana is most commonly use in sweet dishes such as space cake, space brownie, space muffin and jellies as well as other confectionery including lollies . Most coffee houses have some form of edibles that you can sample to get high and are perfect for those ‘health conscious’ non-smokers who want the benefits of weed without the smoke itself.


The Ice-O-Lator is a device that you can use to make your own hash. It consists of two bags with a mesh in between. Placed inside one another in a larger bucket, the shredded cannabis is mixed with water and ice before being stirred vigorously. The ice-based extraction technique leaves a liquid residue between the two bags which can be used (once dried) to make your own hash. Sort of like a ‘blend-your-own’, the Ice-O-Lator is quite a popular way to enjoy a bit of social time in a coffee house and plenty of regular users spend this time learning more about the various properties of different types of cannabis.

Trip Truffles vs Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms were legal until they were banned in 2008 however you can find an alternative to these hallucinogenic fungi in Amsterdam in the form of magic (or ‘trip’) truffles. Although technically part of the same genus, because the latter grow underground rather than above ground they are not illegal.

The effects of trip truffles are very similar and most people who are familiar with ‘shrooms’ will find their experience familiar. A psychoactive substance, mushrooms were banned in the Netherlands due to their potential to be harmful. Whilst you can find trip truffles on sale in the city, caution should, of course, be exercised when consuming these natural hallucinogens.

magic mushrooms amsterdam
Magic mushrooms are no longer legal in Amsterdam but you can find trip truffles will do the same job. Image via Wikipedia.

Sex and Amsterdam’s Red-Light Districts

Of course, the red-light districts of Amsterdam are on a par with the cannabis culture when it comes to drawing hedonistic tourists to the city. There are three main red-light districts in The Dam; De Pijp, Singelgebied and, of course, the world-famous, De Wallen. Between them there are more than 300 window hookers, plenty of sex shows and strip clubs plus a lot more besides. Amsterdam is home to sex museums, peep shows, brothels and is one of Europe’s oldest red-light areas and draws many curious tourists to the city.

Though De Wallen is a shadow of its former self when you compare the number of window prostitutes and brothels to a few decades ago, it still has the intoxicating blend of a red-light district from days gone by. The tiny alleyways, window hookers and red lanterns are as much a part of the city’s vibrant history as its narrow canal houses, monuments and bridges.

The red-light areas can attract plenty of street hookers as well as other ‘traders’. Bear in mind that although you can often be offered a plethora of drugs from the street in these locations; possession, use and purchasing them is against the law. So, whilst it is possible to pick up more than just a prostitute from the streets of Amsterdam, doing so can result in prosecution.

You can find out more about the sex scene of Amsterdam in our full city guide which details all of the venues, clubs and establishments where you can go to get a service or just enjoy the local swinging scene. From BDSM clubs to lap dancing bars, strip clubs to erotic massage parlours, Amsterdam can provide adult entertainment in bucketful’s like no other European city can.

red light amsterdam highs
The red-light district of De Wallen is world-famous for its sex shows and window prostitutes. Image via Flickr.


As well as the singularly Dutch way to enjoy the city with legalised drugs and prostitution, Amsterdam also has a very colourful nightlife offering its residents and visitors a more ‘typical’ way to let their hair down. Along with its coffee shops and sex shows, the city has plenty of bars and clubs offering a wide variety of music and entertainment. Whether you are looking for a quiet and traditional bar for a few beers or a late night club with techno music, Amsterdam caters for all.

The AIR Club on Amstelstraat is one of the more popular modern clubs which specialises in dance music whilst De Club Up is a smaller venue which plays mainly hip-hop and house.

Some venues also offer live music and even cabaret as well as theatre and some are themed like Jimmy Woo’s on Korte Leidsedwarsstraat.

Just remember that whilst music and alcohol may be enjoyed at these venues, it is not legal to use cannabis whilst on the premises nor any other kind of drugs; hard or soft.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.