by Terry Gotham
I recently gave a presentation on the dangers posed by largely untested new psychedelic substance use. Afterwards, I was chastised by someone who was very concerned I was carrying water for the DEA. She told me that I shouldn’t be exacerbating the problems associated with these drugs, as she had purchased them from a trusted source & used them safely. I asked what she did and she told me she was a technology professional living in San Francisco. She’d done quite a bit of research and had a very lovely time on all of the ones I mentioned. I asked if she’d tested them, and she replied that she didn’t need to, because she knew her source. And therein lies my thesis. Libertarian “every man for himself” thinking ensures lower quality drugs for everyone. Privilege and access is stratifying drug use in ways that we’ve never seen before, which ultimately hurts all users.
Psychoactive substance use, contrary to the belief of the British government recently, has been a facet of organized society for thousands of years. However, tribal usage has slowly morphed into recreational usage, especially for the 1%. In the United States, the “bowl of cocaine” fantasy remains a much more compelling goal than the white picket fence. These privileged few have the square footage, support structures, self control & bank roll to do drugs in a controlled environment, largely away from harm or legal consequences. Others are forced to buy drugs on the street, at non-negotiable price points with questionable purities. In the last 5 years, this unnerving trend has sharpened as the 1% & 99% diverge in how they experience Western recreational pharmacology. The replacement of MDMA & LSD with new psychedelic substances such as MDPV, alpha-PVP, NBOMe & other synthetics such as methylone and the cathinones have created new problems that I believe can scale up in ways that previous issues could not.
The success of MDPV, methylone & the synthetic cathinones available in the UK, Australia & the USA is something that wasn’t possible years ago. When 2cb/2ci & the first wave of research chemicals arrived in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, you were lucky to get a certain level of chemical quality, purchased either online or offline. If you were buying something legal you were still taking a shot in the dark, as these chem companies didn’t exactly have a “for human consumption” best case practice involved with these drugs. But, 2cb was relatively non-toxic & less taxing on your cardiovascular systems than most illegal drugs at the time. The best estimate we had for research chemical production a decade ago was maybe 2-4 got from synthesis to production & sale on a large enough level that they would hit the “mainstream” of psychedelic drug culture. The number available to anyone who has done their research & has a decent network size is now approaching 50 a year. That’s 50 totally new chemicals that you can beta test with your cardiovascular system.
The problem is that for someone who is experimenting with new psychedelic substances in a controlled environment, they’re probably reasonably safe. However, more and more kids are getting these drugs not only at major dance music festivals, without knowing what they’re taking. This is a real problem that has killed a non-zero number of people, but the privileged wouldn’t know it. If you have a good network and disposable income, it’s quite possible that you won’t ever need to buy drugs from someone you’ll never see again, or that you’d even think to test. That means that over time, it becomes even less likely for someone to empathize with the needs of the average festival kid who has probably never experienced “pure” MDMA. This divergence in experience based on income & network effects is a terrible step backwards.
When 30% of the people who think they’re taking MDMA at Ultra Music Festival are actually taking a drug called Alpha-PVP…Burning Man may be good, but I don’t imagine it’s perfect. The problem exacerbates itself in an exceptionally hostile environment. Even in the perfect world, you’re still rolling the dice, which is a point I don’t think most people realize.
To be very specific, even if you test everything you buy, whether it’s from a “trusted” (family/fam/house/”that guy”) source, you don’t know what you’re getting. All reagent kits operate on a binary principle. You run the test, it tells you whether you have something. Yes or no. Not percentages, amounts, or anything more sophisticated than “this has/doesn’t have x.” From any serious industrial chemistry process standpoint, this is totally inappropriate for human consumption. Even if you’re buying from the perfect dealer on the Dark Web that has 100% positive user feedback, you’re not any better off than the person testing the shit Stevie bought from the white guy with dreads at Electric Daisy Carnival. It could still be shit, and for all we know, it might kill you.
It may seem like you’re safe because you know people who are synthesizing this stuff at the chemical labs in California, or because you’re embedded so deeply in the Silicon Valley psychonaut universe. But even there you’re not 100% safe. These drugs have been taken by 1/1,000th of the population of users of MDMA, LSD and psilocybin, so even if the drugs are safe in the micro (read: they don’t kill you at the party), we have no idea what these chemical modifications do to the safety of the substance long term. It’s easy to tell someone not to smoke because we know that cigarettes kill you. We don’t know what NBOMe or Alpha-PVP or DOI will do in 20 years. People can speculate, but the plural of anecdote is not data.
Of course, the solution to this is regulation, legalization & FDA approvals. We can all hope and dream about the days when basic bitches will be able to buy gingerbread flavored cocaine to go with their Pumpkin Spice latte. But until then, we need to be cognizant of the risks many of us no longer face. I survived being a young idiot with access, so did many of the people who read this blog. The stakes are higher now, so maybe yelling at & shitting on efforts to inform, or acclimate the younglings by organizations like DanceSafe & Drug Policy Alliance isn’t the best idea. Even if they’re never going to make it to Burning Man or think Steve Aoki, bath salts & the Swedish Fish Mafia are the most important thing to happen to Western society since someone figured out how to lower their low end import car.
I think it’s important to have this conversation & I think Burners are the only ones that can have it. Other communities either totally disavow drugs or they revere them to a point where it’s not possible to have an honest conversation about the damage they do. What do you think? Do you check your drugs using kits? Do you have friends who have ordered new psychedelic substances using the DarkWeb? Do your poor friends complain about the quality of the substances they’ve done as of late?
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Really important perspective. People with thoughtful positions on many social issues frequently ignore this one. What I think is crucial is pointing out the pitfalls of the “every person for themself” posture – even though there is something libertarian-allied about being able to ingest any chemicals that strike your fancy and reject the nanny state, that freedom has entirely different implications depending on income bracket. The individual solution isn’t good enough. Legalization and regulation is needed to save many, many lives.
Thank you! It was scary to put this out there so the support is tremendously appreciated!
What’s all this talk about Psychotic Librarians? Sure Dewey made more sense than LC, but suspecting a psychotic cause may be going too far.
Appreciate the invitation to discussion. But equating burners with wealthy privilege is the kind of thing that reinforces the Fox News badge.
All the risks mentioned in the article apply to wealthy people so there is a bit of a mixed message (hopefully not delusion) about how safe one actually is.
Yes being willing to pay for purity and having access to more efficient markets is a step in the right direction. I do have a poor friend who tried bath salts because of inefficient access to pot. In California. That is just sad.
Then I have a well off friend who feels safe buying research chemicals on the dark web. That to me is also sad.
Perhaps the most efficient market in recreational drugs is for tobacco cigarettes and booze where you theoretically have decades of data about particular relatively stable formulations. And we still don’t know much more than that menthol is probably worse than non menthol and Popov vodka gives more of a hangover than more refined brands. American Spirit is not demonstrably safer nor is Hangar One or Ketel One.
I have never taken synthetic illegal recreational chemicals because I have found that even plants grown in the ground can be so laden with impurities that I just can’t see any hope of getting synthetics that are pure. YMMV as well as your risk tolerance.
Burners are much more sophisticated about drugs than kiddies at edm massives. But I am often blown away at the naïveté of overly optimistic burners.
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agreed. I have raised five children…and been railed at by other parents for explicitly telling my kids about drugs…of all kinds. And telling them that marijuana is safer than alcohol…and shrooms are safer than prescription meds. Drugs can be great fun, but we need to be honest about what’s in them and that, because they are illegal, we don’t even KNoW what’s in them. We need to start with HONEST drug education…it worked with cigarettes. Thanks for keeping this topic in the media.
Good article, was glad it wasn’t in favor of libertarianism for drugs (or anything else). It really is a crapshoot when buying drugs, although the new online markets with reputation ranking does increase your odds of getting what you ordered, and at a higher quality. I’ve never used any dark web sites, and I haven’t bought drugs in some years now, but when I used to, I’d get a little pang of anxiety as I popped it. I’d give myself a false sense of security because I never bought off a stranger, always off of people who had done a sample from the batch themselves. But as you say, that’s not exactly foolproof.
The new chemicals are worrisome. I’ve never tried any. Almost did at Burning Man a few years ago when someone in camp had some 2cb, but I really didn’t feel like rolling the dice with how I’d react. I’m too old for that shit, ha. I worry about my sons experiences with drugs. My oldest now goes to Burning Man, I know he’s done the usual, I hope he’s careful and sticks with the tried and true. I’m not sure I even support full legalization, it would no doubt increase the number of users, which I don’t think is a positive development. Even though I cherish a lot of my more meaningful drug experiences, I’ve been lucky. Increase the numbers and you increase the potential for harm, even under regulation. Alcohol and tobacco are the cases in point.
Very intelligent perspective
Great article. I don’t have anything to add, but thanks for writing it. I’ve shared it on social media, as I think legalization is an important societal subject.
Thank you so much! Definitely hoping to get people talking about this, since it’s so easy to find yourself in a really bad place in the era of research chemicals now.
Excellent point. Unfortunately, the risks of blindly accepting and ingesting unknown chemicals from marginally known individuals can be deadly, either in the short or long term. Hell, we can only barely trust the corporate chemical concoctions found on every grocery store shelf, and they are regulated. Until government leaders and drug manufacturers actually care about the health and wellbeing of the rest of us (read NEVER), it is up to individuals to be Radically Vigilant. Individuals must exercise restraint in the heat of the Partying Moment to make an uneducated guess about the substance they think they are being offered. It is also up to individuals to communicate with their representatives in government, urging them to support regulation, legalization & FDA approvals for recreational drugs to prevent the street use of more deadly versions. Of course, there are probably those in government who simply don’t care if a few drug users die a horrible death, pompously flaunting their “serves them right” view of the world.
I’m thankful everyday for my white privilege to obtain the best drugs. No, I’m not gonna check it, I’m going to crush it up and snort it off Cindy’s hard nipples.