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?