Psychedelic Libertarianism: An Emerging Trend

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.

Picture via Cracked

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?

What’s In My Baggie?

Be careful Burners. That Molly might be Bath Salts.

“Molly is the moonshine of today”. As the documentary shows, what people think they’re taking, may not be what they’re really consuming at all.

need lsdA recent Reddit thread discussed how a Burner thought she was taking a lazy 3 hits of LSD at once, but it turned out to be designer drug 2C-C-NBOMe – an invention of the late Burner/Bohemian Grover Sasha Shulgin. She flipped out big time, and had to be restrained to a stretcher and treated at the medical tent. According to Reddit, BMOrg had “compassionate and academic medical staff on hand, with a chromatograph mass spectrometer no less”. They were able to analyze was in the drugs, which led to a medical paper being written for the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Case Report: A 24 yo female was found to be tachycardic, tachypneic and with agitated delirium after drinking wine, smoking marijuana and ingesting 3 blotter paper doses of what she thought was lysergic acid diethylamide. She thought she was being attacked by invisible assailants. She was transported from her campsite to an on-site field hospital by emergency medical personnel, where she was treated with intravenous normal saline and lorazepam with complete recovery within 10 hours. Leftover blotter paper samples were analyzed using Agilent Liquid Chromatograph-Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer (LC1200-TOF/MS 6230). The primary compound detected was 2C-C-NBOMe, with a smaller amount of 2C-I-NBOMe also present…

just lying around in the Medical Tent.

just lying around in the Medical Tent?

Use of designer drugs is increasing, as evidenced by the well-documented rise of synthetic cannabinoids (herbal incense, spice, K2) and synthetic cathinones (bath salts) in Europe and the United States, the pervasiveness of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in pop culture, and the constant detection of novel compounds with high resolution mass spectrometry techniques. The 2C class of psychedelic phenethylamines was first synthesized by Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin in the 1970s and 1980s. They are 5HT2 receptor agonists with variable receptor activity. Although 2C-I and 2C-B are both 5HT2A receptor agonists, 2C-I also has a high affinity to 5HT2C). Sold as “research chemicals”…

image: Pinterest

image: Pinterest

A 24-year-old Caucasian female with no significant past medical history was screaming in her tent while camping at Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA. She was agitated and confused, under the impression that she was being attacked. On initial evaluation, her HR was 140 bpm with RR 32 per minute. Her pupils were dilated to 5 mm and her skin was moist and hot to the touch. She was not oriented to person, place or time. Per her boyfriend, earlier that evening she drank wine and smoked marijuana. Thirty minutes prior to evaluation, she ingested 3 doses of “acid” on blotter paper. She had taken acid (lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD) many times in the past without adverse effect. After brief assessment, paramedics physically restrained her to a gurney and transported her via ambulance to the on-site field hospital. Overnight, she was treated with intravenous normal saline boluses and 2 mg intravenous lorazepam, making a full recovery within 10 hours. The following day, she had complete amnesia to the events that had transpired and was otherwise asymptomatic. Seven other people had ingested single doses from the same blotter paper that evening, but none had similar adverse effects. No one had taken more than one dose. All users had received the drug for free from one supplier. A leftover drug sample was obtained from the supplying party, who had obtained it directly from the producer and was under the impression that it was “25C,” telling the patient that the drug was not acid, but “like acid.”

The American Journal of Emergency Medicine Volume issue 2014 – The electric Kool-Aid NBOMe test

However hardcore you think you are, it’s never a good idea to triple-drop. Especially with something you’ve never done before. Triple the drugs doesn’t mean triple the fun. “But they said it was like acid, I’ve done acid before” – that’s not how drugs work. Maybe if they were decriminalized and regulated, all acid would be the same – but even then “this is like acid”, is not the same as “this new thing you’ve never tried is identical to something else you’ve done before”.

People are handing out free designer drugs at Burning Man, and Burners are getting greedy, and getting into trouble. Who wants to go to a party, and end up as a case study in a medical journal? Or beating off in the cop shop?

Although they say “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, I think “know what you’re taking before you take three of it” is better. Safety trumps politeness. Dancesafe sell testing kits here.