The Place of Drugs in Modern Society

The failure of the drug war has been amply demonstrated. The libertarian position on drug policy is as well established: whatever your ethical stance on drugs, it isn’t the business of the government. Within this paradigm there are different social and moral philosophies, ranging from those who reject recreational drug use outright to those who extol the virtues of certain drugs. Conservative libertarians often say that social mores and institutions are perfectly capable of handling the issue: that is what this essay is about. My purpose is to move beyond the simple rejection of prohibition and vague allusions to civil institutions, and to begin thinking about how exactly a civil society should approach the thorny issue of drug use.

I believe, firstly, that we need to have a more open culture if we are going to develop effective and humane institutions. The taboo surrounding drug use simply must go. For example, heroin addiction is a fact of daily existence for a portion of every country in the world, today, and yet it remains something fundamentally ‘Other’ to the rest of society. It holds a position similar to the indescribable inhabitants of a H. P. Lovecraft novella. I think some good may come of shining a light on it. We need to be able to talk about drugs, and addiction – we need to be unafraid of heroin, and cocaine. Future generations are still going to use them, and we can’t expect them to do so responsibly if they feel that there is nobody they can safely ask about drug use.

My position, which I will justify shortly, is that we need to integrate drugs into our society. To understand what I mean, you need only to think of drugs which have already been integrated into the mainstream of western society, like alcohol and coffee. The café and coffee shop, pub and liquor store are institutions in our society. They dispense an addictive stimulant and intoxicating ethanol, respectively, and both form a significant part of our culture. It’s hardly absurd, then, to suggest that drugs other than caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol might contribute to our culture, or that the particular character of hashish, for example, might inspire kinder and more thoughtful cultural centers than those inspired by binge drinking and classic rock. In truth, other substances already have contributed to our society, and continue to do so. I will try to argue that if we allow the cultures which derive from illicit drug use, which (the cultures) have thrived for nearly a century, a legal and acknowledged space in our society, the associated harms may be greatly reduced and the well documented benefits facilitated.

And what might such a space look like? I suppose that would depend on the drugs and cultures in question. More importantly, I suppose that is the sole discretion of the people directly involved. I am an anarchist – I make no bones about my ideological stance here. I believe firmly that vices are not crimes, and that the freedom of association is indispensable to a free society. Drug users, all drug users, are entitled to free association not only for the safe consumption of drugs, but for the safe manufacture and distribution of drug as well, for if they have the right to use drugs they surely have the right to ensure the safety of the drugs they use.

While we have no right to dictate to others how they shall associate, we can make some suggestions and guesses based on past experiences. At times, open association amongst drug users and responsible medical professionals has been tolerated by the State – it is to the associations people formed in these brief interludes of freedom to which we should look first, in envisioning the institutions of the future.

Take psychedelic drugs as an example.

Perhaps the foremost expert on the therapeutic potential of LSD, Dr. Stanislav Grof, has written that the reasons for the use (and abuse) of psychedelic drugs “are extremely complex and can have very deep psychological roots.” He found that a great variety of people used psychedelic drugs, for various reasons, including “pleasure seekers trying to enhance their sensory experience for aesthetic, recreational and hedonistic reasons,” as well as “couples [using] joint psychedelic experiences to work through emotional problems within the dyad, improve the quality of their relationship, open new channels of communication, and explore various levels and dimensions of their sexual interaction.” In addition, “a not insignificant group of self-experimenters seem to be people with serious emotional problems for whom traditional psychotherapy is inaccessible, or who are disappointed by its inefficacy. They are desperately looking for therapeutic alternatives, and since responsible and professional LSD treatment is not available, they make attempts at self-therapy.” Perhaps more controversially, there exists “a large group of responsible and sophisticated intellectuals who see repeated psychedelic sessions as a unique opportunity for philosophical and spiritual search, comparable to the way offered by traditions such as Tibetan Vajrayana, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, or different systems of yoga.”

I believe that not only are these reasons largely sensible and accessible, they are profoundly important: the enrichment of interpersonal relationships, and of artistic and aesthetic pursuits; the exploration of viable alternatives to traditional psychiatry; philosophical, spiritual, and personal development; these are, as Grof has written, “extremely serious and reflect the most fundamental needs of human beings – cravings for emotional well-being, spiritual fulfillment and a sense of meaning in life.” These are the ends that people seek – and LSD, for $10 or $15, is a potentially effective means. Acknowledging the validity of these ends, we can begin to help people navigate the means, and carve out a place in our culture for these phenomena. But before we move on to concrete suggestions about the place psychedelic drugs might, and perhaps should, occupy in our society, we should dwell briefly on the place they have held in the past and the place they hold today.

There is a rich history of research into the potential application of these drugs both to alleviating human suffering, and to reaching a better understanding of the human brain. Before the eventual suppression of these activities in the early 1970’s, thousands of studies were conducted , and clinics for psychedelic therapy sprang up in England, Germany, France, Holland, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and several Scandinavian countries, . By 1965, more than two thousand specific scientific papers had been published, describing the treatment of up to 40,000 patients, with fairly commonplace success. It was tested on alcoholics in Canada with “remarkable results”, and was subsequently applied to “a wide range of diagnostic categories,” with numerous patients claiming these experiences were “more fruitful than years of psychoanalysis – at considerably less expense,” . One experiment aimed at using a psychedelic experience to reduce the rate of recidivism amongst prison inmates; only 25% of the test subjects ended up in jail again, compared to an average of 80%, .

Despite the outright suppression of this valuable research for much of the latter half of the 20th century, there has been a great resurgence in recent years. Currently research is being conducted in numerous areas: psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for subjects with “anxiety associated with end-of-life issues”; the efficacy of psilocybin in the treatment of OCD; LSD, LSA, and psilocybin in the treatment of cluster headaches; psilocybin as a catalyst for spiritual experience; MDMA in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; and ketamine and ibogaine in the treatment of alcoholism and opiate addiction, .

This all strikes me as remarkably important research. Just for starters, we are learning how to help people through the profoundly frightening and alien experience of dying. Surely there are very few more worthy fields of human endeavor.

The treatment of PTSD is perhaps equally vital considering that nearly 8 million people in the United States alone suffer from it (NIH), and 1 million more in Australia in any given year (Beyond Blue). In particular, 30% of the veterans of the Vietnam War, 10% of the veterans of ‘Desert Storm’, 11% of Afghanistan veterans, and 20% of Iraq veterans, suffer from PTSD. There is something especially poignant about the ‘love drug’ being used to treat the fallout of war. Have the counterculture and the establishment ever been placed so starkly in contrast? Could it be that a chemical rediscovered by an icon of the drug culture may be the savior of the emotional casualties of George Bush and Barack Obama’s wars?

The treatment of alcoholism and other drug addictions is also of particular value: alcoholism affects an estimated 140 million people, and opiate addiction many more.

I believe we have reached an understanding, by this point, that psychedelic drugs are not simply a problem, something to be solved by social mores against their use or by remonstrations. Their prohibition is not, as is arguably the case with heroin or desomorphine, exacerbating a social ill; it is, in fact, smothering a remedy to social ills. It is actively stifling scientific progress. As individuals, we are being denied the right to seek relief for our suffering, to better ourselves, and to grow. As a society, we are being denied knowledge itself, in a period of the most rapid scientific development in our history as a species. But I digress.

We see that psychedelic drugs have a valuable contribution to make to psychiatry, arguably our most important art. As Grof points out, there are already a large number of people self-administering psychedelic drugs in search of a solvent for their mental ills. These people surely stand only to gain from the existence of professional LSD psychotherapy, and similar treatments. This is one possible, and easy, integration. All that needs to be done is for the State to step out of the way and allow researchers to do what they do best.

I made another suggestion in my article on 25i-NBOMe that safe spaces for the use of psychedelic drugs might be a good idea and one which has precedents, in the form of highly successful programs to create safe injection facilities for IV drug users. “Put simply,” I wrote then, “teenagers use drugs. When they do so, they require the care and guidance of society. They simply cannot seek or receive this care or guidance when, as at present, they are forced to hide their use from society and to embark on these experiences alone.” I pointed to recent deaths under the present integration: “Consider that these youths, sometimes fifteen and sixteen years old, were without exception experimenting with these chemicals in secret, with only other inexperienced teenagers for guidance. They were, without exception, doing so in a culture in which a monolithic taboo surrounds the behavior they were engaging in, which they are understandably and profoundly hesitant to breach even when in need of medical attention. Is it any wonder they found themselves in such trouble when calling for help entails not only the threat of legal repercussions, but the loss of social standing and severe damage to their familial relations? Hence the need for safe spaces free from moral judgment or socio-legal repercussions. Would we rather they use drugs alone or in pairs, in their bedrooms, without having told anybody they’re doing so, while deathly afraid of telling anybody they’re doing so even in the event that an emergency arises? Or would we rather they have supervision from open-minded professionals, where psychological distress can be handled and medical attention sought at the first sign of physical danger? In short, do we think hidden cultures or open cultures have a greater tendency towards harm minimization?”

This idea has already been put into practice, to a limited extent, in the digital sphere – the last bastion of freedom, in the eyes of some. An organization called TripSit provides just such a safe space in virtual form on IRC, the internet’s oldest chat protocol. On their network, people on psychoactive substances can seek immediate help when in need – in the event, in clumsy popular parlance, of a ‘bad trip’, for example. They have helped literally thousands of people in such circumstances, and such circumstances are, by all accounts, profound and potentially life changing. Not only this, but they do their utmost to promote a culture of education, harm minimization, moderation, and thoughtfulness amongst the several hundred drug users who frequent their network and thousands more passers-by.

Their community stands a shining example of civil institutions for the mental, physical and social welfare of drug users – one not predicated on the disingenuous pretext that drug use is unequivocally bad. Firstly, they are prolific providers of potentially lifesaving information, and users can and do seek information on dosage, duration, effects, side-effects, advisability and so on, of a large variety of drugs. Secondly, they provide community, something to which all people deserve to belong, something which Kurt Vonnegut (my favorite humanist) considered as important to individual survival as food and medicine. Thirdly, they directly influence the character of youth culture and it’s relation to drugs. This is something which I suggested in my previous article could not be achieved whilst pigheadedly denying the benefits and pleasures of drugs, and promulgating abstinence. It is no surprise that an organization which acknowledges the value of psychedelic drugs has an easier time encouraging moderation and education and intelligence in the psychedelic community: primarily because, as I said, these encouragements are not made on the dishonest basis that ‘Drugs are Bad’.

Anyway, these are important functions our future civil institutions might serve: to influence the character of drug-using culture towards things which we think or know will result in happier and safer drug users, and to provide community and family to those who lack this basic necessity of modern existence.

The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is the foremost advocate of research into the potential of psychedelic drugs, and of sober, scholarly study of these compounds. The Open Foundation in the Netherlands serves essentially the same function, as does the Beckley Foundation in England. They are helped in this mission by the likes of erowid.org (who maintain an enormous database of both professional research and personal anecdotes), bluelight.org, ‘psychedemia’, and advocacy groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

I already mentioned TripSit. Dance Safe is another excellent organization, achieving very similar goals to TripSit, namely “harm reduction and popular education”, with the ultimate aim of “empower[ing] young people to make healthy, informed lifestyle choices.” They primarily work within, and influence the character of, the mass culture surrounding electronic music, and most famously popularized the tools to check pills for adulterants among club and festival goers. These two are the foremost institutions in this field, but others make contributions. The Psychedelic Society of San Fransisco, for example, works “to create safe spaces” and foster discussion.

I might mention cultural institutions of a different kind, for example the numerous psychedelic gatherings and festivals across Northern America and in places like England and Australia, or the institutions of psychedelic music, painting, and so on. We might argue over their value, but pretentious, dumb, or vacuous as these things can be, they make people happy – and they’re sometimes far from vacuous. There is nothing vapid about the Grateful Dead, or Huxley’s ‘Island’, in my opinion.

There is also, along these lines, the dance or electronic music culture. This has to be taken seriously as a cultural institution, by now – I who was born after it have wondered when I will die. A stupid question; it isn’t a fad; fads don’t last 30 years and more. More importantly, the character of this cultural institution, as I say, depends critically on the work of groups like Dance Safe.

I’ve blathered on for too long, and reached too many conclusions in the body to write an effective final paragraph now, but I might as well summarize a few of the things we might to do move in the direction of integration. The first, and most important I think, was to create a more open culture, in which it is okay for people to talk about drug use. This entails breaking down the taboo, and liberating the heroin or meth addict, and similar figures, from the realm of romanticism and half-imagined non-descript alleys, which I expect nobody in the 21st century still uses to sell drugs. The second, and perhaps easiest, was to develop institutions such a safe spaces for use, societies for intelligent discourse on the use and abuse of drugs, communities which provide support, love, and family to drug users, and so on. This entails influencing the character of drug culture, and youth culture, and the relationship of mainstream society to drugs. The hardest, I think, is liberating the process by which these chemicals are actually made, and thereby restoring full autonomy to the drug using public who are, at this unfortunate moment in history, simultaneously the subject of the cartels and gangs and the government. The drug user is being screwed relentlessly from all angles, and these steps are vital to his or her (or otherwise) liberation.

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25i-NBOMe

In the past couple of years, a small amount of attention has been gathering around a spate of hospitalizations and deaths allegedly related to ‘research chemicals’. In particular, the drug 25i-NBOMe has been implicated. Unfortunately, incompetence or outright dishonesty has been the rule, not the exception, in the coverage of drug-related deaths and hospitalizations. Astonishingly, the major newspapers haven’t even bothered to name the substance in question, and have unanimously chosen to adopt the phrase ‘synthetic LSD’, instead. It is the role of the media to inform the public: this is what it might look like if Australian journalists had a notion to inform the public about drugs.

25i-NBOMe was discovered in 2003 by Ralf Heim at the Free University of Berlin. It is a psychedelic drug. In the public mind, this might suggest that it induces strange visions, but what actually occurs is somewhat more benign: subtler changes in perception and cognition, like colors appearing brighter, are far more common than outright hallucinations. It is characteristic of the media to focus on the exceptional, and as such we’ve heard much about the “confusion, shaking, nausea, insomnia, paranoia and unwanted feelings,” which users report accompanying the use (and in particular misuse) of this drug, but we might also mention the “feelings of love/empathy,” and “change in consciousness and unusual body sensations” which the drug brings on.

Regardless, the drug does not have a good safety profile or reputation at all. No need to sensationalize when the facts speak so clearly for themselves. There are numerous recorded instances of individuals on this drug presenting to emergency rooms in great physical and mental discomfort. Clinically observed symptoms include tachycardia, hypertension, agitation and aggression, visual and auditory hallucinations, seizures, hyperpyrexia, clonus, elevated white blood cell count and metabolic acidosis. In addition to all this, it can be lethal, which is the one of two things which makes 25i-NBOMe important in the context of 2014.

The first is that it’s still relatively obscure, it’s incredibly cheap (it can be imported for as little as 50 cents a ‘tab’), and yet bares enough resemblance to LSD to be resold to inexperienced people for $15. Secondly, as I said, and this is where it differs from LSD, it can be lethal. Compare the substance to LSD. LSD kills rats in doses of 12mg per kilo of bodyweight, and the average dose is generally 100-300 micrograms (one-thousandth of a milligram) per tab. Which means you’d have to take about 80 times the recreational dose for every kilo you weigh before it is fatal. Whereas 25i-NBOMe is usually applied 1mg to a tab, and has killed in doses lower than 10mg. Which means you’d only have to take a few times the recreational dose, in total, before it is fatal.  It’s easy to see how this combination of factors can render the drug lethal. Inexperienced drug users are not notoriously cautious or informed, for one thing. And for another, even the most experienced user is in danger of overdosing if he believes he is in possession of an infinitely more benign substance, namely LSD. In short, what renders the substance deadly is precisely the act of misinformation that the Australian media has been routinely committing when it misrepresents the drug as “LSD”.

This information is all vital to a conversation it is now necessary to have about 25i-NBOMe specifically, and the phenomenon of ‘research chemicals’, more generally. Before I move on to initiate this conversation, I’d like to dwell for a moment on the conspicuous absence of any of these facts, or indeed of anything more than the ill-informed phrase ‘synthetic LSD’, from the Australian media’s coverage of this important issue. It’s truly absurd. In highlighting this absurdity, let me tell you how I came by all this information. First of all, I gleamed a lot of this by showing a level of competence and integrity common to first year university students, but not to postgraduate journalists, and I googled the substance in question, and already I had quite a bit more for the public discourse than a two word misnomer.

Next, I acted like a journalist might be expected to act, and I sought the opinion of a professional in the field. Invariably, our newspapers take their information on drugs straight from the police force, and print it without comment or correction. Last time this resulted in the Australian printing outright falsehoods, prompting me to suggest to their editor that if he wanted to know about drugs he should ask a chemist, not a cop. I, for example, chose to send an email to the Independent Drug Advisory board in the United Kingdom, who were kind enough to give a few comments and attach documents filled with empirical, clinical and pharmacological information on the drug. It’s amazing what you learn when you consult somebody from the relevant discipline.

25i-NBOMe undoubtedly poses problems for public health and safety, but wherein lie the solutions? The prohibitionist method is a transparent failure – it is, after all, the prohibition of LSD which has led to the promotion of 25i-NBOMe as an alternative in at least 7 member states of the EU. It is prohibitionism which forces teenagers like Henry Kwan and Nick Mitchell to navigate dubious black markets alone and unequipped to guarantee the safety and standards of the drugs they buy and use. And finally, a growing web of deep web markets, the sophistication of which our police are totally incapable of keeping up with, have provided Australian citizens the means to acquire practically any substance they desire. Any intelligent solution, therefore, must be rooted in the understanding that we cannot prevent people from using these substances. This is understandably a frightening premise for parents and educators, and indeed most of the public, but it will help us formulate a humane and effective, if somewhat radical, approach to the issue of drugs in our society.

The problems surrounding drug use today are not principally the result of the drugs themselves, but the economic and social paradigm within which people consume them. In a recent work on drug policy, Alex Klein aptly sums up the problem which pervades the hidden use of proscribed substances like 25i-NBOMe when he points out that “where social convention or culture does not provide a framework to prescribe a pattern of use and restraint, individual users are vulnerable to the dictates of their appetite.” The logic is self-evident and undeniable. We’ve already applied it to sexual education, to name one example. On that issue we have come to the understanding that young people will experiment with their sexuality, and that they are better served by practical advice for harm minimization than by ignorable and dishonest moralizing. The same is true of drugs. The use of psychedelic drugs has occurred in our society for decades now and it is high time that we integrate this valid social phenomenon in a way that minimizes the associated harms and facilitates the well documented benefits. Here’s a few ways this might be done.

Firstly, education is an excellent tool for harm reduction. Teenagers are less likely to use dangerous substances like 25i-NBOMe if the safety profile of the drugs is outlined to them, as I have outlined it to you, and compared to the safety profile of LSD, as I have also done above. If they decide to use it anyway, and this is always a possibility, then they will be well served by the knowledge that one milligram is sufficient, and that two milligrams is approaching dangerous territory. This first point is common sense, and something we can and should begin doing immediately, in the press, in schools, and in our families and communities.

Secondly, we can bring the market for psychedelic drugs above ground. One of the primary dangers of 25i is that it is so often fraudulently sold as LSD – a problem which would be significantly reduced by allowing professionals to manufacture and quality control these substances, and to sell them in clearly labeled packaging with relevant health and safety warnings. A legal market for psychedelic drugs is jarring to the moral sensibilities of some, but it is clearly less fraught with danger than forcing teenagers to navigate an often dubious black market.

Lastly, and this may sound controversial, we can bring the culture which this market facilitates above ground. Drug users are a far from insignificant portion of our society, and they are entitled to safety and to association for mutual benefit, just the same as anyone else. Their place in our society is not a variable; the only question is whether or not we will accept it. One positive manifestation of an open association between the users of psychedelic drugs might be the creation of safe spaces to use them. This is not a new idea: facilities for the safe injection of heroin have been tried with excellent results for harm minimization, and the logic applies equally here. Put simply, teenagers use drugs. When they do so, they require the care and guidance of society. They simply cannot seek or receive this care or guidance when, as at present, they are forced to hide their use from society and to embark on these experiences alone.

Consider the recent deaths, accidents, and hospitalizations in Australia and elsewhere, for a moment. Consider that these youths, sometimes fifteen and sixteen years old, were without exception experimenting with these chemicals in secret, with only other inexperienced teenagers for guidance. They were, without exception, doing so in a culture in which a monolithic taboo surrounds the behavior they were engaging in, which they are understandably and profoundly hesitant to breach even when in need of medical attention. Is it any wonder they found themselves in such trouble when calling for help entails not only the threat of legal repercussions, but the loss of social standing and severe damage to their familial relations? Hence the need for safe spaces free from moral judgment or socio-legal repercussions. Would we rather they use drugs alone or in pairs, in their bedrooms, without having told anybody they’re doing so, while deathly afraid of telling anybody they’re doing so even in the event that an emergency arises? Or would we rather they have supervision from open-minded professionals, where psychological distress can be handled and medical attention sought at the first sign of physical danger? In short, do we think hidden cultures or open cultures have a greater tendency towards harm minimization?

The urge to be high is a legitimate one, and we need to stop forcibly suppressing it. The eradication of drugs is quite literally impossible. All we can really do is influence the character of youth culture and its relationship to drugs: towards moderation, education, harm minimization, and a thorough understanding of the reasons behind taking drugs, both positive and negative. But we can only do this if we have a culture in which it is okay for young people to talk about psychedelic drugs, and –if they decide to use them- in which they are provided with the resources necessary to do so safely.

LSD, 25i-NBOMe, and the Media

The popular conception of ‘drugs’ is fuzzy, to say the least. Properly understood, drugs are any material substance which engenders changes in consciousness when consumed. Popularly understood, however, ‘drugs’ often refers to a handful of proscribed substances. This is why we hear phrases like ‘drugs and alcohol’, as though alcohol weren’t included in ‘drugs’, and this is why the daily coffee drinker does not think of his or herself as a ‘drug addict’, although they undoubtedly are. Indeed, this is how it has come to be that in a society granted an unprecedented degree of health and longevity by modern medicine -that is, by the considered application of drugs-, it is still possible for the phrase ‘Drugs are Bad’ to gain currency. By now, LSD is almost cliche, and yet how well is it actually understood in the popular imagination. Ask ten strangers if they know what LSD is, and ten of them will say they do. But ask them any other question about LSD, at all…

Still, one might expect the media to be better informed than the general public. And are they? In answering this question, let me submit the following headline from the front page of The Australian, a newspaper with a national circulation, and an editor, and factcheckers, and all: ‘Teenager Nick Mitchell’s LSD Overdose – death, delusions, and despair’; from December of 2012, half a century after LSD first received broad attention. At the time, I wrote a lengthy tirade against, and another to, the editors of this publication, but it will suffice here to point out a couple of monumental problems with this article.

Firstly, the headline is flagrantly, almost arrogantly, false; nobody even faintly acquainted with the subject matter would think of claiming that a teenager had overdosed on a single tab of LSD: in rats, the LD50 (the dose at which 50% of test subjects die of toxicity) of LSD is some 12mg per kilo of bodyweight; the average dose of LSD is about one hundreed micrograms, or 1/120th of that amount. I do not know whether The Australian made literally inconceivable claims about a well researched drug out of dishonesty or out of incompetence, but the extent of either required to produce this article is incredible.

Secondly, I will point briefly at the alliterated ‘death, delusions, and despair’ which is self-evidently cheap sensationalism.

And as usual, in articles by hack-journalists in mainstream publications, a police official, inept to the point of a caricature, is sought out for his wisdom; in this case, Head of the NSW Police drug squad Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham, who said that the teenagers death “should pose as a stark warning about the dangers of any drugs.”

“LSD, if that’s what it was, is an insidious drug. It’s got a smiley face on it and looks harmless, but it kills,” Supt Bingham said.

There is so much stupidity contained within this one sentence that I’m honestly not sure where to begin. “It has a smiley face on it,” says the detective. LSD is usually distributed on blotter paper – a sheet of perforated cardboard printed with (usually) psychedelic artwork. The detective has apparently seen precisely one sheet of blotter paper and deduced that LSD “has a smiley face on it,” in the same way that I, after rummaging through a single recycling bin, retrieving a single beer bottle, and thereby concluding my education in the chemical properties of alcohol, might deduce that it “has a horse on it.”

“It kills,” says the detective. Not physically, it doesn’t. There has not been a single recorded death from LSD toxicity since it was first synthesized in 1938. This is something the superintendent of the NSW Police Drug Squad should probably know, at least before he starts handing out wisdom to newspapers.

And finally, “if that’s what it was.” Given that the poor child evidently overdosed on something, and given that it evidently wasn’t LSD, this raises an interesting question, and one you would think that journalists (and maybe even detectives) might be inclined to ask: What did Nick Mitchell overdose on?*

So thirdly (and this is characteristic of submissive establishment journalism), authority figures are asked to comment on issues that they are clearly and wholly unqualified to comment on, and their objectively false claims are printed without comment or correction. “LSD kills,” says a sergeant who knows nothing about LSD, and The Australian duly and uncritically prints it.

It wasn’t until June, when another teenager took an ‘LSD Death Plunge’ (another headline, this time from the Sydney Daily Telegraph), that journalists began to realize that there were substances more dangerous than LSD, on which a teenager might actually overdose – this time they actually suspected 25i-NBOMe was the culprit…which raises the question of why Australian newspapers invariably chose to refer to LSD in the headline. This time there can be no question of the newspapers intentions; this time it was sheer dishonesty: how else does one account for a borderline sensible body which outright contradicts a sensational headline? LSD DEATH PLUNGE (not actually LSD). This is no less than an open transgression against journalistic integrity.

And again, Nick Bingham, the scientifically illiterate mouthpiece of the establishment, was sort out for some propaganda to attribute to an authority figure. This time he called 25i-NBOMe, which he had undoubtedly just heard of, “synthetic LSD”, and the Telegraph printed it without comment or correction. I hope I don’t have to explain this, but LSD is synthetic, and 25i-NBOMe isn’t LSD; the two are only related inasmuch as they’re both psychedelic compounds. His statement literally doesn’t make sense, and yet it was reprinted far and wide.

Indeed, his ill-informed phrase persists: see, for example, this article from Perth Now News in which an unidentified substance, which is likely 25i-NBOMe, is referred to consistently and solely as ‘suspected synthetic LSD’. The same phrase was used in WA Today, in ABC Local, and in the Western Australian. After a brief flirtation with accurate reporting last June, the entire Australian media establishment is now scrupulously avoiding naming the drug which they are actually talking about, 25i-NBOMe. This baffling phenomenon is not restricted to Australia, either. Here the Minnesota branch of CBS Local refers to “a form of LSD”.

We are being deprived of a sensible conversation about 25i-NBOMe specifically, and about the advent and increasing popularity of research chemicals in general.

Such a conversation, among other things, might focus on the degree to which the 25i-NBOMe problem has been created by the policy of prohibition. The importance of this chemical in the atmosphere of prohibition comes from three properties, above all else: it is a great deal cheaper than LSD, it is a great deal more dangerous than LSD, and it can be passed off as LSD to inexperience and naive youngsters; truly quite an unholy trinity. The first and third facts, taken together, mean that there is a substantial incentive for people to sell drugs irresponsibly – they mean that people will import 25i at prices like 50 cents a hit, and then resell it as ‘LSD’ for $15 a hit. What the second fact means is that people will take 25i, a physically dangerous substance, believing that it is LSD, a physically safe substance; and therefore are put at significant risk.

In other words, the legalization of LSD is the only effective means of addressing the 25i problem: grant people legal access to safe chemicals like LSD, and they will not be driven to a blackmarket in which they are sold hazardous fakes.

In short, the treatment of drugs in the media is staggeringly dishonest, to the extent that obvious and outright falsities are printed on the front page, and demonstrable and relevant facts such as those presented in the above three paragraphs are entirely absent. Our countries policy of prohibition has directly led to young people dying at the hands of dubious chemicals, and this has not inspired our media to question the wisdom of this policy or to spend more than 3 words discussing the chemicals in question: that is incredible.

*In all likelihood, 25i-NBOMe, which has a recreational dose of 1mg, can kill in quantities which would fit on a ‘tab’, and is commonly misrepresented as LSD – this, the degradation of the LSD market by frauds, is in itself a more interesting story than the death of one teenager.