In Search of an Honest Newspaper: ‘synthetic LSD’ continues its ill-advised romp through the public discourse.

Since writing an article on 25i-NBOMe a couple of months ago, lamenting the profound dishonesty of an Australian journalistic establishment which would not name the substance, opting to use the misnomer ‘synthetic LSD’ instead, I’ve been keeping tabs on the phrase with a weekly google alert. This yielded results quickly, as by the time one week had passed the phrase had already skyrocketed to the top of establishment journalism – to the pages of the Herald Sun. The article makes no explicit mention of its subject matter – 25i-NBOMe.

From there, it really took off. The next week it had been in the Daily Telegraph, the Legal Examiner, the Delhi Daily News, and the Australian. Of these, only the Legal Examiner was bordering on being informative, stating that the drug they persisted in calling ‘synthetic LSD’ anyway “also goes by the names 25i, Nbomb, and Smiles gives users a similar high as to that one would experience from taking LSD,” and listing a few adverse side effects. This is notches above the rest of the establishment journalism that preceded it, but is still highly problematic in its continued use of the misnomer ‘synthetic LSD’.

The following week, in an apparent bid to distinguish themselves, the woeful West Australian embellished the phrase to ‘synthetic LSD-like’, which is actually slightly more accurate. It is synthetic, and arguably LSD-like.

And then…and fucking then, the Daily Telegraph goes ahead and tries to write an honest article and fails spectacularly, calling it “251-NBOMe”, suggesting that this is its “official” title, and stating that it “can be 25 times more potent than LSD.” I have absolutely no idea where this was plucked from, but it’s absolutely unsupportable and untrue, not to mention sensational.

There is signs in all of this of slight improvements. Twice, the media has given up enough information to enable the reader to better research than the writer by allowing phrases like ‘25i’ and ‘NBomb’ into print, which (while not precisely accurate) are close enough to elicit information when googled. Still, not once did they manage to actually print the full name of the drug, 25i-NBOMe. Credit to the Daily Telegraph for at least trying, but one wonders how they managed to screw it up.

But it is all too clear that the journalistic establishment doesn’t care to be accurate or informative. In my article, I gave a substantial amount of information on 25i-NBOMe which I had acquired by showing “a level of integrity common to first year university students but not post-graduate journalists” and googling the drug…still no professional journalist has managed to clear this unbelievably low hurdle which I, stoned and unpublished, stepped idly over two months ago. Most articles still refer to it exclusively as ‘synthetic LSD’, and the handful of articles which get closer to its real name still use this misnomer more than any other term.

This is beyond being uninformative – they’re making it hard for people to inform themselves. If they would print the term 25i-NBOMe, which is really not asking very much of an article about 25i-NBOMe, then people could google it themselves and find out a very great deal. But if somebody reads a piece of establishment journalism about ‘synthetic LSD’ and google’s the phrase, what do you think they find? More establishment journalism about ‘synthetic LSD’. As a rule, I try never to attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence, but I struggle to convince myself that published journalists and newspapers with national circulations, editors, and fact checkers are really quite this incompetent. The invention and persistence of this phrase smacks strongly of an attempt to slander LSD, which is a physically safe and often very beneficial substance, by association. Either way, the level of dishonesty and incompetence in the Australian media’s reporting on drugs is approaching absurdity, and something must be done.

Response to John P. Walters’ article in politico magazine.

In response to ‘Libertarians Are Wrong About Drugs’, by John P. Walters.

“Social conservatives are troubled by drug abuse, especially among the young, and believe that government regulation of certain substances is necessary to curb behavior seen not only as self-destructive but also incompatible with a strong and free community.”

So says the director of drug policy under George W. Bush, John P. Walters. Of course, what he fails to mention is that the unsophisticated concept of “drug abuse” held by the average conservative refers to the responsible or irresponsible use of any drug but alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine. He is right, after all, when he says that there is “ample experience that a drug user harms not only himself, but also many others,” but he’d never tell you that the chief among them is America’s favorite pastime, ethyl alcohol. The first transparent and repeatable attempt to rank the harms of various drugs, led by David Nutt, shows the comparative benignity of LSD, psilocybin, cannabis, and MDMA, for example. Is Mr. Walters suggesting we legalize these substances and ban alcohol instead? If so, does he remember what happened the first time?

And he would have the ghost of a point when he says that “the association between drug use and social and economic failure, domestic violence, pernicious parenting and criminal acts while under the influence is grounds for prohibition,” if it could be demonstrated that prohibition had a positive impact on these metrics. On the contrary, it has proven to exacerbate the problems associated with drug use on every count. Let’s turn his nonsense back on its head, then, shall we? The association between prohibition and social and economic failure, domestic and international terrorism, gang warfare, corruption, pernicious parenting and criminal acts is grounds for the repeal of prohibition, surely?

He goes on to ask who would control the supply if drugs were legalized, suggesting that whoever “controls the supply controls the population of addicts.” This is a troubling notion, indeed. But the answer is nonetheless obvious. The beauty of a free market is precisely that nobody in particular controls the supply. Allow a free market for drugs, and whoever drug users feel best serves their interests will control the supply – in all probability a diverse and dispersed multiplicity of individuals and groups. Given a truly free market, this diverse system of production and distribution will probably incorporate a large portion of the users themselves, thereby allowing them to regain control of their liberty.

We needn’t ask who controls the supply and, thus, the population of addicts under Mr. Walters’ scheme. We know who controls the supply under Walters’ scheme: violent criminal cartels, emboldened by the de facto monopoly his policy grants them.
He also rejects the dispensary model, as do I, wondering aloud if there would be corruption in the quest to acquire licenses. And of course there would, as there is corruption in all fields in which the government claims the right to issue licenses, a premise which the libertarians he’s criticizing don’t shy away from carrying to its logical conclusion. But again, one need only look at Mexico to gauge the corruption engendered by Mr Walters’ policies.

He also laments “political risks.” He points to “all these marijuana users that are reliable supporters of pro-legalization candidates in their state campaigns,” and recoils at the thought that heroin users might become similarly politically organized and support a candidate who they feel represents them.

He closes: “Even President Obama, whose administration has facilitated marijuana legalization, himself asked the logical follow-up question: ‘[What if] we’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we OK with that?’

Are we?”

First of all, we do have a calibrated dose of meth that’s not going to kill you. I give you my word: 15 milligrams of methamphetamine will not kill you or rot your teeth. And yes, I am okay with that. There is nothing wrong with seeking pleasure or productivity. We can acknowledge this while trying to further our understanding of addiction and our capacity to help addicted people. Only 3% of Americans who have tried methamphetamine had smoked it in the previous month, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health which Walter’s cites himself.

This article is dishonest. It is not based on an accurate or scientific appraisal of the harms and benefits of various drugs, it is oblivious to the entire corpus of writing about the effects of prohibition, and it promotes a political agenda which is rapidly losing relevance. If he wishes to dispute the ends which libertarianism seeks, namely the liberation of drug users and the minimization of harm, that is a different matter. But at present, he is arguing that liberalization of drug policy would not achieve these ends; one wonders why he bothers when libertarians and non-libertarians alike have so voluminously demonstrated it that it would and, when it has been attempted, has.

Tentative Thoughts on Methamphetamine

Notice that most popular analysis of meth use is conspicuously based on a comparison between people who use meth and people who don’t. Horror stories are told which, granted, are informative and not uncommon, but one might begin to think that there is only one kind of meth use. This is akin to presenting the most destitute alcoholic as an example of ‘what alcohol use does’. Not what it can do but what it unequivocally does. I point this out because very few people could fail to see through this logic when applied to alcohol, and yet most buy it hook, line, and sinker, when it’s applied to meth. When we observe emaciated, addicted, destitute individuals, when we observe damage to mental health, the most important thing to know about these people is surely not that they use meth, but the particular pattern and context of their meth use. We should wonder just how large a share of meth users these stories comprise. And we should identify what makes these patterns and contexts damaging, and conversely what makes other patterns and contexts relatively benign.

Usually the factors which make particular patterns of meth use damaging are obvious. Val Kilmers documentary talks about workers on oil rigs who, the documentary alleges, use meth to work for a week without break. This parallels a popular story in cheap non-fiction and mass produced documentaries, the particulars of which change from case to case: people correctly identify the amazing implications methamphetamine has for productivity, they feel (as meth makes one feel) that they’re superhumanly able, and they stay up and work or party for preposterous lengths of time with no sleep and often no food. Apparently people who use the drug like this sometimes die. Well fuck; who’d of thought, right?

We’ve acknowledged the spectre of the problem drug user, now lets put him in context. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that just 3% of people who have tried meth had smoked it in the previous month. Patterns of crack use have been more alarming, but even at the peak of its popularity only 10-20 percent of users became addicted. Even during the period of history when drugs like cocaine and heroin were freely available, which some historians, with their characteristic zeal for objectivity, have taken to calling “the Great Binge,” only a small minority of the population were addicted

Still, there are some concessions to be made. Even 3% addiction rates have proven to be quite damaging to a lot of people and a lot of towns. This is still a serious problem, and we need to think about solutions. In this, I think, is the key to sympathizing with some propagandists against drug use and for prohibition: they are responding to the human suffering they have observed with policies and agendas they believe will alleviate it. They’re just badly informed. I was slightly touched by the explanation given by the creator of Faces of Meth in Val Kilmer’s documentary, about what he does and why he does it:

“My greatest hope for my project, is that young people will see it- that one young person will see it and say, ‘you know what, that’s not for me’. The feeling of disgust associated with that drug will carry over into that child’s life, so that when someone passes him or her the pipe, he or she will say no without a second thought…

Appearance is important at that age; you gotta have the right kinda shoes, and you gotta have the right kind of clothes, and if you’re a parent, boy, you sure know that. So all I did was play on something that kids found very important, and that got their attention long enough for me to give them an education, and uh…that’s, that’s the best I can do.”

The sincerity is written on his face. He is doing the best he can to alleviate a real problem. But what kind of education is he giving them? Well, it isn’t a lasting education for two simples reasons: the disgust for meth he wishes to instill is ill-informed (with regards to the drug itself, not to the chronic addiction he paints as definitional of the drug), and a feeling rather than an actual education, and more importantly it is a feeling which I can tell you is obliterated by 20 milligrams of methamphetamine. That is fundamental to developing a better education. If their old, dishonest education is obliterated the moment they step into drug use or drug culture, then we’re leaving them totally unequipped. The question, obviously, is what tools will help people when they reach this point, as they invariably do. “Don’t do meth” didn’t work; they’re doing meth. Can we tell them how to do it more safely now?

I know it’s not as simple as deciding not to be lethally stupid with your drug use, sometimes, but I’d like to propose a hypothesis at this point. I believe that if people who desire the boost in productivity meth inspires were well enough informed, they could responsibly use it for this purpose. Clearly the first thing to understand is that human beings, get this, need to eat and sleep. Don’t stay awake for more than 24 hours, that’s stupid. Don’t use any drug for more than 12 hours straight, at the very outside. Eat. For the love of God, EAT! Don’t smoke it, and don’t habitually redose. Eat fifteen or twenty milligrams in the morning, maybe even a little at lunchtime, but that’s enough. Respect the law of diminishing returns: the more meth you do, the less meth will do for you. Take conservative doses (it’s a powerful drug anyway), and not every day – for the sake of your tolerance, your wallet, and your future. Granted, it is sometimes not that simple, but I believe most adults are perfectly capable of following this advice, and I believe further that very few have ever been given it.

This represents a subtle but fundamental shift in the way we educate people. While the Madison Avenue style propaganda discussed above is essentially targeted broadly, and at people who probably have no interest in methamphetamine, this idea means delivering education about methamphetamine to those who would benefit from it most: those considering trying it, and those who already use it. It involves taking information vital to the safety of a particular demographic, making it simple and digestible, and effectively delivering it to that demographic. I think it’s safe to say that targeted education would probably achieve better results than Madison Avenue style propaganda.

For more solutions, we might look to the factors which led to it taking off so strongly in the midwest United States. And we might also keep in mind that catering to a valid need or desire is not inherently unethical – meth, it has to be acknowledged, creates jobs, and could do so more responsibly and peacefully if it were legal.

Anyway, the meth trend in the Midwest US had a lot to do with economic depression. It was a rare growth market in an otherwise stagnant economy, the plainest implication of which is that it was (and is) capable of lifting large numbers of people out of poverty. In addition, and this goes some way towards explaining the previous fact, it allowed struggling people to work the incredible hours that conditions, engendered by their government, demanded of them. Taken together, these two facts suggest that problem meth use would not be as widespread as it is had the worker not been systematically disenfranchised for the last few hundred years. This is one significant solution to the ‘meth problem’ people observe: in addition to better education, we can cease to create the conditions in which problem meth use thrives.

This is important: drug users make rational choices. A lot of the popular knowledge about addiction derives in part from thoroughly flawed experiments, in which a rat is taken from its natural environment, is deprived of all stimulus, can only use a drug and -suprise, suprise- does so frequently. Later experiments have demonstrated that test subjects can and do choose other stimulus over drugs – when given a viable alternative means to their end, they will pass up drugs. Something else we can do, then, is to provide such alternatives, so that drugs like meth and crack don’t have to bare the full weight of our legitimate desires.

In short, unbiased and targeted education, economic freedom, and a robust civil society are capable of rendering meth benign to society – as it is already benign to the majority of people who use it.