How the Internet fuels the global psychedelic community
This year and the next, the United Nations will evaluate the War on Drugs. Since its official start in 1998 we have been bombed with official statistics on drug use, drug addiction, drug trafficking, street prices, courtcases and all the like. But what does this information tell us? Drugs are bad, drugs are expensive, drugs are addictive, drugs equal crime. These numbers obviously show us that drugs, despite of their bad reputation, are undeniably part of our society.
I am about to take a deeper look into a drug category that does not show up in the statistics provided by the drug monitoring institutions, that are mostly concerned with cocaine and (meth)amphetamines. The drugs within the category I'd like to talk about have a lot in common: they are 100% natural, they are mostly legal, they are not addictive, they provide an expansion of consciousness that can be described as a spiritual experience, they are used by a steadily increasing number of young people, and they are mostly sold over the Internet. How can I be sure about all this if statistics do not provide much information on the matter? It’s simple: the Internet demonstrates it.
On the menu are seeds with exotic names such as Hawaiian Baby Woodrose and Morning glory. You can buy ingredients for powerful shamanic potions like Ayahuasca and other indigenous sacraments from the depths of the Amazon. There are also relaxing herbs such as St. Jons Wort, Valerian, Blue lotus, stimulants such as Kratom, and hallucinogens that gained a particularly bad reputation among worrisome American parents such as Lady Salvia (Salvia divinorum). There are numerous online vendors that offer these legal psychedelics in their natural form, as plant material. Working for one of these suppliers I’ve witnessed ever increasing sales and returning customers since 1999. I’ve also witnessed an ever increasing number of competitors, with equally increasing sales. Some of them keep an assortment consisting of hundreds of different natural psychedelics; others focus on one easily available and fashionably marketable drug.
The Mighty Web
It appeared that the Web has exactly those qualities that proved essential for the formation of a large, global psychedelic community. More than any other non-mediated social phenomena the use of psychedelics was fueled by the Internet’s biggest successes: access to unbiased information, interactive communication and e-commerce. First hand information from experienced users has proved essential for those who consider using a certain drug. Erowid, with 45.000 documents generally considered the most extensive online source on psychedelic information, was one of the first websites that saw the importance of user submitted content. A few trip reports can provide you with the pitfalls and potentials more so than those static, moralistic, educational texts. But there is more to the psychedelic network that heavily clouds the Web; numerous blogs, dazzling artwork, news about psychedelic studies, podcasts with conference talks of “gurus” like Terence McKenna, and videos of - for instance - “psy” events like Burning Man.
The relation between psychedelics, commerce and computers is anyhow interesting. Hippie-trippy designs never lost their impact on modern graphic design. Computer graphics, animation and virtual reality have always been marked by psychedelics. And although Burning Man used to be labeled as too-hippie-to-mention, it is now considered the ultimate melting pot of creativity, freedom and happiness by the numerous Silicon Valley workers and Wall Street executives that join the parade of cosmic artists.
Problems and Challenges with Internet Sales
The sale of natural psychedelics is not as natural as it may seem, at least in most countries. Nowadays, only in a few countries are natural psychedelics - and smoking supplies too - openly sold and marketed according to their intended use. Back in the 70's they used to be available obscurely in London head shops and the Amsterdam red light district. It was in the early nineties Conscious Dreams opened the first “smart shop” in Amsterdam, a place that offered 100% natural drugs over the counter to adults. Non-chemical enery pills and so-called magic mushrooms, first available over-the-counter in 1994, were the biggest hits. Spain, Italy and other countries followed. Azarius, also from the Netherlands was the first European online smart shop, supplying only over the Internet. People from many parts of the world can buy the natural products and get information on their use and history. However, things are a little complicated for these web shops that operate within the legal framework. Shipping restrictions are necessary, but finding out what can and can not be sent to a given country or state is difficult due to unclearly stated and often changing national legislation. For example, if it is legal to sell a certain plant extract, does that also apply to its seeds, its fruits and the synthesized form of its active substance? To be “safe” from governmental penalties most shops refrain from marketing their wares as consumption goods. Unfortunately this does not make things safer for the customer who - consequently - does not receive any dosage information or user guidelines with ordered products. But the solution to this is also provided by the freedom and neutrality of the Internet, where this information can be found within a few mouse clicks.
Social applications such as forums, book marking sites, communities, and online networks show us that the psychedelic movement is not a separated subculture, but a movement perfectly integrated in society. There are Facebook and MySpace groups directed to the use of entheogens, Amazon can help you fill quite some bookshelves with works on psychedelics, and even your neighbor might have booked an ayahuasca healing session for his planned trip to South America. Every person can be a psychonaut. Although we're still talking about a niche that has to deal with major oppression from politics and religion, it is as alive and expanding as the Internet itself.
- Jakobien van der Weijden