Drugs and The Internet
A brief oral history
Episode 61 of SH!TPOST will feature an oral history of drug culture as it relates to the creation and infrastructure of the internet we all access at-large for more sober purposes. In light of its inherent grimy and taboo substance, many of the tools and styling of drug subcultures online have etched themselves into the foundation of the internet we all use today.
To be perfectly clear: this episode of the podcast is not an encouragement or endorsement of drug use. Rather, this episode is intended to be an informative lesson in internet history and how it informs how we surf the World Wide Web today. There are serious health and legal consequences to drug use that readers must consider before engaging in such activities.
And just a heads up—this episode might be a day later than usual. I’m traveling this weekend and will mostly be offline.
Drugs & The Internet
Before my grandfather was on Facebook sharing Ole & Lena jokes, digital spaces existed as renegade playgrounds for those who dared to challenge the normality of dirt-and-asphalt communities in small rural towns and the sprawling metropolis. As a teenager, I was drawn to the internet, where I learned of subcultures that existed out of the homogeneous milk-and-cornbread Arkansas life I had been incubated in.
Teenage me plugged into communities I didn’t have access to otherwise. I learned a lot about photography, chatted on the regular with other paintball enthusiasts, and mused over deep soul-searching questions on forum boards with other kids like me who didn’t know what to make of their growing awareness of their place in the world. Aside from scratching the itch of my teenage, horny and confused mind, the internet piqued my curiosity and opened my eyes to new worlds.
For many years after Eternal September set in, the web remained a virtual underground. Naturally, one of America’s most prominent subcultures—the drug-using community—dabbled early into its own place online. It’s kind of like Rule 34, except instead of pornography existing, it’s trying to get high. That subculture in the subculture captured my imagination. I read tale after tale of experiences that seemed unfathomable to my then-young mind.
I wonder what it feels like
To be more than I am
One of the most intriguing Reddit communities I knew of growing up was r/trees. It was a place where glassy eyed and hopelessly stoned cannabis consumers congregated and shared tips and techniques for achieving the perfect level of plant-induced stupor. An entire subculture was contained in the subforum, and even beyond Reddit—which was its own kind of digital offshoot to begin with. R/trees had its own community artists, sense of humor, and lingo to describe the seemingly important things in life, like precisely how high someone thought they were when they were reacting to a piece of content shared in the sub-forum. The forum has even earned citations in academic research, as reported last year.
I was always a lurker on Reddit and remain one to this day, but I remember stumbling across r/trees frequently on the homepage of Reddit years ago and becoming almost instantly fascinated. These communities seemed to draw large audiences because then—and, honestly, still very much today—cannabis use was widely considered something to be looked down upon in society. Those who got their highs were considered undesirable and the web offered a space for curious minds to obtain and share information, of which the solicitation of in real life could result in social consequences or jail time. It was a place of common cause. That cause, of course, was the simple pursuit of watching cartoons and thinking about deep life stuff, man.
Another early curiosity of mine was Erowid, the non-profit educational organization that first emerged online in 1995 and ended up playing host to a de facto encyclopedia of psychoactive chemicals and plant matter for those seeking to experiment with the bounds of their consciousness. I spent hours reading the first-hand narratives of people who had ingested various substances.
Erowid would make its best efforts to ensure visitors knew how to engage with these substances as safely as known to be possible at the given moment. According to Wikipedia, Erowid hosts over 63,000 documents related to over 737 psychoactive substances and their website is visited millions of people every year. There is clearly an audience for that information, even still today.
In many ways, the parts of the internet associated with the core of drug culture are still with us today. Bitcoin remains one of the most popular cryptocurrencies in the United States, despite the fact that Bitcoin was the currency of choice for many users of the dark web black market Silk Road.
The website, launched in 2011, offered anyone with a broadband connection and proficiency in Tor browsing access to guns, drugs, and other illicit things, mailed discreetly to their door. It was the early Amazon Marketplace of psychoactive chemicals; users could purchase any mind-altering substance imaginable under the guise of anonymity. After Sen. Chuck Schumer caught wind of the site that year, he called for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to move in on the site.
In 2013, the FBI arrested the creator of Silk Road, who was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A couple bootleg versions of the marketplace cropped up in the following year, but buyers were wary and the projects were similarly foiled by federal authorities. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone was surprised that Silk Road was going to get shut down, but for many, the allure of gawking at live listings for drugs unknown to the average person introduced them to the very concept of the unlisted internet.
Drugs and the internet are not so separable. The bricks of the digital gateway were laid by innovators who had their own offline realities altered via chemical intervention. Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, described taking LSD as “one of the most important things in [his] life.”
“It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could,” Jobs said.
As more people join the internet, drug communities online have joined the background buzz. But despite its fading position at the forefront, and its faded users, the drugged-up internet remains undeniably etched into the fabric of our digital world.
This is Wad Country
In the political space online there exists a certain self-styled commentator: the wad.
A wad is easy to spot in the wild. Wads enjoy indulging in bad faith both-sides comparisons, feeding faux outrage stories to naive audiences, and inciting harassment against those who offer warranted criticism or scrutiny against their day-to-day grift.
The right-wing wads will often insist that they hold centrist or social-left political views, and they cower behind that supposed self-identification to deflect from their detractors while they repeat partisan talking points verbatim. Wads claim to be beacons of objectivity, yet they fail to attempt the most basic fact-checking or verification efforts. Wads yell at the computer screen, and sometimes on camera, often adding little reliable information or commentary to the situations they feel entitled to weigh in on.
There’s a certain strategic value among the Right for harboring a class of wads in their ranks. The Right can present these wads as their own self-styled journalists, and by reinventing the definition of objectivity, they can reinforce their narrative that the Democratic Party is making a radical shift to the far-left. If only. The effect here is that the center is re-framed, making way for more intensely right-wing ideologies.
I’m aware that this could come across as name-calling, but these folks should be considered for what they are. Wads, wads, wads.
Yeah we're locked up in ideas
We like to label everything
Well I'm just gonna do here what I gotta do here
The Democratic Party 2020 campaign debates kicked off last week. Here’s a few gems from those nights:
Absolutely brutal own that made my jaw drop:
Heartbreaking because there’s some truth here:
Any pro bono lawyers on this mailing list?
Hands down the best description of Dave Rubin I have ever read.
If you have the time, this take-down of Ben Shapiro is through.