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Review / Mike Power / Drugs 2.0

Mike Power, Drugs 2.0, Alexander Shulgin, sanyassin, Bhagwan Shree Rajnesh, Erowid, Bluelight

Mike Power’s book ‘Drugs 2.0’ is sub-titled ‘The Web Revolution That’s Changing How The World Gets High’ and that is exactly the story it tells. Times have massively changed with regards to drugs and to be honest I was pretty much unaware of this, bar the news reports on Mephedrone which the press labeled Meow Meow. I have to admit to me Meow Meow seemed a very toy town drug of no interest but what is clear on reading Power’s book is that its just one tiny drug in a whole new, and ever-growing, marketplace. As one seasoned drug user explains in the book, “My generation is ingrained with a set of rules for safe and sociable drug-taking, rules that have served us well for a long time. Well, the old rules no longer apply.”

When we were young you had a select choice of drugs (if that was your thing). We had coke, weed (in all its various forms), speed, LSD and E. The obvious… You sort of knew what you were getting if you entered into engaging with any of these and generally it was all alright. Well, as the seasoned user says, times have changed.

With the banning of many drugs you now have a world of synthesis, Chinese laborotries, ring substitution (changing particular molecular elements of the illegal drug to create a new legal version that sits outside of the law), and in the long run, a world of people trying out new drugs that have no history and hundreds of dealers willing to deliver. Add the internet to this equation and the fact that you can have many of these drugs delivered to your door in two days and it becomes a dangerous game. This is Mike Power’s story.

It’s clear from the book that many, no most, of these new drugs stem from the work of Alexander Shulgin, as Power calls him, ‘The Great Toolmaker’, creator of MDMA which no doubt many people are aware of. Throughout his career Shulgin synthesised thousands and thousands of drugs which were later published in the books PIHKAL and TIHKAL. These I now know form the basis of the new chemical generation. He pretty much single-handedly has created the new drug landscape.

Power explains the birth of the internet – the first online transaction being a marijuana deal between students being a sign of things to come – from a group of computer-literate enthusiasts wanting to build a well of knowledge, onto the birth of thread-based forum software, to the Tor browser – part of the ‘dark web’ – originally created by the American Navy.

Tor is an interesting one. After reading this book I wanted to find out more. Tor is a browser that encrypts your I.P address (your computers street address) and allows you to browse, and in turn buy, whatever you want anonymously. There is a website talked of in the book called the Silk Road where you can supposedly buy whatever drugs you like and within five minutes of digging about there it was. I now know I could order a gramme of coke, have it delivered to a P.O Box, and based on ratings by users, pretty much know its going to be good. Add in the aforementioned new drugs, or research chemicals as they are known, and there is your 2.0. Though saying that as huge numbers of these new research chemicals are legal there is a whole world available to you via Google of new white powders with unknown effects. Tor’s currency is bitcoins. An online version of the beer token you would have bought at a party – exchange your money for tokens and off you go.

The sanyassin are mentioned in the book, the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajnesh. These are the people who are rumoured to have first taken E to Ibiza. The story goes that in 1984 some of the sannyasin poisoned workers in the Oregan county of Wasco County with the goal of installing their own candidates. 700 people were made ill though with no fatalities. Soon after a number of sanyassin left and moved to the hippy haven that was Ibiza. They believed in using MDMA as a therapy tool though the drug soon found its way into the nightclubs. I remember speaking to DJ Alfredo once and he said he was once sanyassin. The birth of the MDMA/E culture that spread throughout the country has parallels with 2.0. The press uproar leading to many people reading about it and thinking ‘hold on, this sounds amazing’ can easily be applied to the Mephedrone story. As Power says ‘drug culture and the technology (the internet) not only nodded across the dancefloor at each other, they shook hands and embraced’.

Further reading led me to the websites Erowid and Bluelight. Both of these are information databases that give information on drugs, including all of the newly synthesised ones, with users telling of their experiences with them. As one user says on Erowid, “I went to the beach mixing cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms (ingested and smoked), ayahuasca, and tobacco. I had a very memorable day to say the least: I lost my wallet, I defecated in some shrubs, I swam in a high tide lake while mildly inebriated, and I danced without music for what felt like an hour. All in all, it was one of the best experiences of my life.” Often very funny these stories, and the amount of drugs that are on these sites, paint a pretty scary picture for the future of drug taking. As my friend John Hassay said, “some of those kids are on a totally different phase of play”.

Power’s book looks at all the issues involved with the new drugs world. Governments clearly at a loss as to what to do and the potential side-effects of this new on-going experiment. There was always that talk of E being one huge massive experiment in time of which we would see the side-effects at a later date but multiply that by a thousand and you have this brave new world. Couple this with tech-savvy web entrepreneurs and you have an audience, a supplier, and a lab all working together to bring a brand new high which is all perfectly legal.

Drugs 2.0 carries the story well. Though light in tone and often pretty funny, it delivers huge amounts of information, user experiences and a very balanced view. If I was younger it would have made me swap some cash for Bitcoins to see if this was all actually true and I am 100% sure it is. If I wanted a package to arrive on my doorstep with a decent gramme of coke, a magic mushroom synthesis or some new chemical cooked up by a budding chemistry graduate I am pretty sure I could get it. Drugs 2.0 is hugely informative and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you want to read about how we got to a place, as Power says, ‘one step ahead of the law’.

‘Drugs 2.0 – The Web Revolution That’s Changing How The World Gets High’ by Mike Power is out now published by Portobello Books.

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