Educated Guesses and Other Ways to Address the Pharmacological Uncertainty of Designer DrugsHe is lrgal appointed as a junior fellow conducting virtual ethnography for the ChemicalYouth project, which includes a follow-up study of the popular drug forum EROWID, see http: Anita Hardon is a professor in anthropology of care and health at the University of Amsterdam. She has published extensively on medicine use and edited a special issue on Ethnographies of Youth Drugs Use in Asia for the International Journal for Drug Policy. This study examines how experimentation with designer drugs is mediated by the Internet. We selected a popular drug forum that presents reports on self-experimentation anavar oral tabs little or even completely unexplored designer drugs china white legal high trip report examine:
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He is currently appointed as a junior fellow conducting virtual ethnography for the ChemicalYouth project, which includes a follow-up study of the popular drug forum EROWID, see http: Anita Hardon is a professor in anthropology of care and health at the University of Amsterdam. She has published extensively on medicine use and edited a special issue on Ethnographies of Youth Drugs Use in Asia for the International Journal for Drug Policy.
This study examines how experimentation with designer drugs is mediated by the Internet. We selected a popular drug forum that presents reports on self-experimentation with little or even completely unexplored designer drugs to examine: Our methods included passive observation online, engaging more actively with the online community using an avatar, and off-line interviews with key interlocutors to validate our online findings.
We suggest that these techniques contribute to a sense of control in the face of the possible toxicity of unknown or little-known designer drugs.
The online reporting of effects allows users to experience not only the thrill of a new kind of high but also connection with others in the self-experimenting drug community. Since the beginning of the new millennium, designer drugs , or novel psychoactive substances NPS , have been raising concerns among policy makers, law enforcement, and biomedical professionals alike Corazza et al. As designer drugs are generally not used as medication, 2 most have not been subjected to clinical trials.
Experiences with designer drugs are shared on a wide variety of online fora and websites with user-generated content. The European Union—funded Psychonaut Web Mapping project, which ran between January and December , found key online resources providing information and detailing user experiences on different substances Deluca et al.
In the beginning of their life cycles, these substances are only used by a few. But they can grow to become very popular, as was the case with 2,5-dimethoxybromophenethylamine 2C-B Jenkins, Our study explores how participants of one online forum, containing reports on self-experimentation with little or even completely unexplored designer drugs, navigate the uncertainties associated with using them.
Khan, an experienced user and key informant in our study, described these experimenters as follows:. The people that are kind of already experimenting with the new chemicals before the drug actually becomes popular—they do not really care what the background of a substance is, psychedelic, stimulant, aphrodisiac, sedative or dissociative, they just like to try new stuff and explore these different states of mind, new experiences. How do edgeworkers avoid disastrous effects in the face of the pharmacological uncertainty involved in ingesting novel substances for which there is no or scant information on their toxicology and effects?
This study examines how the virtual space of a drug forum helps to reduce pharmacological uncertainty. More specifically, we examine 1 how participants report their trying out of unexplored designer drugs online and 2 how participants reduce the pharmacological uncertainty associated with using them.
Zinn argues that strategies may be rational , nonrational , or in-between and that all play important roles. Rational strategies Zinn suggests include the weighing of options and the numeric calculation of chances. In-between strategies can be based on trust, emotions, or intuition, while nonrational strategies rely on faith, belief, or hope.
In the collaborative online experimentation that we studied, we found in-between strategies—involving trust in the testimonials of others and in the suppliers of chemicals—to be crucial, alongside more rational strategies that involve numerical weighing and dosing. Our case study focuses on a website whose users engage in risky behavior, in that they are among the first human subjects to try out novel chemical compounds before they can become the objects of surveillance or monitoring. They must be ordered at custom laboratories or chemical supply companies often but not exclusively located in China.
Instead of the colorful packaging often seen in smart shops and outlets of the legal highs market Hillebrand et al. We selected this particular website in large part due to its popularity: It counts over 40, registered users and , visitors per month according to www. If a new chemical compound is deemed to have a positive risk-benefit ratio on this site, its leading participants could well be pioneers in setting broader drug use trends, as was the case with 2C-B cf.
The online forum that we studied enables discussions in the form of text, video, audio, and shared links. These statements, or posts, allow for user-initiated communication within the forum. The discussions are not time limited: User-initiated threads can last from days to years and are open-ended. Our research employed netnography , a form of explorative virtual participatory research Kozinets, Although we complemented our online observations with off-line interviews to triangulate our findings, the virtual interactions remain our focus.
Nevertheless, this kind of online drug research has limitations. We learn little about who or where the participants are or about their everyday lives—and can verify even less.
Alongside at times their gender and information relevant to drug efficacy such as body weight and prior experience with drugs, we can only glean limited information about the social configurations in which drugs are used and who gets involved when something goes wrong. The research took place between February and April and involved ongoing iterative communication on the forum. We used the following methods: Lurking or passive observation. Mendelson advises asking website administrators for permission to post in the forum but also to form a partnership between administrators, participants, and researchers, a principle to which we adhered.
We contacted the administrators as gatekeepers of the forum about our status and intentions as researchers via a private message. We also attached the same information to our user avatar in the forum, so that anyone who looked at our profile could see that we were participating in the forum as researchers with specific interests. We conducted passive observation approximately 7 hr per week for 3 months a total of 90 hr.
Using an avatar to conduct participant observation in the forum. The avatar permitted us to interact with other forum participants, to ask and answer questions, to feel out how it is to be an active member of the forum, and to use the technology that permits forum communications, mainly threads, posts, and private messages.
Interaction with the avatar was irregular and depended on whether people reacted to comments made by the avatar. We participated in 20 threads of communication through the avatar. Conducting off-line face-to-face interviews in order to triangulate the findings of our online research. Interviews were conducted with forum members via Skype and in public places, adhering to complete anonymity and designer drug experimenters not actively part of the forum but engaged in similar practices. We held such in-depth interviews with seven interlocutors five men and two women to gain insight into how the online forum mediates drug experimentation and how drug experimenters use the online space to minimize harm.
All of our interlocutors were university graduates; two were unemployed and five had regular stable jobs. All users in the forum used pseudonyms, which we changed again for this article. Even so, we wrestled with the question of anonymity and how to quote online material, as some of the quotes could be traced via Google and other search engines.
As anthropologists we want to give voice to online drug use reporters, but how to do so while protecting their anonymity? We considered the two following positions: Online spaces are public spaces: Public message boards forums have overwhelmingly been seen as public domain by authors who have conducted similar research e. They thus mention the names of the forums they study. Participants think that they are communicating in private: Cavanagh summarizes our dilemma: So how do we, as researchers, distinguish between interactions which are intended for the entire community of Net users, to which we might with validity be said to belong?
Taking the privacy concerns of Cavanagh and Waskul and Douglas into account, we developed an additional protocol for our online research that balances the protection of informants with the knowledge gained from learning from their experiences.
Our procedure involves the following five safeguards: We do not include the name of the forum in our publications and other reports. We modified the quotes, making minor changes that make them untraceable by search engines, without changing the meaning or the language style used in the text. We searched for the modified quotes and ensured that the source of the quotes could not be found using multiple search engines.
By not mentioning the name of the forum and by ensuring that the quotes from the forum cannot be traced with the use of search engines, our study is consistent with our commitment to anonymity. The use of designer drugs comes with particular risks rooted in their unexplored nature.
Forum participants order chemicals directly from international chemical suppliers, custom laboratories, and specialized vendors, and to reduce pharmacological uncertainty, systematically report on the reliability of sources and product quality. The following two reviews of vendors are anonymized examples of such quality control:. Because counterfeit and mislabeled products are key concerns cf. They also provide the chemical formulas of compounds online. The informants interviewed off-line by the first author asserted that pharmacological uncertainty is diminished by ordering chemicals with the same CAS number from known vendors.
Some even make use of microscopes to more closely examine the crystalline structure. The senses, however, can only go so far as products often have a similar appearance and determining their chemical structure requires laboratory equipment cf.
Feedback on chemicals that appear counterfeit, mislabeled, or toxic are posted on the forum, a crucial feature of the online trying out of chemicals. Without such feedback, users would be on their own in trying out unknown substances. The collective examining, evaluating, and reporting give experimenters a sense of control over the risks they are taking.
In conducting these experiments, they seem unworried about the integrity of the online reporting of others whom they have generally never met face-to-face; nor do they seem concerned about the chemical stability of substances ordered from faraway places which at times take more than a week to arrive. Instead, they trust that the online spaces where information is exchanged can reduce the likelihood of harm. This mix of rational evaluation and trust can be characterized as an in-between strategy Zinn, for addressing uncertainty.
Forum participants further sought to confront pharmacological uncertainty through careful measuring to determine correct or optimal dosages. But a key feature of designer drugs is that their potency is generally not yet known. Website administrators and visitors emphasize the need to use professional scales to weigh the initial dose carefully. When such scales are unavailable, users must improvise.
Louie posted his experience with a self-developed method of measuring potentially potent drug materials that makes use of iteration:. I did this in a hurry at a celebration lately with good results so I think I should post it with its practical use:.
Measured on my weed scale and I have 2 grams of butylone. Best is mix it with water in order to know exactly the dose to ingest. Like for milligrams in milliliter. But what if you are outside or in the forest, celebrating away from your home laboratory? Just put all two grams on a mirror or something, then split it into quarters. When you look now, you can probably see that one pile is larger than the others.
Mix the largest and smallest pile and re-split them. Do the same with the two others. Split each of them again, looking for the biggest and smallest, and repeat.