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Drug Geeks
Informed Peers in the Psychoactive Community
by Earth & Fire Erowid
Jun 2004
Citation:   Erowid E, Erowid F. "Drug Geeks: Informed Peers in the Psychoactive Community". Erowid Extracts. Jun 2004;6:8-10.
The following is an adaptation of a light-hearted presentation given at the Mindstates Jamaica conference in October 2002 about the role of peers in psychoactive information distribution networks. It was also published as an article in Trip magazine's final issue that saw limited distribution.

Everyone knows at least one: the walking encyclopedia of trivia about baseball, film or some other miscellaneous topic.

Even those with no connection to the psychoactive research and user communities are likely to be familiar with the stereotype of the uneducated "druggie" blithely stumbling from one drug experience to the next. But the pantheon of characters who spend their time immersed in the intricacies of the interface between body and mind is surprisingly diverse. The lay person can easily fail to recognize the "druggie" in that pharmacology or chemistry student intimately familiar with serotonin-transporter research, or in the talented photographer next door, or perhaps in the exceptionally green-thumbed forensic pathologist.

Character Sketch
"Drug Geeks" are individuals who self-identify (either publicly or privately) as being knowledgeable about psychoactives. Their deep interest in the topic makes them avid learners. When sitting around talking with friends, they get up to find an answer to a question. They do a web search or look up information in a book. More than that, they are the ones with the reference books to begin with. Within any group of friends, they are the individuals whom others go to for questions about psychoactive drugs. They attend psychoactive-related conferences, meticulously document their own experiences in a journal, read scientific articles, subscribe to psychedelic magazines to keep up with the latest knowledge, or browse trip reports "for fun".

Drug Geeks don't necessarily use a lot of psychoactives themselves. Many fulfill their interest by studying the subject, writing about it, or experiencing it vicariously through the writings of others. Others enjoy working with extremely mild herbs, supplements, and technologies and prefer to avoid the stronger alterants. For some people, these can provide a more consistent long-term relationship with psychoactives since they don't require as much energy and time as buying and ingesting the more socially disapproved plants or chemicals.

The self-taught expert is present in every field of study, within every hobby and every community. One of the differentiating factors when it comes to psychoactives is the danger (legally, socially and professionally) inherent in demonstrating this knowledge and expertise to those outside of the subculture. This adds a mystery school component to the system, creating secret experts; by day a normal college student--by night the leading expert in the Midwest on undetectable dorm room cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms.

The Collector
One of the drug geek sub-types is the Collector. This is the individual who collects samples of as many different psychoactives as possible. They may not care if they have enough for a dose and they may not have any particular interest in ingesting the substances they collect (they often don't). Their primary interest is in having a reference sample for their collection.

The first time we encountered this type, a man offered to show us what he called his "baseball card collection". From the context of the conversation, it was clear he was talking about psychoactives, but beyond that we had no idea what he meant. He brought out a small box filled with dozens of carefully labeled plastic bags, vials, and neatly folded bits of tinfoil. He opened each item, one by one, to show us the small pile of powder, pills, paper, or material inside. His collection included a wide array of tryptamines, phenethylamines, and curious plant extracts, many of which we had never seen before.

He described when and how he had acquired each, some more than 10 years before. He waxed nostalgic about the experiences he'd had when ingesting a particular material or about the person from whom he had acquired it. Many of the items had stories about their provenance: the chemist who made them and how they got from the chemist to him. He also had empty containers that contained residue of substances from some of his most memorable experiences. He would smell them and offer whiffs to us as he related their stories.

Since that first encounter more than five years ago, we've met many other Collectors. Some specialize in one class of substance, like the person who sent us a photo of his ecstasy tablet collection including dozens of imprints, or the many who collect LSD blotter art, both dipped and un-dipped.

Another Collector we've encountered has gathered all of the psychoactive chemicals he can find and plans to take a dose of each one and encase it in plastic, creating a collection of desktop paperweights which he thinks--even with scheduled drugs--might be quasi-legal.

The Taster
While the Collector collects objects, the Taster collects experiences. Tasters are people who want to have tried everything. They pride themselves on trying as many substances as possible, seeking out and being the first to experience new substances, as well as trying uncommon and interesting combinations. Often the Tasters don't ingest any given substance very many times and have no intention of doing so. Instead, they are connoisseurs of variety.

It is not unusual for the Taster's excitement to be higher near the beginning of his or her relationship with psychoactives, and so many Tasters are younger with less years of experience under their belts. But some go on to long careers of methodically finding and trying new substances.

Some Tasters spend their time comparing and contrasting the similarities and subtle differences between the substance they've tried -- MDA vs. MDMA or 2C-I vs. 2C-B -- while others simply check each substance off their long list after trying it. But, regardless of whether they are lusting after the elusive mescaline, 4-methyl-aminorex, or the almost mythical ALD-52, what unites Tasters is their desire to try new substances.

The Daredevil
The Daredevil shares some characteristics with the Taster, but this type wants to push the limits of experience (and often of safety) by doing higher doses and having more mind-bending experiences than others. Some Daredevils don't qualify as Drug Geeks at all and are simply thrill seekers, but there are those Daredevils who are actually looking to accumulate knowledge--part of the definition of a Drug Geek--by their willingness to push the boundaries ever further. This type should not be confused with the Hard Head (who requires higher doses than others to reach comparable effects), although they do sometimes overlap.

Plant Geeks
Plant Geeks are those who focus their attention on the plant kingdom. Some grow a wide variety of psychoactive plants, while others specialize in a particular genus or in those containing a specific substance. Plants may be chosen because of their academic, historical, cultural, or metaphysical significance, and again, may not be intended for ingestion. An earlier interest in ingesting psychoactives may have been transmuted into a longer-term interest in the botany, chemistry, and spirit of the plants. The relationship between humans and power plants or plant allies is important to many Plant Geeks.

We visited one Plant Geek while we were in a semi-tropical area outside the U.S. They showed us around their extensive outdoor garden, which included kava kava, Banisteriopsis caapi, Brugmansia, and a variety of other psychoactive plants. We were shown through their greenhouse, where they allowed us to photograph every plant but one. We were asked not to take pictures of that specific plant because they had a very special relationship with it which they did not want to endanger.

Another Plant Geek we met had their entire property overgrown with Salvia divinorum. Hallways and sidewalks were lined with S. divinorum of all sizes, from the smallest cutting ("please take a couple!") to 9-foot tall flowering specimens that they were carefully hand-pollinating. Another had a cactus collection spread across several properties. New spots were carefully chosen for cuttings and friends were enlisted to help dig, carry, and move them from one location to another.

And then there's the world of Plant Geeks that focuses entirely on mushrooms and mushroom cultivation. From local mycology clubs that have substantial numbers of psilocybe-philes to the huge network of amateur and professional mycologists focusing on psychoactive varieties, the mushroom Plant Geek is a surprisingly common breed. One may focus on perfecting a specific technique for closet cultivation while another combs the local forests to find all the best spots where mushrooms grow in the wild. One Plant Geek we've met specializes in developing techniques for outdoor guerrilla planting of Psilocybe species to spots he never plans to harvest: it's just his own private protest and gift to the world.

It may be surprising that many of these people rarely (if ever) ingest any psychoactive plants themselves. They are often hesitant or unwilling to initiate anyone new, and have no interest in selling anything. One myco-geek we met enjoys the process of growing for its own sake: he figures out how to cultivate new psilocybin-producing species, gets them to fruit, writes up his notes, buries the fruit, then starts again with a new species.

Chemistry Geek
One of the more prominent geek types is the Chemistry Geek. Everyone involved in studying psychoactives for long will eventually meet one. They range from the undergrad who dreams of mastering LSD synthesis to the professional PhD with 40 years of bench experience. They can often be identified by the bits of paper in their pockets covered with arachnoid scribblings of new molecules, analytical results, or synthesis steps.

While at Burning Man 2001, we were asked by a visitor if we could show them the structure of 4-methyl-aminorex. We were unable to find the structure in our small on-playa library and also failed to find anyone else familiar with it. This failure came up in conversation at Burning Man 2002 as we sat talking to a friendly chemist-type who stopped by our dome. He knew the 4-methyl-aminorex structure and drew it on the white board we kept strapped to the wall, then went on his way. A different chemist, who stopped by the dome later that day, recognized the molecule (despite it not being labeled) and commented that he'd been thinking about the 4-methyl-aminorex synthesis process for a while but was still missing one part. He spent 15 minutes carefully drawing a series of steps for a potential synthesis path, leaving a large space in the middle marked with a question mark. Another day passed and a third chemist dropped in, pausing in front of the whiteboard. Noting the missing step, he commented "oh that step is easy", erased the question mark and replaced it with another drawing of some benzene ring and squiggly lines and letters. Soon afterwards the chemist who had drawn the original synthesis returned to find his drawing completed. He got very excited and happily exclaimed "Yes, yes! I think that would probably work!"

For those of us who have only a passing familiarity with organic chemistry or those for whom "the tryptamine backbone" is a meaningless phrase, the cryptic language of the Chemistry Geek is something to be experienced aesthetically. It seems a mix of technology and magic, somehow both modern and medieval in its translation from flask to writing and back again. There is something smile-inducing about watching Sasha Shulgin wave his arms as he talks about the "dirty pictures" of organic chemistry or listening to experienced chemists as they chatter at high speed in an alchemical dialect known only to themselves.

The Chemistry Geek is perhaps one of the most heralded of the drug geeks, both within the subculture and in the mainstream. There are PhD programs and a large pharmaceutical industry that spur them on to new heights. It's one of the few drug geek subtypes that can reliably lead to a well paid career, although most Chemistry Geeks must keep their less-approved interests very quiet lest they attract unwanted attention and scrutiny.

Photo Geek
There are also those who prefer photographs of psychoactive plants and chemicals to the substances themselves. Like mainstream mycological photographers we've met who don't particularly care for eating mushrooms, there are those who spend their time and energy seeking plants with psychoactive properties to capture as images. One of the benefits of this flavor of obsession is that it avoids some of the potential legal risks incurred by the geek types that like to handle, collect, or produce controlled substances.

Fire and I certainly qualify as Photo Geeks. My first thought when someone talks about a substance they've tried or a plant they're growing is to self-consciously wonder how rude it would be to ask if we could take a picture of it. "Where's the camera?" runs through my mind along with "I wonder if the scanner is in the carů"

At an outdoor all-night dance party a few years ago, a cute young female came up to us and asked us if we wanted any E. As a part of our process of watching and documenting the psychoactive-using subculture, we asked if she was selling any other substances. She replied that she also had 2C-B. I told her "We're not interested in buying any, but how would you feel if we took some pictures of what you've got?" She was initially a little put off by our request, but she called over her boyfriend to consult. We got into a long conversation about their strange underground business of supplying psychoactives at parties, about the ethics of selling, and about their belief that their work helped strengthen the community. After talking, he was happy to let us take pictures of his wares, so we then spent thirty minutes in a corner photographing their nice individually labeled 22.5 mg vials of 2C-B.

And Many More...
These are only some of the more common varieties of specialist Drug Geeks. Perhaps the most common Drug Geek is the Generalist who is at heart interested in how psychoactives are (mis)used and (mis)understood by society, and who enjoys discovering and promulgating factual information. The Supplement Geek knows just the right combination of vitamins, minerals or nutraceuticals to pre-load for trips, improve effects, soften the comedown, recharge the day after, or rebalance the system. The Law Geek reads every related court opinion, monitors ongoing cases, knows the flaws and vagaries of every psychoactive related law, and stays abreast of the minutiae of Federal Register filings by the DEA. The Music Geek collects traditional music like icaros and songs from the ayahuasca churches, tracks which music is best to accompany each type of experience, or writes their own to fill in where lacking. The History Geek knows the origins of specific substances, which plants were traditionally used by which culture, who first synthesized psilocybin and in what year, when mescaline was scheduled, and what government organization was in charge of drug laws at the time. The Art Geek keeps their finger on the pulse of psychoactive art: who keeps the best collections, where there are current showings, whose art has been used on LSD blotter. And the list goes on and on.

Regardless of the subject matter, specialists such as those described above serve an important purpose. Without attention from aficionados who focus intensely on the unique and obscure details of a given field of knowledge, that knowledge stagnates. It often seems to be the large corporations, institutions, and big dollars that drive the advancement of knowledge, but behind these are key individuals with a keen interest in learning, teaching, archiving, or documenting. Whether they work in a field where they are well paid, or one where they volunteer, it is these information geeks that push the boundaries of knowledge and understanding.