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the couple behind the wiki of drugs

Culture
Illustration by Merijin Hos

a long, strange trip.

Two hours east of San Francisco, buried under stacks of reference books and research documents, lit by the glow of half a dozen computer screens, emailing professors and methamphetamine users alike, Fire and Earth Erowid are frantically growing their 20-year-old labor of love. Launched in 1995, the donor-supported Erowid.org contains dense, invaluable information about psychoactive drugs, but unless you’re a chemist, advocate, or someone who likes to trip balls, you’ve probably never heard of it. Psychoactive drugs are typically the fun ones, but often the scary and illegal ones, too. This vast encyclopedia holds photographs, toxicology reports, dosage recommendations, and other vital information on substances including, but certainly not limited to: synthetic marijuana, cocaine, DMT, LSD, GHB, MDMA, 2C-B, heroin, and crack cocaine. Erowid is a name created by Fire and Earth, which roughly means “earth wisdom,” and the site hosts more than 60,000 pages and articles, and gets about 90,000 unique visitors a day—a massive number considering its content. Erowid is run by its four full-time employees, dozens of volunteer contributors, and tens of thousands of Good Samaritans whose first-person testimonials add just the right amount of glee and dread to keep the catalog entertaining and honest. It’s backbreaking work for Fire and Earth, but it’s a project they hope will guide drug reform and help people make safer decisions about psychoactives. 

The couple, now in their mid-40s, met in high school, but became romantic partners while at New College in Sarasota, Florida. “It’s definitely on the liberal end of liberal arts colleges,” Fire says. Earth finished school with a degree in Anthropology, though his title at Erowid is Technical Director and Chief Software Engineer. Fire graduated with a general liberal arts degree, and acts as the site’s Head Archivist and “primary information architect, designer, and editor.” It was in college, during the late ’80s and early ’90s, that the pair also began their professional partnership, first by taking note of fellow students’ use of psychedelics around campus. After witnessing some very bad trips, it became clear to them that without readily available, credible information about illicit substances—or at the very least a non-judgmental platform to discuss the drugs—young people would continue to have bad, dangerous, and potentially fatal experiences. “There were many students making choices for the first time about whether to try alcohol or cannabis, LSD or MDMA,” says Fire. “They ended up relying on the opinion of older students as ‘elders’ who would help guide them. It seemed like a tragedy of the drug war that the experiences, mistakes, and opinions of previous generations were not available to young adults making important health decisions.” After college, Fire researched and wrote about plant use in European witchcraft, while Earth worked at a technology company and grew his interest in psychoactives. Then in 1994, during the first gasp of the tech boom, the Erowids moved to the Bay Area excited to organize their ideas online. In April 1995, Erowid.org was a registered domain, and by 2000 the two had quit their day jobs to commit to the project full-time. 

What began as a research archive grew into a site with applications limited only by a user’s imagination. Erowid’s Basics pages, which enumerate the dose, price, chemistry, effects, etc., for over 100 different substances, became—and continue to be—a great place to get accurate information before a trip. For example, on the ketamine Basics page, under the sub-head “Problems,” it states: “Do not swim. Avoid bodies of water—at least two deaths have been recorded where an individual took a bath after using ketamine, and drowned.” 

Very soon after its launch, Erowid spawned a secondary function, or perhaps a side-effect, as a vast sharing network—one in which users trade hallucinatory trip descriptions in the Experience Vaults or solicit advice on consuming two or more substances together on communal message boards or directly with the site’s experts using its aptly named email portal, sage@erowid.org. To Fire, Erowid draws all kinds of people, but suits drug geeks best. “Drug geeks span the range from dreadlocked stoners who know their bud to the highest level of technical brain-scan experts in the National Institutes of Health (NIH),” she says. In just the past two years, Erowid has received 6,500 new reports submitted to the Experience Vaults. 

One man I spoke to for this article, a 29-year-old who works in the entertainment industry in New York (we’ll call him Tom), remembers being sent a link to Erowid.org over AIM as a sophomore in high school in Wisconsin. He and his friends had experimented once before with DXM, the active psychoactive ingredient in many over-the-counter cough suppressants. “We found out through Erowid that Coricidin was the one brand on the market that had the least amount of other…shit. DXM was what you wanted to overdose on, and any complications came from overdosing on the other things that were a part of the medicine,” says Tom. After two years, and perhaps in some way responding to online discourse about the drug, Coricidin boxes were moved behind glass in stores. For Tom, Erowid served a dual purpose—first as a source to maximize his high, but also a way to practice harm reduction. 

Illustration by Merijin Hos / Photo by Maria Del Rio

Today, many of the testimonials found in the Experience Vaults can be harrowing, the brain-bending stuff of nightmares, while others are hilarious, encouraging, or end in the equivocal “might do again.” One example, submitted by a woman whose handle is CrystalGoddess, chronicles a very bad DMT trip: “Space and time didn’t exist. And I realized that this was the space, in-between the spaces. The code behind the matrix. The stuff that everything is made of. And that is when the chaos sent me into hysterics…. I remember seeing the horror of the familiarness [sic] of not being in reality, seeing fractals in chaos, and the feelings of utter degradation of self, the power of feeling worthless in the eyes of everything. I can understand how people can experience this and say that they saw God. It is—absolutely mindfucking.”

Jonathan Taylor, a tenured professor and graduate advisor of geography at Cal State Fullerton, has been editing, fact checking, writing book reviews, and contributing content on synthetic stimulants and others for Erowid since 2008. He believes that Erowid’s Experience Vaults function as weapons in the fight for harm reduction in psychoactive drug use—one that he says is “frequently missing from scholarly work on drugs and drug consumption.” Taylor uses the section as the basis for one of his students’ favorite assignments, Virtual Drug Trip, in which they review dozens of Experience Vaults submissions on a single psychoactive substance, and then construct their own first-person essay about how it might feel to be on that drug. Here is a sample from professor Taylor’s assignment for his class, The Geography of Illegal Drugs:

Your job is to get a good idea of what the experience of using this substance may be subjectively. So you want to pay attention to what the users say are the main effects the compound had on them, physiologically and psychologically.

Here are some questions you can ask of the reports:

• Was the experience pleasant, frightening, depressing, sickening, euphoric, transcendental, emotional, spiritual, therapeutic, or otherwise notable?
• Did the user feel that the drug would be worth taking again, or was it an experience they would not want to repeat?
• Did the drug have significant side effects or unforeseen consequences?
• Did the dosage of the drug seem appropriate to the user?
• Did the user experience any lasting impacts, either negative or positive, from using this drug?
• Was the drug used alone or in combination with other drugs?

Many Americans do not embrace professor Taylor’s passion for drug reform. They do not consider CrystalGoddess’s experimentation a unique brand of bravery, or Tom’s online research a worthwhile pursuit. What Fire described earlier as “the tragedy of the drug war” might seem like a catchall term borrowed from a bygone, Reefer Madness era—especially when you consider 23 states now allow the use of medical marijuana. Prohibition on the whole, however, is still a sturdy pillar of American culture and politics. According to the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, the U.S. spends more than $51 billion annually fighting this war, and in 2012 the country arrested over 1.5 million people on nonviolent drug charges. 

SB 1391, a law passed in Tennessee just last year, allows police to arrest a new mother in the hospital if her child is proven to be addicted to or harmed by the mother’s use of an illegal narcotic. On paper, a law like SB 1391 might seem like a good thing, keeping babies away from drug-addled parents, but given the country’s threadbare effort to counsel and rehabilitate low-income drug users, SB 1391 and other laws like it become more legislation that puts arrests before awareness, something that the Erowid team has been trying to change for nearly 20 years. “There are risks inherent in taking psychoactive substances. However, these risks are magnified with ignorance and conversely can be hugely reduced with accurate and unbiased information,” says Taylor. “We have decades of experience telling us that abstinence-based education—“Just Say No”—doesn’t work. If it worked, we would have reduced levels of psychoactive drug use.” 

None of the information Erowid posts is illegal. They have had very little contact with authorities, but according to Fire, the site does get “the occasional suspicious email.” Ten years ago, Fire received one out of the blue asking if she would be interested in buying bulk coca seeds. “We ignored it, as we often do for such emails,” she says. A couple of days later, Fire got another email asking if she knew where to buy bulk coca seeds. “We figure some of these are law enforcement checking up on us, or teens who don’t understand what it is that we do,” Fire tells me. 

Erowid’s mission statement reads: “We strive to ensure that these resources are maintained and preserved as a historical record for the future.” And this is key. Online drug databases have come and gone, but Erowid has never acquiesced. “We are able to track the rise in popularity and interest in a new drug through searches conducted on Erowid and the number of hits to a chemical’s pages,” says Fire. As it continues to grow and stockpile material, Erowid can provide a credible, centralized source of psychoactive drug information and documentation. “We also provide some of this type of information to researchers and medical providers to help them understand the current trends and provide better services,” adds Fire. Erowid is the bible for psychoactive drug specifications, but it’ll also guide you through a 50 mg trip on Methoxetamine, which for some is just as helpful.

Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes www.youtube.com

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Photo by Rich Polk/ Getty

Her hypocrisy would be mind-blowing if it weren't so predictable

It's been just over two years since Tomi Lahren appeared on ABC's The View to assert that, despite her ultra-conservative bona fides, she holds one position more normally associated with the left wing: She's pro-choice. In that talk show appearance, Lahren made clear then that her pro-choice views were consonant with her self-identification as a "constitutionalist," further explaining:

I am someone that's for limited government. So I can't sit here and be a hypocrite and say I'm for limited government but I think the government should decide what women should do with their bodies." I can sit here and say that as a Republican, and I can say, "You know what? I'm for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well."

Back then, we noted the hypocrisy inherent to that position, since Lahren was an ardent supporter of President Trump—who made no secret of his desire to appoint anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court and other judicial benches—and Vice-President Pence, whose anti-abortion views are even more ardent.

Since Lahren's appearance on The View, she has appeared in the anti-abortion film Roe v. WadeRoe v. Wade, which co-starred fellow execrable conservative troll, Milo Yiannopoulos, and, um, Joey Lawrence. Though the film has not yet been released, it is alleged to contain "several graphic scenes depicting aborted fetuses," and also the acting styles of Jamie Kennedy, so we're not sure for whom it will really be appropriate.

But while Lahren's role in that film would be enough to make anyone question just how committed she is to her alleged pro-choice stance, the recent news about de facto abortion bans in Alabama and Georgia has incited Lahren to speak out about her views once again.

On Twitter, Lahren opened herself up to "attack[s] by [her] fellow conservatives" and spoke out against the Alabama abortion ban as being "too restrictive." And, indeed, her "fellow conservatives" did quickly attack Lahren for not actually caring about human life, and for having too liberal a position on whether or not a woman should be forced to continue a pregnancy that resulted from rape. But then also, as Lahren must have known would happen, other people supported her for... not having one irredeemably monstrous position amongst her arsenal of irredeemably monstrous positions.

But, let's be clear: Tomi Lahren is not—no matter what she tweets—pro-choice, and neither is any supporter of the Republican Party. There is no doubt that there are Republicans who are in favor of safe access to abortion—particularly when it comes to themselves and their family members having said access. But by supporting the Republican Party, they are showing how little it actually matters to them, and showing what it is that they really prioritize over women's safety and freedom: namely, access to guns, bigoted immigration policies, the continued disenfranchisement of voters across the country. I could go on, but there's no need.

Lahren's tweet doesn't reveal in any way that she's an advocate for women's rights, all it reveals is her hypocrisy and that of anyone (Meghan McCain, hi), who would love to have a world created specifically for their needs, and who is willing to sacrifice the rights of the less privileged in order to secure their own. It is despicable and dangerous and incredibly predictable. But, at least, it might give Lahren something to talk about on the red carpet with her fellow anti-abortion movie costars, if that film ever gets more than a straight-to-video release.

If you want to find out how to help women have access to abortion, please visit here for information about donating and volunteering.

Diplo, Vince Staples, and Rico Nasty also appear

Lil Nas X went all out with the visuals for his hit "Old Town Road," tapping all of his newfound collaborators and friends, like Billy Ray Cyrus, Diplo, Vince Staples, and Rico Nasty, to star. The movie travels from 1889 Wild Wild West to the modern-day city outskirts, so saddle up and come along for the ride.

As the visuals start, Nas and Cyrus gallop away with a bag of loot, obviously having pulled off a heist. The trio of men on horseback that were in pursuit of them come to a halt, unable to catch up, and Chris Rock—the leader of the group—states, "When you see a Black man on a horse going that fast, you just gotta let him fly." Just as Nas and Cyrus think they're able to relax in stranger's home, it turns out the homeowner isn't so friendly. Nas jumps into a hole to escape, only to end up hundreds of years in the future on the other side.

Forget trying to figure out the logistics of time travel, and just embrace the hilarity of Nas' horse also having wound up there, and in peak racing condition. He impresses the locals not only in the race (with Vince Staples losing money in a bet against him) but with his sweet square dancing skills. Once he and Cyrus (yes, he time traveled too) trade out their old-timey duds for some fresh, rhinestone-adorned outfits, they enter a room playing bingo with Rico Nasty in it. Diplo is playing the washboard, I feel like I'm losing my mind, and this is probably the best music video I've watched this year.

Watch the movie for "Old Town Road" again and again, below.

Lil Nas X - Old Town Road (Official Movie) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus www.youtube.com

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Screenshot via YouTube

They really "don't care" about how this was edited, do they?

Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber used the name of their song as inspiration for the "I Don't Care" music video, and have presented what is essentially a long blooper reel of the pair messing around with a green screen.

The visuals show how dedicated the two are to proving just how much they don't care, because I'm pretty sure they did the editing on this video as well. They dance around in costumes, as an ice cream cone, a panda, a teddy bear, and more. I have a clear vision of Bieber and Sheeran raiding a costume shop just an hour before setting up a tripod and going to town on this one. They also juxtapose their faces on top of a ballerina, a skydiver, and a corn inside the husk.

Blink, and you'll miss the funniest moment of all in the video: Ed Sheeran gets married to a cardboard cutout of a young Bieber with swoopy hair.

Watch the visuals for "I Don't Care" below.

Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber - I Don't Care [Official Video] youtu.be

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Photo by Jena Cumbo

Her new LP, 'Take Me to the Disco,' is her most personal work yet

Meg Myers isn't afraid to admit she's still figuring out who she wants to be. Originally from Tennessee, Myers moved to Los Angeles at the age of 19 to dedicate her life to her music career. In 2012, she released her first EP, Daughter in the Choir, which set the groundwork for the releases of Sorry (2015) and Take Me to the Disco (2018). Well-known for her poetic lyrics, crude vocals, and cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," the honest singer-songwriter makes a point to tell me that self-acceptance is a process. After listening to her deeply personal LP, Take Me to the Disco, I know she's not wrong.

In the middle of producing her new forthcoming music, the star opens up to NYLON: "I've always been able to channel [more painful moments in life] into my art. Music always stood out to me as the easiest way to capture all the emotions at once in one piece. Music for me is wild and free." It's clear that it is this fearlessness to self-reflect that not only makes her body of work so authentic but also what motivates her to continue to grow.

Below, we speak with Myers about her new music, self-love, and her ever-evolving relationship with creativity.

The Great Eros Pants, Chae New York top, Schutz shoes, and Via Saviene rings. Photos by Jena Cumbo

How did moving to Los Angeles influence the artist you are today?
I feel more safe here. I've been tapping more into my truth and expressing myself on a deeper level here. Growing up, my family was very chaotic, and I never knew what was about to happen. I have four brothers and a sister, and we grew up basically as best friends, making fun out of the chaos and always creating some type of art from it. I've always been able to channel [more painful moments in life] into my art.

Music always stood out to me as the easiest way to capture all the emotions at once in one piece. Music for me is wild and free.

What are some of your biggest influences?
I think all the barbecue and shrimp and grits [in Tennessee] really adds a smokiness to my music.

My queerness gives me a lot of material to create with. It's allowing me to be more playful and not take every little thing so seriously.

Silk Laundry jumpsuit, Wild Vertigga T-shirt, and Nakamol earring.Photo by Jena Cumbo

Tell me about your new music. Why is it different than anything you've ever created?
This EP is going to have a lot of similar vibes to my last album, because I wrote it at the same time with the same producer about a lot of the same struggles and self-discoveries as my past music. I'll share more with you on my third album.

I'm such a fan of your cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." Why did you gravitate toward that song to cover?
It's such a powerful song! Kate Bush is magic. It's almost like I've been being guided to cover that song for a long time. I don't know how to explain it in words, as they can feel so limiting, and this song is beyond words to me. It's just a deep inner knowing, and it makes my heart flutter.


Chae NewYork blazer; Saku top, The Great Eros bottoms, and Inch2 boots.Photo by Jena Cumbo

Are there any other songs you feel really connected to?
I would love to collaborate with Active Child. The songs "Hanging On" and "Johnny Belinda" are also otherworldly to me. I've been listening to this band called Walk the Moon a lot. I also love Phoebe Bridgers. I have a crush on her. I generally listen to instrumental music and classical. If you look up 432hz music, it's incredibly healing, and solfeggio frequencies have helped me with a lot.

What does self-love mean to you?
It's been a process for me. It's been quite the journey. Right now, I would say [self-love for me] is about accepting myself, and having love for all the experiences that have led me to where I am. It also means being grateful for growth. It's also been about learning to be in the present moment. It's been learning to trust myself and not listening to what others think I need to be doing. As I learn to do this, I also learn how to love others deeper. All this being said, it's a process.

Chae New York blazer and Saku top.Photo by Jena Cumbo

What advice do you have for someone struggling to find happiness right now?
Spend some time in solitude if you can, or with a really safe person who you feel you can express yourself freely with. Find someone who has no expectations of you and is supportive. In that present moment, ask yourself, What feels good to you? What do you feel like doing? Use your imagination. Daydream. Find what it is you enjoy doing. I promise you can unlock magic inside yourself. It just takes patience.

*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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