I while ago I finished “What the Dormouse said” by John Markoff, subtitled “How the 60s counterculture shaped the computer revolution”. Although I was vaguely aware of the use of LSD in the development of the internet and personal computing, this book made it a lot clearer… particularly about how prolific it was. It was actually used as an enabler for team planning meetings of major businesses! Circuit designers would use it to visualise and solve logic problems (how exactly they did this with the other associated effects going on, I’m not sure, perhaps dose high enough for loss of consciousness of the external world?).
In reverse, the internet itself is a prolific source of drug information. Users (double meaning unintended) are essentially anonymous, there is a large amount of information available. Knowledge of new “research chemicals” can quickly be disseminated. Books that have been made difficult to obtain due to their possibly controversial nature (e.g. Pihkal) can be shared P2P. Suppliers of various substances can actually sell and ship research chemicals to people despite local drug laws, partly by luck of the substances getting through local customs (some suppliers will even try multiple times if the first attempt is intercepted), but often these research chemicals are too obscure for authorities to be aware of their usage in a recreational setting. This, however getting difficult to carry out, as the authorities are also becoming more aware of the internet as a source of knowledge on recreational substances.
Ironically, once I ordered some Piracetam, a nootropic that is supposedly able to increase and restore memory ability (particularly in older people) as well as generally improve cognition. This was intercepted by New Zealand customs. However, despite Piracetam being a prescription substance here, customs let it through. For some reason, a nootropic (or cognition enhancer) is allowed, but a substance that is used recreationally is not. In other words, you’re allowed to work harder and smarter, but heaven forbid if you should try to have fun as well!
Due to illegality of many recreational substances (based on reactionary beliefs rather than harm minimisation and actual harm), it is difficult to obtain relatively objective information about safety. Anything that is produced by drug enforcement groups is liable to be distorted to instil fear in readers. The internet allows users to discover best practices and safety based on backs and the wisdom of crowds. This isn’t to say that you can be sure that someone’s glowing experience didn’t harm them physiologically in one way or another, but if hundreds of people report minor or no side-effects, then one can be relatively sure the drug is somewhat safe, at least in the short term. Particularly since humans have a bias towards reporting negative experiences over positive ones (any one remember the name for this one?), as the impetus to warn others about something bad is higher than to confer knowledge about something that is just so.
DXM is a relatively easily obtained substance from cough syrups. An online essay first published in 1995 by William E. White, entitled “The DXM FAQ” explained it’s use, required dosages and expected effects. Several waves of information passed through this community. At one stage there was a discussion about a scientific article that indicated the potential of the drug for causing lesions in the brain. Obviously this was a great concern to users of DXM and the communities were abuzz with many users avoiding any further trips. However, this was later shown to be a flawed conclusion – although there was still risk of harm (as there is with any subtance). The risk of harm is one of the major flaws of making drugs illegal, this risk is maintained rather than actually evaluated. Often it completely halts scientific research on the substance, instead leaving the effects, for good or ill, to be discovered through community and word-of-mouth. The internet, being fundamentally a way of communicating with others, and building communities of like-minded people, assists with the dissemination of this knowledge.
GHB (also known, for some obscure reason, as Grievous Bodily Harm) became more frequent in use around the 90s and early 2000s, due to more information being available online. Additionally, suppliers of research chemicals popped up in various countries. The ability to easily fit a sachet in an envelope allowed for orders to, for the most part, skip past authorities. However, more current scanning technology might be able to detect such powders contained in envelopes, so I don’t recommend testing this. Particular since you can be thrown in jail with all the theives, rapist and murderers, because obviously drug users are as equally dangerous as these elements to the well being of society… </sarcasm>