Dear Readers: This article was written by the top bidder for one page of editorial space in last December's Strangercrombie® auction. It is about drugs (specifically about how to obtain information on drugs), and drugs are something we here at The Stranger certainly know something about. We ain't the only ones--rumor has it musicians know a thing or two about drugs as well, which is why we've placed this here drug article in the music section. So please enjoy, and remember: Just say no--unless, of course, you choose to say yes. And if you say yes? Know what you're getting yourself into... which brings us back to this article, which, as stated before, is about how to get information on drugs. You see, it all works out in the end. --Eds.

tried acid for the FIrst time 12 years ago, I didn't realize that "acid" and "LSD" were the same substance. I was an ignorant college kid in the Midwest, at a time before the Internet was ubiquitous, back when the only information about illicit substances in our college library was a couple books' worth of Timothy Leary's lunatic ramblings about "cosmic consciousness."

An explosion of new substances has hit the streets since then, thanks largely to the research of renegade chemist Alexander Shulgin. He and his wife Anne published two groundbreaking works, Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved (PIHKAL) and Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved (TIHKAL). These books are massive collections of recipes for making novel psychoactive substances, along with personal experience reports about many of the drugs from Shulgin and his friends. Shulgin is so widely respected that when the DEA eventually raided his lab, agents brought along copies of PIHKAL for him to autograph.

Now the underground is filled with drugs like 2C-T-21, 5-MeO-DIPT ("the foxy methoxy"), AMT, DPT, and more, alongside more well-known characters like ketamine, GHB, 2C-B, ecstasy (MDMA), and good old LSD. Each one holds promise and peril. If you believe your federal government, each and every one is a bullet aimed straight at your nervous system; if you believe your pot-addicted stoner buddies, each one is a kick-ass party and there's no need to come down. Clearly, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Enter the Vaults of Erowid (www.erowid.org), an independent, member-supported source of unbiased, nonjudgmental information about psychoactive plants and chemicals. Since its inception in 1995, Erowid has grown into an incredibly well-respected resource for a tremendous range of users: from college students to parents, from health professionals to law enforcement, from researchers to curious laypeople. When Rolling Stone did a story on 2C-T-7 and called the DEA for information, the DEA referred the journalist to Erowid. Teachers and educators use Erowid; counselors and medical professionals use Erowid; drug-policy-reform and harm-reduction organizations use Erowid.

Because Erowid accepts no paid advertisements and no government support, it is a truly independent aggregator and publisher of reliable information about nearly 250 psychoactive chemicals, plants, herbs, pharmaceuticals, and nootropics ("smart drugs"). This invaluable library is provided free to the public. As the Guardian said, "Due to the independent nature of Erowid.org, it is now cited by leading research agencies as a useful first port of call for anyone who is keen to learn more."

In 2003, Erowid received more than 7.5 million unique visitors, serving an average of 30,000 unique visitors a day, who viewed about 13 pages each. More than 26,000 content files are available for perusal, a combination of chemical, medical, legal, and experiential information. Erowid is hosted free of charge on the legendary Hyperreal network, and somehow this amazing resource manages to survive and grow with only 2.5 full-time staffers working on an absolute shoestring budget, and a small but dedicated crew of volunteer staffers rounding out the effort.

Erowid is not a proponent of any of these drugs. It doesn't try to convince people to take them, or for that matter, not to take them. Erowid's value is in collecting and publishing as much information as possible about both licit and illicit substances in an attempt to broaden the cultural dialogue beyond shrieking war-on-drugs propaganda. It offers balanced, reliable information about both the risks and the benefits of drug use. And as with many things almost too good to be true, Erowid relies on member support to survive.

That's where you come in. Whether you feel drugs are a fool's errand or whether you're an ardent proponent of psychedelics or other substances, you may still realize the value and critical importance of such a vital repository of data that is independent of mass media and government control.

More than 94 million Americans admit to trying marijuana, a drug widely known to be vastly less harmful than alcohol. Despite this, the federal government has opted to savagely attack the very idea of the medical application of marijuana--often, as seen in Washington State and California, against the wishes of city and state officials. Recently, high-profile research published in the respected journal Nature had to be retracted because scientists were accidentally studying methamphetamine instead of MDMA in their rush to prove a point. Grave methodological problems remain in many government-funded studies that attempt to prove ecstasy is dangerous. The Office of National Drug Control Policy was caught buying not just commercials, but placement of anti-drug messages within the actual stories of prime-time television programs--your tax dollars at work reprogramming your own ideas!

But although some of the heady idealism of the '60s is long gone, the use of psychedelics in particular has spread beyond what anyone could call a "counterculture." Whether you partake or not, it's entirely possible someone close to you uses psychedelics for spiritual, psychological, or recreational benefit. You can't pigeonhole a psychedelic user. I personally know practicing physicians, heads of surgery, engineers, actual rocket scientists, computer scientists and programmers, geneticists, nationally respected journalists and authors, lawyers, college professors, corporate managers, and successful entrepreneurs who incorporate psychedelics into their lives, along with the obvious cross-section of musicians and artists who contribute to culture in so many ways.

We're all around you. There are more of us all the time. The country is hardly collapsing into fits of drug-induced hysteria.

So if the notion of such a data treasure appeals to you, please consider becoming a member. Yes, you can get a mug or a T-shirt. But more importantly, you can have an impact on how our society interacts with psychoactives. At a time when tobacco and alcohol wreak a devastating toll on our country, yet researching the use of MDMA to help treat victims of posttraumatic stress disorder is a shocking challenge to the system, it's clear that attitudes have to change. The government doesn't want you to have the truth, and that's not just a paranoid fantasy. But the truth is already out there; now we need to make sure it stays there.

You can make a tax-deductible donation to Erowid via their fiscal sponsor, MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, an important organization that sponsors federally-approved studies into the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes), or you can donate directly. Please visit www.erowid.org/donations or e-mail donations@erowid.org for more information, or send a check to Erowid, P.O. Box 1116, Grass Valley, CA, 95945.

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