What People Are Getting High On, and Why They Do Drugs at All

We rationalize our use, be it functional, medicinal, or recreational.

Drug-use isn’t going away. In fact, one of the threads connecting all human life is the worldwide desire to enhance or escape existence by consuming natural and synthetic chemical combinations. As elective drug users, we rationalize our use, whether its functional, medicinal, or outright recreational.

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) is a collection of data sourced directly from anonymously submitted experiences of drug-takers around the world. The GDS is made in part as an exercise in harm reduction. And because in most countries where people are taking drugs, the substances getting them high, horny, hyper-focused, or just through the day are often illegal, or are being taken (or prescribed) counter to label direction, the GDS collects and disseminates valuable user information not readily available through government sponsored sources. 

The survey findings are analyzed and given additional context by GDS founder, Dr. Adam R. Winstock, and a team of more than 40 researchers. 

From a press release written by Dr. Winstock:

"The world of drugs has changed forever. From what people use, and how they use it, to where they get it from, the landscape has never been so varied and challenging for people who use drugs, health-care providers, and governments." 
"Overall our data suggests that while traditional drugs retain their dominance and appear to carry less risk than their novel synthetic counterparts, the NPS [Novel Psychoactive Substances] market continues to evolve." 

In November, the GDS will begin accepting new submissions to again pinpoint the latest pharmacological trends and designer substances emerging throughout the global drug trade. The 2017 GDS will, “explore the rise and reinvention of psychedelics, how vaping is changing the way we use drugs, what to do if your mate passes out, where you buy your novel drugs, and what you think of drug-checking.”

Psychedelics have seen a resurgence and are becoming less stigmatized as MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin mushrooms are explored as alternative treatments for anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Microdosing, taking a small amount of a psychedelic substance to induce sub-perceptual boosts in cognitive function, has moved from the drug-culture fringe and psychonaut Reddit threads toward the mainstream cutting edge. Taking a bit of psilocybin with the morning coffee is a known practice among some Silicon Valley tech thought leaders

“Drugs are like cheat codes. If you know when and where to use them, they open up experiences that would normally not be accessible."

In more dire developments, the United States’ opioid epidemic is not confined to one single drug. Carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer that is reportedly 10,000 times stronger than morphine and is causing overdoses in Ohio, Michigan, and Massachusetts, is actually the new black. Before carfentanil earned its media hype, the spotlight was on U-4700, a research chemical developed in the 1970s that the Drug Enforcement Administration has since classified as Schedule 1––having high potential for abuse and no medicinal value. 

These drugs—the opioids and the hallucinogens—are widely sold online, and this tech disruption of the global chemical exchange is to be expected. The Internet has changed how all drugs are distributed. Aligning black market tactics with e-commerce best practices and social media platform expertise fuels a growing demand for synthetic substances, and connects new users with the same (but much more potent) pharmacons that people have been ingesting for years.  

According to the 2016 GDS, the ten most-popular drugs people took in the preceding year are: Cannabis, MDMA, cocaine, amphetamines, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, prescribed and non-prescribed opioid medication, nitrous oxide, ketamine, and poppers.

 "Opiates were a problem from the start, for me."

KINDLAND spoke with users of these drugs, online and in Los Angeles, to glean insight into what motivates people to take them in the first place. Because some of these substances really do unleash rampant volubility, the interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

R/28/Female: "I have taken drugs for the experience and exploration of altered states of mind. I'm not sure whether I have taken them to escape reality itself, or to escape bad feelings."

J/26/Male: “Drugs are like cheat codes. If you know when and where to use them, they open up experiences that would normally not be accessible."

B/24/Male: “[I use drugs] to get high."

S/29/Male: "MDMA was always fun in social situations because of the 'lovie-dovie' effect it has. [Taking MDMA] made it easier to meet new people." 

R/28/Female: “I've enjoyed psychedelics the most for their ability to help me see reality through different eyes, and transport me into a colorful world of bliss and ego-release.”

J/26/Male: "Psychedelics allow me to be more aware of who I am––in and out of reality.”

B/24/Male: “I use cannabis to treat anxiety, and general boredom." 

 "[Nitrous oxide] is fun because it is a dissociative; for that brief moment, all of your troubles melt away."

S/29/Male: "I use cannabis mostly to relax." 

R/28/Female: “In high school I took advantage of my [attention deficit disorder] medications to help me concentrate and lose weight, but I never enjoyed the way they made me feel depressed. I only ever felt euphoria with [amphetamines] within the first hours of consuming them, and then sadness the rest of the time. That experience was more of a dependent addiction for productivity––not anything fun.”

B/24/Male: "[I've taken] MDMA, cocaine, or amphetamines to enhance a party, or concerts."

J/26/Male: "I use drugs [as a way to] stimulate anxiety. I'm addicted to paranoia."

S/29/Male: "Opiates were a problem from the start, for me. It is the best feeling in the world and super easy to get too deep into them. I had a couple stints in rehab from those, and now I stay away from them, [with the exception of] kratom, from time to time." 

J/26/Male: "I've tried a few different opioids. I've had multiple surgeries: I've had a reconstructive ankle surgery; a back surgery for a herniated disk. My exploitation of opioids was doctor-prescribed, and based on a need to block extreme pain.”

B/24/Male: “I tried [nitrous oxide] at a party once, but didn’t get much out of it.” 

S/29/Male: "[Nitrous oxide] is fun because it is a dissociative; for that brief moment, all of your troubles melt away."

R/28/Female: "If anything, I would say I consume [drugs] to help me find deeper parts of myself."