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Drug Web Cites
Erowid Mentions in Print and Other Media
by Fire Erowid
Jun 2007
Citation:   Erowid F. "Drug Web Cites; Erowid Mentions in Print and Other Media". Erowid Extracts. Jun 2007;12:8-9.
Although we've tracked online discussions of Erowid for the past eleven years, mentions of Erowid in print, on television, and on the radio have been harder to spot. Still, through our own reading and with the help of members and visitors, we've documented more than 100 references to Erowid published in books, 110 in peer reviewed journals, and 70 in newspapers, magazines, or other media sources. Erowid has also been mentioned in graduate school theses, patent applications, and government reports.

"By drawing on the collective knowledge of its many remote and devoted users, Erowid has compiled one of the world's most exhaustive and accurate collections of information on recreational drugs and their use."1
-- Ryan Grim
Three Types of Mentions
Some mentions of Erowid are about the site itself: they point out, recommend, criticize, or discuss Erowid along with similar websites. The most common type of mention cites content published by Erowid to support factual statements. The third type of mention, the citation of articles archived on Erowid, has increased in recent years. This type of mention, often found in patent applications, court cases, and journal articles, cites documents in the Erowid Library that are archived for public use but not authored or published by Erowid, such as government reports, site snapshots, and public domain content.

Books
It was over seven years ago when we first ran across a book mentioning Erowid. Published in 1999, Pills-A-Go-Go by Jim Hogshire included an excerpt from one of Erowid's flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) experience reports. It was not until years later that we were alerted to two even earlier books (1997 and 1998) that also mention the Erowid website.

Recently, new and expanded full-text book search systems on Google.com and Amazon.com have allowed us to identify a dramatically larger number of mentions. We can now look in books that we are unlikely to ever read and many we might never have heard about. These search systems reveal, for example, that Erowid is mentioned in a 2004 edition of Andrew Weil's The Marriage of the Sun and Moon as "suggested reading". We also discovered that the Rape Investigation Handbook (2004) describes Erowid as "an excellent source of information on many drugs and is particularly valuable because it includes many first-hand accounts by users of their subjective experience."

Scientific and Medical Journals
The first peer-reviewed journal article we know of that mentioned Erowid was a 2000 case report about a 13-year-old female hospitalized after taking about 20 g of dried nutmeg. While Erowid is simply included as an example of an "easy access" internet resource that discusses nutmeg ingestion, this was the first in a series of articles during that period that we jokingly describe as representative of "doctors and researchers discovering the internet".

Information about psychoactive drugs has long been available peer-to-peer. Therefore it seemed quaint to fi nd a number of articles in the peer-reviewed medical literature of the early 2000s warning readers that their patients may now have access to information about drugs. It seemed that the novelty of the web blinded these professionals to the fact that much of the information available online simply records the same discourse that has been happening between individuals and within social groups for decades. But doctors can now eavesdrop on those conversations. Wax and the editors of Pediatrics clearly thought physicians were entirely unfamiliar with the web: "These drug Web sites are easily reached by anyone with Internet access. If the Web site URL is known, then typing in the address will link directly to the Web site."2 When that article was published, Erowid had been operating for seven years, after taking up the baton from previous archivists who had themselves already spent years compiling information online.

Since that time, most journals have become more sophisticated in their view of the internet, treating it as simply another communication system. In an October 2006 issue of Neuroscience, Crean, et al. used data gathered by EcstasyData.org to calculate dose ranges for their research. "Relevant dose ranges for MDA and METH were determined initially by reference to MDMA:MDA and MDMA:METH ratios in the pills analyzed by Ecstasydata.org."3

Don't Mention It... #
EcstasyData Testing Results Form Basis of 2006 Journal Article
In July 2006, an article was published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence titled "Pharmacological content of tablets sold as 'ecstasy': Results from an online testing service."1 The eight page article by Emily Tanner-Smith analysed the results of Erowid's pill testing project (EcstasyData.org), which is co-sponsored by Erowid, MAPS, and DanceSafe.

Strangely, neither Tanner-Smith nor the journal editors contacted us to discuss the project, ask for information, or request permission to publish the results from EcstasyData's testing. Contact information is easy to find on the site. The article mis-cited the source of the data, never mentioning EcstasyData and citing only the copy of the data published on DanceSafe.org. DanceSafe no longer hosts a copy of the lab results, but when it did it was clearly labelled with a note stating "Test results provided by EcstasyData.org" with a link to the original data.

The article also presents EcstasyData's on-site analysis of results as though it had been created and compiled by the author. Data about the number of tablets tested each year, summaries of their contents (by number of tablets and percentage of total tested tablets), number of tablets submitted by state, and a breakdown of results into three categories: "MDMA only", "non-MDMA substances only", and "a mixture of MDMA and non-MDMA substances" are all misleadingly presented in the paper as original data despite appearing on the EcstasyData Testing Statistics page in an automatically updated chart. Tanner-Smith even goes so far as to state that "this study is one of the first to analyze such a wide variety of ecstasy tablets available from across the United States over a period of six years" without ever acknowledging that the EcstasyData site itself is the source of all of the data used and contains similar analysis and results.

Tanner-Smith comments that the information is "publicly available" and therefore presumably available to use as the data for her paper without appropriate credit. While the EcstasyData project is intended to provide information to the public about the contents of street ecstasy tablets, we had also hoped to submit the results for publication at some time in the future. It was quite frustrating to have this article published without our knowledge or participation and without even crediting those who have put six years of work into collecting and publishing this data.

This article was only recently pointed out to us. We have contacted the editors of Drug and Alcohol Dependence and are currently awaiting a reply.

January 2008: We have recently learned that the journal addressed some of our concerns in a correction that appeared in the Jan 2008 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence (print) and the October online version.2


Anti-Information
Several articles critical of Erowid present inherently anti-information viewpoints, decrying the ease of availability of information to the general public. Such articles often project political motivations onto our work and suggest that access to online information about psychoactives is dangerous. They imply that except for a few bad eggs, the world would be free of information about disapproved psychoactive drugs, the genies would return to their bottles, and problematic drug use would no longer occur. No hard data is ever presented to show that fewer people would come to harm without access to online information. Critics do not take into account that modern culture is not a tabula rasa, where no one knows anything about psychoactives; instead we are faced with a chaotic mix of entrenched errors, incomplete data, and misunderstandings.

The anti-information bias occurs more often in news media mentions of Erowid, but is also present in some peer-reviewed journal articles. Ironically, this bias seems most present in large-audience media sources, such as television networks. In late 2003, Fox News broadcast and syndicated a truly disturbing anti-Erowid segment, which suggested that, if not for the U.S. Constitution, we would be in jail: "Outrage tonight over websites that actually teach teenagers and kids how to experiment with drugs. Experts say these sites could really endanger impressionable kids. [...] The problem for investigators? Most of these websites are perfectly legal under the First Amendment."

Also in 2003, CBS Evening News carried a segment about a young man hospitalized after using 5-MeO-DMT combined with harmala alkaloids. As with many similar news stories, they implied that the reason this young man took risks was because he had access to the internet: "For the young man who overdosed, and his parents, it's a cautionary tale about the freedom of the Internet. The Web gave him access to unlimited information, but that included a brand new way to flirt with death."4

Positive Mentions
The small number of negative descriptions of Erowid stand out; most mentions of our work in print literature and other media are neutral or positive. One television news story about DXM reported: "[...] the Poison Control Center [said] they frequently get phone calls from parents with questions or people saying a friend isn't feeling well after taking too much Coricidin. For more information Poison Control recommends the website erowid.org."5 Other positive mentions highlight the usefulness of the site to a diverse audience:
Constable Harry Lawrenson of the Ontario Provincial Police, and coordinator of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in Ontario, agrees with Erowid's approach. Lawrenson also supports the website as an educational resource, and commends Erowid on the multiplicity of the perspectives represented. [...] The global respect that Erowid is earning is underscored by the neutrality of the website.6
Happy to Help
We are pleased with the balance of positive and negative coverage we have received and are heartened that so many authors have included Erowid in their bibliographies and citations. There is a lot to say about Erowid, but one of the things we often say is that we are happy to know that the work we do is useful to so many people.

If you see mentions of Erowid in print or video media, please let us know.

References #
  1. Grim R. "High Space: An Online Interactive Psychopharmacopoeia". Harper's. Jun 2007.
  2. Wax P. "Just a click away: recreational drug Web sites on the Internet". Pediatrics. Jun 2002;109(6)e96.
  3. Crean RD, Davis SA, Von Huben SN, et al. "Effects of [MDMA], [MDA] and methamphetamine on temperature and activity in rhesus macaques". Neuroscience. 2006;142(2):51525.
  4. CBS Evening News. "Eye On America: Debate on Recreational Drug Web Sites". Jan 27, 2003.
  5. KATC3 News. "Teens Abusing Coricidin". Acadania. LA. Mar 17, 2004.
  6. Fraser C. "Getting a High Education". Excalibur: York University's Newspaper. Apr 4, 2007.