On-Site Drug Checking: Reagents, Methods, Harm Reduction, and Politics

On January 20th, The Sydney Morning Herald published “Pill testing sounds like a great idea, but there’s a catch”, by forensic toxicologist Andrew Leibie, who reasoned that field testing is not very helpful, and might be worse than nothing. Leibie seemed to both not understand what he was talking about, and to ignore some of the key benefits of having on-site testing at events where illegal drugs might be consumed.

A few days later, Monica Barratt responded with a critique of Leibie’s flawed article. In “Pill testing is still a great idea, if we use the right equipment”, she took Leibie to task for his assembling a series of partially true statements into a confused and ultimately wrong argument.

I have some points I want to repeat and add, since this is something we care (and know) a lot about.

Engaging Users

First, let me just be clear about a critical function of on-site drug checking: engaging people is the most important step in harm reduction. Once people start thinking about and taking steps to mitigate the risks they expose themselves to, everything else is gravy. Leibie argues from confused and incomplete data that on-site pill testing is ineffective and may be worse than nothing. For example, he strangely compares rates of deaths from new psychoactive substances (NPS) in the UK to those in Australia, and uses the comparison to imply on-site pill testing doesn’t reduce harm.

Reducing Harm, Not Eliminating Harm

Second, to paraphrase one of our colleagues: “It’s not about eliminating harm, it’s about reducing it. Taking drugs, like every other activity in life, is never ‘safe’.”

On-Site Testing Is Not Just Done with Reagents

Third, it’s key to understand that on-site drug checking, what we might call “field testing”, can span a wide range of different methods. The most common are reagent tests like Marquis, Mecke, Simons, etc. These are simple “rule-in / rule-out” tests. Liquids are dropped onto scrapings or dust from a sample and may or may not change color. To a person experienced in the use of reagents tests, the color and timing can tell a lot about a sample. What reagents tests can’t do is positively identify anything.

They rule chemicals in and rule them out. If a pill shaving has Marquis reagent applied to it and there is no color change, then it is almost guaranteed that the sample contains, at most, a tiny trace of MDMA. MDMA is ruled out. If the sample + Marquis changes to a dark purple-then-brown color, then MDMA is “ruled in”. This means simply that the reagent reaction is consistent with MDMA and not, as some believe (including some law enforcement personnel trained to use these field tests), that the sample has been shown conclusively to contain MDMA.

There are an unknowable number of different reasons why the Marquis + sample could change color to the typical dark purple/blue/brown. The presence of certain dyes in a sample, temperature, a reagent past its “best by” date, opioids, and potentially yet-unknown other chemicals can produce that color when a sample comes in contact with Marquis. All we can say is, if there’s a color change consistent with how MDMA would react, MDMA is ruled in as a possibility.

Better Guesses are Better

Or, in Leibie’s mischaracterization, “the proposed colourimetric on-site pill test kits provide results that are little more accurate than ‘best guesses’.”

There are a couple things wrong with the wording of Leibie’s assessment of colorimetric field reagent testing. First, “best guess” is obviously better than a bad guess. Second, in every case I can think of, the use of a reagent test would be preferable to not using a reagent test at all. The color changes are informative but not final proof. They are definitely more relevant than a “best guess” made in the absence of any drug checking methodology.

But back to the bigger error: Leibie seems to conflate on-site pill checking with field reagent testing and then draw conclusions that are out of step with current trends. A growing number of groups are using much more interesting and accurate methods to analyze and identify drugs on location at events and festivals.

European On-Site Analysis

Groups like Austria’s CheckIt!, one of the partners in our EcstasyData lab analysis project, don’t “guess”. They run a mobile HPLC-MS unit, optimized to function reliably in party settings, and use it on-site at events to do accurate identification and quantification.

Energy Control in Spain has developed procedures for using Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) on-site, in hot and dusty tents at mega festivals. Their methodology and expertise make it possible to not only identify drugs but to get approximate quantification as well.

There are groups using mobile FTIR (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy). FTIR has been around a long time, although as an on-site drug checking method it’s very new. FTIR is definitely capable of more than a “guess”. FTIR has a long history as a lab technique, returns results rapidly, and involves equipment small enough to potentially be workable for mobile on-site setups. FTIR can be used to positively identify chemicals and is considered a proper forensic lab method for identifying street drugs.

Near Future: Cheap Portable Spectroscopy

The utility of portable infrared or Raman spectroscopy in on-site drug checking is on the near horizon. Raman, IR, UV, and other absorption or back-scatter analytical technologies work by shooting a laser source at a sample and then reading the patterns of reflected or transmitted light and comparing that against a database of known patterns. In the next ten years, it is likely that the costs of these portable devices could drop below $500 per unit, and the databases of patterns could be extensive. Not quite ready for real world use, but… not too far away either.

On-Site Drug Checking Blocked, Banned, & Political

The primary reason these lab-grade testing methods aren’t more widespread is that the politics of drug checking are super horrid. There are critics, like Leibie, who are just confused about the usefulness and harm reduction aspects, but the much bigger problem is the world governments dominated by prohibitionist thinking. Prohibitionists actually argue that it is a bad idea to “make drug use safer” and provide “quality control for the black market”. In this very common paradigm, the goal is to make illegal drug use as physically risky as possible rather than trying to reduce the potential damage done to people.

From my perspective that’s wholly unethical and policies based on pretending people will never take MDMA and other psychoactives are not only delusional, they are mean-spirited and unjust. But that’s the world we live in.

In most countries, harm reduction work is hamstrung by the fact that it is illegal (as in go to jail) to provide accurate drug checking. It is also disallowed because event producers do not want to be perceived as “pro-drug” or possibly be held accountable for drug sales or use at their events if they’ve acknowledged that it occurs. Inviting a harm reduction team with a bunch of equipment to operate at a party is de facto condoning illegal drug use, or so goes the thinking.

The Real World: Field Reagents Better than Nothing

So, despite the viable options for offering high-quality analysis at large events, what we are often left with is young harm reduction workers equipped with small bottles of field reagents such as Marquis. Reagent tests don’t cost very much, they are affordable enough for it to be OK if they’re seized or destroyed by law enforcement, and the number one purpose for using them is still served: Engaging with people about the fact that there are risks to taking illegal drugs, that one can have a rational relationship to those risks, and the worst and most likely of those risks can be reduced with sufficient knowledge, some foresight, some help, and a little care.


Now, on to an examination of other weaknesses in Leibie’s piece:

MDMA Is Not “Often Fatal”

Leibie statement: “High doses of MDMA and methamphetamine are often fatal by themselves.”

Risks from high dose MDMA tablets are explicitly acknowledged through social media marketing methods, such as Global Drug Survey and Mixmag’s public health message, “Don’t Be Daft / Start with Half” (UK).

That sentence is deceptive because of the word “often”. Water is a deadly poison. A high dose of water is often fatal by itself. Aspirin is a deadly poison. A high (enough) dose of aspirin is often fatal by itself. Leibie properly points out that MDMA and meth, even when they are of known quality and quantity, are not totally safe. And there are cases of people doing reasonable doses and still dying. But those cases are extremely rare. There is little evidence that people frequently die from taking MDMA or methamphetamine that is higher in potency than they expected.

Some tablets sold in Europe contain over 200mg of MDMA, a startlingly high dose. A small woman taking that amount of MDMA could be taking a serious risk, but the chances of her dying because on-site pill checking failed to give her clear quantitative information are nearly zero. It is very likely, in fact, that if the woman in this scenario visited a harm reduction table and asked about the tablet she was thinking of taking, she would have been immediately informed that it was a strong tablet. The information that drug checking harm reduction workers provide is not limited to whether a reagent test color change is consistent with MDMA. They provide a lot of useful info and harm reduction suggestions. So, Leibie’s point, as stated, is faulty.

On-Site Testing Is Helpful Even with New Psychoactive Substances

Leibie statement: “The greatest concern however, is that on-site tests cannot detect new designer drugs on the market, such as flakka, liquid acid or NBOMe compounds.”

Sample of LSD dropped on blotter tested with Ehrlich reagent turns purple.
NBOMe Results. NBOMes respond differently than LSD to field reagents

(Forget for a moment that the way the sentence is worded implies acid is a “new designer drug”…) This statement is misguided because of the inappropriate conflation of “on-site” with colorimetric field reagent tests. It’s also inaccurate because the NBOMe compounds do change color and can be ruled in or out even at very low doses. LSD (acid) is also detectable using field tests. The Ehrlich reagent turns purple in the presence of LSD. This sample of liquid LSD (far right) was dropped onto paper towel and the field tests did a fine job of showing the presence of LSD.

As we have written before, NBOMes do not fluoresce under UV lamps, while LSD does, and NBOMEs show a distinct set of field reagent reactions (above). I give Liebie another “clearly wrong”.

Advanced Scientific Analysis

Leibie statement: “Unfortunately, these dangerous compounds frequently are mixed with more familiar drugs, such as ecstasy, speed or ice, requiring highly advanced scientific analysis to be detected.”

This statement underscores the author’s lack of awareness that “advanced scientific analysis” is a practical option for on-site testing, if only it weren’t disallowed in most places. It also suggests a weak understanding of the field reagents he’s so strongly arguing against. Reagent field tests can rule in or rule out two of the three most “dangerous” drugs that he lists, the NBOMes and LSD (acid). For alpha-PVP (referred to as “flakka” here), he is right that it does not change color with the standard Marquis, Mecke, or Mandelin reagents. What a tremendous teaching opportunity for harm reduction workers to talk about adulterated drugs and the uncertainty of field tests (they can even point people to illustrative examples from EcstasyData, where we have reagent results side by side with the GC/MS lab findings). It seems Mr. Leibie is arguing against having those educational opportunities at large festivals.

And, while there are plenty of examples of NPS substituted for or adulterating more familiar drugs, the accuracy of the claim that this is a “frequent” occurrence is moot, since, just as the author points out that there are “no quality or consistency guarantees” for illicit drugs, there are also no representative sets of data about analyses of illicit drug samples available for public scrutiny (except maybe in the Netherlands). Law enforcement groups may analyze samples of seized drugs, but results are not typically shared with the public.

No Evidence that On-Site Testing Worsens Risks

Leibie statement: “Countries that have gone down the pill testing route do not provide any comfort that this approach works.”

Leibie makes several errors in the text he uses to support this statement. First, there is nothing like a valid apples-to-apples comparison between the different countries. Australia has a unique illegal drug market that is distinct from the UK’s. The Australian government runs one of the tightest customs operations in the world, in the confines of its own island continent, impacting Australia’s drug market much differently than the European-influenced UK. It is unclear why Leibie would feel qualified to offer a comparison of the effectiveness of unspecified relative amounts of harm reduction efforts in unspecified numbers of events with an unknown number of participants. It’s just weird. His statement qualifies as “most likely wrong”. The Netherlands are one of the only countries that has anything like a proper “pill testing route” with their DIMS project. And they don’t allow on-site lab gear at big events run by harm reduction workers.

False Sense of Security: A Real Problem

Leibie statement: “They also potentially leave consumers with a false sense of security that the party drugs they buy may be safe. It could be a deadly assumption.”

I think this is perhaps the most helpful statement in Leibie’s article. There is no question that many people misunderstand the risks of the drugs they are taking. Moreover, inexperienced use of field reagents can provide a false sense of security. People sometimes confuse lower risk with “safe”, or mistake harm reduction for harm elimination.

And it’s true that, sadly, sometimes people die after taking pharmaceuticals or recreational drugs in reasonable ways.

On-Site Testing Makes the World Better, Not Worse

Although the prominence of Leibie’s article offered a great opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of on-site testing, particularly the entirely relevant strengths and weaknesses of reagent testing, this opportunity was missed.

The author showed little knowledge of the specific area of music event or festival drug-checking. Performing tests at hot, dusty, remote events, with bass vibrations and the complexity of imaginative combinations of substances will always present challenges, but the experts running these services do tend to be well aware of these limitations.

The harm reduction projects that have been set up around the world are working within the parameters of government policies that seem at times to obstruct their efforts to serve the interest of public health. Despite all these conditions, and shoestring budgets, these groups are connecting people with specialist advice, mentors and peer support to ensure that on-site drug checking makes the world better, not worse.

by Earth, Sylvia, and the Erowid Crew

Great Documentary: The Sunshine Makers [spoiler alert]

Fire and I just finished watching a preview copy of The Sunshine Makers, a documentary about 1960s LSD manufacturers. We were very impressed!

The quality of the content, editing, storytelling and sound, as well as inclusion of old photos, film footage and video are all amazing, but what makes it really stand out is the voice-reenacted law enforcement records and on-camera interviews with officers about the prosecutions of Nick Sand and Tim Scully.

Scully and Sand in Lab

The film tells the Sand/Scully stories with historical details we have never heard before, and includes audio and visual styling that add depth and entertainment value. For example, cutaway animations layered with stills of buildings, revealing miniature scenes of lab work happening inside them, are super clever.

Cosmo Feilding-Mellen and his filmmaker team include a few hilarious bits, like having Nick Sand dress up in a fishing outfit, while in voiceover he recounts a story of fleeing to Canada by pretending to be a fisherman. They do a fun job of narrating a car chase, interleaving storytellers that include a police investigator who was working to imprison Nick for LSD manufacturing.

What The Sunshine Makers helps clarify is that Nick was and is still an activist. While Tim Scully started out an activist, the downside of being a black market synthetic chemist and spending years in prison have him sounding a somewhat more constrained note.

Overall, this is one of the best made and most interesting looks inside the LSD distribution ring that Sand and Scully were a part of. Check out the trailer on YouTube and see the full version once it’s released, both in theaters and video-on-demand. :]

Nick Sand Dresses Up

Technical Oddity: Dutch Testing Service (DIMS) Defines Pure MDMA Crystal as 84% Pure

Executive Summary: Different labs use different standards for reporting percentage purity assessments and also for mass when doing quantitative measurements for psychoactive drugs like MDMA. One lab’s 84% might be another lab’s 100%. This also means one lab’s 84 mg might be another lab’s 100 mg.

Long Version:

Erowid friend and Internet drug geek, Borax, pointed out a paper that analyzed some of the Dutch Trimbos Institute’s DIMS data. The peer-reviewed article was published in the journal Addiction: “Purity, adulteration and price of drugs bought online versus offline in the Netherlands” (2016). We love the Dutch DIMS testing service and have written about it before.

The publication of this article did not reveal a lot that we didn’t already know, but has brought into focus a heated argument that has been ongoing in public and private discussion forums about analytical methodologies for on-site and lab drug analysis.

What does it mean when a lab reports that a powder is 100% pure MDMA? What does it mean when a lab reports that a tablet contains 100 mg of MDMA?

The reason for writing about this is that there are no simple answers to those questions, though it seems like there should be.

Some online vendors of research chemicals have stated that various labs’ purity results in the 75-85% range mean that the sample was really “100% pure”, because of different ways of handling the mass of the sort-of-attached non-psychoactive salt anion. An anion is a negatively charged counter-ion that balances the positively charged, nitrogen-bearing drug molecule. When freebases are turned into salts, an anion is added.

The main case and the one that’s relatively easy to talk about is MDMA. MDMA is normally produced and distributed as MDMA hydrochloride (HCl), which is MDMA in a solution that has been converted to a crystalline form—-a “salt”-—by bubbling hydrochloric acid gas through the liquid. This causes the MDMA to turn insoluble in the solvent, precipitating out as MDMA HCl crystals. There are other possible salt forms of MDMA, but this is the “table salt” (most common salt form) of ecstasy/molly.

In fact, normal table salt or culinary salt is usually considered Sodium Chloride, or NaCl. We’re virtually swimming in tiny amounts of acids and salts in our normal environments. Remember your protective eyewear!

In addition to chloride salts like HCl, there are numerous anion salts possible, such as sulfide, fluoride, and bromide. For some psychoactive chemicals, the specific salt form can make a big difference in determining a dose. Mescaline has been distributed historically as Mescaline hydrochloride, Mescaline sulfate, Mescaline citrate, and Mescaline acetate. All of these have slightly different mass ratios between the base mescaline molecule and the portion that is the partially-bound anion. One could theoretically get 25% more or less mescaline, from a consistently weighed amount, depending on which salt form is involved.

This can be super complicated and technical and I doubt anyone is reading this who doesn’t get the basic premise. But there are technical issues like having some salt anions that bind two-to-one or one-to-two in crystalline forms. See What is the molecular weight of LSD tartrate? and many, many other discussions for crazy-making levels of detail.

As lab testing using GC/MS, HPLC, and FTIR has become more available and more projects are publishing their data and providing harm reduction information to individuals on the basis of their findings, it becomes increasingly important for more people to understand basic elements of some of the technical issues involved.

When this question of MDMA mass came up again this week, we asked the authors of the paper and the folks who work at Trimbos the following:

It has been suggested that DIMS might be using MDMA Freebase as the basis for mass and purity calculations, rather than salt masses, such as MDMA HCl. It is not described in any of your papers that I can find, but perhaps these questions will simplify the issue:

1) If DIMS received a powder sample of material that contained only MDMA HCl and nothing else, what would the reported purity be? 100%?

2) If DIMS received a tablet sample that contained 100 mg of MDMA HCl and 200 mg of lactose and inactive binders, what would the reported amount of MDMA be in that tablet? 100 mg? or would that qualify under your reporting rules as 84 mg of MDMA (freebase)?

And we got a very clear answer from the excellent Dr. Tibor Brunt:

“Indeed we use freebase as analysis standard. That actually means that if we report 100 mg MDMA in a pill, it is 119 mg in MDMA HCl. Our lab has always left out the salt component of psychoactive substances, since this component is not psychoactive. And if we’d receive a powder with 100% MDMA HCl this would be 84% maximum purity like you said.”

The reason they would define pure MDMA HCl crystal as only 84% pure is a little technical, but suffice to say it is not the only way to report an analytical result.

The reason that an expert group like Trimbos would decide to report masses this way is to normalize all their information across all salt forms of MDMA. I imagine, though I don’t know, it could be related to different types of quantitative methodologies that they have been working with for a long time.

So, dear drug geek reader, the question is not whether this issue is real, but, exactly what methodology and reporting measures are used by the analytical group you’re working with.

Update Jan 17, 2017: #

Energy Control of Spain, on the other hand, answered that they use MDMA HCl as their mass standard. They answered the questions clearly:

1) Our results directly provide the result of the salt of the substance, as
we’re using a salt as a reference standard. This means that the purity of a
sample with only MDMA HCl could be 100%.

2) Therefore, a tablet with 100mg of MDMA. HCl would be reported as 100mg
of MDMA.


Update Jan 18, 2017: Safer Party #

SaferParty and the cluster of groups in Switzerland that do work around that brand are very clear in all of their caution and warning publications that they are using MDMA HCl as their basis. For instance, “120 mg MDMA * HCl können zu viel sein”.

On Jan 30, 2017, they followed up with a long detailed answer to our questions.

Dear Earth,

Here the answer from our lab, i hope this clears things up:

As a reference standards-producing laboratory we’ve got most of our standards as solids in our hands, e.g. (water-free) salts. This is in contrast from what you get most times when buying solutions of reference standards from other companies (e.g. Cerilliant etc.). They usually sell the free base as a solution. Due to that, we are using mostly salts for calibrations. The second reason for that is, most of the time we are obtaining samples in salt forms for analysis (e.g. cocaine, heroine, MDMA, amphetamine, methamphetamine and other phenethylamines etc.); though we do not determine what kind of salt the sample consists of (e.g. hydrochloride, sulfate, acetate etc.).

We have had quite good experiences with this so far, as the sum of e.g. mixtures of amphetamine-coffeine-containing samples, when otherwise pure, reach 100% in sum when calculated with amphetamine hydrochloride. When exceeded 100% one may assume it contains a certain amount or all as free base. When the results are displayed as free base one can calculate any possible salt form. We think, according to the black market products here in Switzerland, it makes sense to give the results calculated for the hydrochloride salts, but for comparison with other labs/other countries the use of free base content would be the only value to make sense. Nevertheless, our results can easily be recalculated to the free base content, at least when knowing the type of compound we applied for calibrations/calculations.

We see it from the way that most dosage recommendations for a psychoactive compound to be taken orally or by snorting are given in the salt form (if possible), so this substantiates the indication as salt. With DMT as an example, we indicate the free base as content.

A short question the relatives the senses of indicating “purity” or “content”:

When having a chemically pure amphetamine sulfate (e.g. 100% Amphetamine sulfate”), its content of amphetamine free base is 73.4%. When having chemically pure amphetamine hydrochloride (e.g. 100% amphetamine hydrochloride), its content of amphetamine free base is 78.8%. When only seeing these numbers, which would you judge to be more pure? The lay would say it to be the second, but chemically both salt forms are chemically absolutely pure (100%).

A problem that comes in is, when having, e.g., a chemically impure amphetamine hydrochloride and reaching a displayed content of 73% amphetamine free base, one may imagine this to be a nearly chemically pure sulfate (close to the maximum content of 73.4%), but in fact it is a rather impure hydrochloride (73% out of a maximum content of 78.8%). As long as one does not determine the counterion (salt) this remains problematic.

When calibrating and calculating with salts, a measured sample consisting of free base would yield a result above 100%.

Each calibration/calculation has its own advantages, be it the use of free base, hydrochlorides, or hydrochlorides monohydrate, etc.

Let’s go to your questions:

“1) If SaferParty received a powder sample of material that contained only MDMA HCl and nothing else, what would the reported purity be? 100% ?”
As we used waterfree MDMA*HCl for calibration, we would report 100% content. As most of the samples measured here are on hand as the monohydrate (MDMA*HCl*H2O), the measured content mostly lies around a maximum of 93%.

“2) If SaferParty received a tablet sample that contained 100mg of MDMA HCl and 200mg of lactose and inactive binders, what would the reported amount of MDMA be in that tablet? 100mg ? or would that qualify under your reporting rules as 84mg of MDMA (freebase)?”
Our reported content would be 100mg MDMA*HCl.

Best regards,

For saferparty.ch
CK


Update Jan 19, 2017: The Loop #

The Loop offers analysis at music events in the UK to improve safety for partygoers and facilitate care by medical staff. When they report quantitative results for MDMA, they answered our questions as follows:

1. 100% purity
2. 100mg of MDMA (since the HCl salt is ubiquitous and service users
simply call MDMA.HCl “MDMA” we do not complicate the information they are
already getting with a description of why we are calling it something
different).

http://wearetheloop.co.uk/


Update Jan 19, 2017: CheckIt! Austria #

CheckIt! Austria very generously took their question to their technical staff and verified their answer before getting back to us:

Our chief chemist just got back to regarding your question.

We use MDMA.HCl to prepare our standards for quantitative measurements. So if we would receive sample solely consisting of MDMA.HCl, the result would be 100%. Quantitative MDMA results in tablets are also reported as HCl. So if a tablet contains 100mg MDMA.HCl and let’s say 100 mg alpha-Lactose monohydrate we would report 100mg MDMA content.

Xiao Ren Ren : The “Little People” of Yunnan

This is a very fun paper.

Xiao Ren Ren : The “Little People” of Yunnan by David Arora in 2008. It’s about his visit to Yunnan, China where he encountered edible boletes (mushrooms with spore pores instead of gills) that stained blue and reportedly caused people to see “little people”.

Also on ResearchGate.

“And if I don’t stir-fry [the mushrooms] for ten minutes?”

“Ahhh,” the man said, his eyes bright and mischievous and his wide grin punctuated by a massive, gleaming metal molar. “Well, then of course ‘ni kan xiao ren ren’ (you will see the little people).”

I don’t understand why Arora wouldn’t have collected dry and wet samples of each, sent parts to a lab, and saved parts for later confirmation. Even tiny parts of biomaterial can have the DNA sequenced relatively cheaply these days.

But, regardless, there are many fungal mysteries still to be worked out in the world.

Successful September Drive – Thanks

Thanks to all who helped by donating, spreading the word, or working on the site! Erowid got 1,240 donations in September, the most ever in a single month. We’re still finalizing some of the donations, there are always some that get reversed and have to be removed, but we probably have a few mailed-in checks that haven’t gotten into the number either.

Median donation size was, once again, $10. 316 donations on the last day of the drive and 779 donations in the last five days.

Additional Backing Drive Funding

A couple more folks have stepped up and added to our matching drive. Today we got an additional $2,500 in matching funds. Right now, at midnight west coast time, we have $17,002 in matching funds and have used about $7,000. We’re hoping maybe to get another couple thousand in backing over the next few days, but it will be a stretch.

But, a longer stretch is to keep building momentum with next Friday as our end date.

Another Revision of Bitcoin Transaction Importer

Most bitcoin donations to Erowid come in very small amounts and not super often. But, ever September, I need to have a daily tracking of incoming bitcoin donations to keep our daily September Drive numbers accurate.

Otherwise, there’s no reason to do day-to-day tracking of bitcoin donations. But, each year it seems each system I use to do server-side pull and parse of bitcoin donations into our contribution tracker change format or meaning. And again this year.

After some very generous folks contributed 45 bitcoin donations yesterday, it became clear that I needed to stop entering them manually into our contribution list and had to update the importer. So, this year, I’m using the JSON output from :

http://webbtc.com/address/

It took me a few hours of figuring out the differences between the different formats I’d been reading.

So, that makes 65 bitcoin donations so far in September. Hurray!

Sept Drive

Research Shows Having Illegal Drugs in the Home Makes it More Likely People Will Use Them

Huh?

Researchers and the drearily uncreative folks at ScienceDirect tell us that those teens who have access to illegal drugs in the home from their parents are more likely to have tried them before those young people who do not get the drugs from their parents’ stash.

Odds ratio for using Cannabis or “Other Drugs” was about 2, meaning that people who reported having “illegal drugs easily available” in the home were twice as likely to have tried cannabis or illegal drugs compared to those who said that illegal drugs were not “easily available” in their homes as teenagers.

Overall, I was expecting to hate the article but think it’s pretty decent. But it’s incessantly annoying to read summaries of research findings, like Science Direct’s, that do not describe the magnitude of the effects nor how well known the finding is. What every summary of this should say is “the following is what everyone knew ahead of time and this is the first step in trying to sort out exactly how all the variables are associated in the populations we study.”

One thing that the summary didn’t highlight is that just being male had about the same effect size: around twice.

Table 5 Odds Ratios from Paper
Table 5 Odds Ratios from Paper

If that seems interesting to you, then you might want to read this crap:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160729110923.htm

Or the abstract and paid article in this low end journal “Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse”. The journal isn’t even index by PubMed. 🙁 At least their publisher can afford a DOI subscription.

Erowid Ref 9080 or http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1067828X.2015.1103346

They keep having to move domains, but the full article is available via Sci-Hub.

Experience Vault Micro Update: Published Date Added

Summary: Added a new field “Date Published” to Experience Reports and moved all code over to use that instead of “Date Reviewed”. If anyone sees errors in the Experience Vault lists or What’s New, please let me know.

tl;dr

Changes to the Experience Vaults are hard because I wrote the code for almost all of it back in 2000 and then a major update in 2004. All written in ancient Perl that’s extremely fragile and a pain to set up as a development environment. On the plus side, it mostly works.

As a preliminary step towards a couple of other new features for crew and public, yesterday I added the very obvious “date published” field. We’d been skating by using Reviewed Date (the date that the first reviewer edited the report and marked it ready to be live) as the date published. But there are lots of reasons why one doesn’t want to have a single value for editing history and publication date. So, editing history is now properly just editing history and we don’t have to jury-rig and falsify the editing date in order to have the date of publication be correct. woo. :]

Date published is now the primary sort.

It’s a tiny update, but because of the complexity and fragility of the old code, the perl library I chose to use was failing in weird ways and it took five hours to debug to the point where I realized I could solve the problem by moving the logic out into a separate library (namespace) and it all magically just started working.

Stupidly Misused Neo-Terminology: E-Psychonaut

In reading a recent paper by Schifano F, Orsolini L, Papanti D, Corkery J, we ran across their ridiculous term “e-psychonauts” from this and a previous paper.

It’s always sad to see people writing new articles, especially medical or anthropology papers that pretend that the use of electronic communication is somehow noteworthy or aberrant. It is not.

Vulnerable subjects, including both children/adolescents and
psychiatric patients, may be exposed to a plethora of pro drug web pages, from which unpublished/anecdotal levels of knowledge related to the NPS are typically provided by the ‘e-psychonauts’ (e.g. drug fora/blog communities’ members; [124]).

That refers back to a a paper from 2015 by the same authors.

The authors define the term in their abstract:

Within online drug fora communities, there are some educated and informed users who can somehow provide reliable information on psychoactive compounds and combinations. These users, also called e-psychonauts, may possess levels of technical knowledge relating to a range of novel psychoactive substances (NPS).

And then go on to tout how excitingly new the idea of “e-psychonauts” is, despite the idea of online drug geeks being not remotely new by any reasonable standard. Not new to published articles, not new to published medical articles, not new to agencies funding massive “web surveillance”, not new to the mega mainstream media scare machinery, not new to anyone.

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper represents the first systematic study aimed at providing a description of e-psychonauts, which may be of some use in prevention activities.

Demographics of online drug geeks? Not new. Perhaps it’s just a simple indictment of the “authors’s knowledge” and the knowledge of the article’s unnamed reviewers and editors.

The term “e-psychonaut” seems like it could be useful to mean psychonauts who are using new electronic psychoactives, such as electroceuticals, mind machines, transcranial magnetic stimulation, direct neural stimulation, or the like.

But, no, these authors and the terrible editors who helped them foist the term into the medical literature, seem to have missed that very approximately 100% of the adult populations under 60 years old in advanced countries now use “computers” or “electronic devices”. [To be clear, I know that it’s not actually 100%, it’s more like 90% of adults in the US under 60 years old, but virtually everyone /has used/ the internet.]

Perhaps in the 1990s it might have been helpful to distinguish between “psychonauts” who used electronic communication and those who did not. But in 2016? Not so much.

We appreciate that the authors and the low-end journals they publish in are willing to use Google to learn about “novel drugs” like 2C-B. But it really seems depressingly quaint in 2016.

As one indication of how well edited their papers are, in reading through them, I noticed this excellent reference in the opening paragraph of their 2015 paper “Ectasy.org [sic]”, cited to “Ectasy.org. www.ectasy.org (accessed Jan. 22, 2014).”

Oops. Don’t they use spell check? Regardless of spell check, getting through publication with a sad typo in the opening paragraph indicates bad things about the publication’s editorial process and overall quality. In case it’s not clear, that’s a typo for Ecstasy.org. Ectasy.org is a long-squatted typo domain with no content.