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Caught in the Web
Drug Attic
by Juliann Wilding
Originally published in See Magazine
What the hell is 5-MeO-DMT? How do you know if you're actually addicted to caffeine? What do you do if a patient is ODing on a substance you've never even heard of?

Consult The Vaults of Erowid, an independent online encyclopedia of information dedicated to "documenting the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives." Containing over 25,000 individual documents related to drug use, Erowid is a site compiled from the experiences, words, and efforts of hundreds of individuals including users, parents, health professionals, therapists, chemists, researchers, teachers, and lawyers.

The site was created by a pair of neo-hippie data geeks without PhDs, institutional backup or government funding. Longtime partners Earth and Fire maintain the vault out of their home in San Francisco, California, and are self-described "librarians, archivists and Internet dorks" who believe that better access to better information just makes for better decisions in the long run.

"Basically, we act as though there isn't prohibition," says Earth. "We are trying to publish this information as if the world were already making rational choices around this complicated area." Politics overwhelms the scientific investigation of recreational drugs, and rationality rarely comes into the public narrative over the use of psychoactives–even the legal and socially acceptable kind like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and pharmaceuticals. By creating an anonymous and evolving space of discussion, debate, and trust, Erowid is a striking example of guerrilla information war whose very accessibility dissolves the exaggerations, hysteria and outright lies common to government and mainstream-media discussion of drugs.

Though both Earth and Fire post pieces themselves, most documents are other peoples' work, and many contradict one another. Psychoactives are a deeply perplexing dimension of the human experience, and Erowid doesn't project morality or scrutinize every crazy claim. They present you with as many sides to the same question (Does MDMA damage your brain?) as possible–the rest is up to you.