One of the eye-opening consequences of using a fitness tracker or Apple Watch to monitor your heart rate is realising that even a seemingly innocuous drug like alcohol has a clear measurable effect on your body: average heart rates ebb and flow in line with consumption (and subsequent hangover.)

Where once the idea of "drugs" was seedy and tainted with criminality, today, a combination of very open data sharing, a willingness to experiment in a less hedonistic way, and the ease with which one can buy anything anonymously on the dark web, means that not only is drug-taking approached differently, but there are many new drugs to take.

Kathryn Lawrence takes a look at how old drugs are being used in new ways, and how future drugs may be used less as a way to get out of it, and more as a route to get something more out of life...


Huey Lewis had nothing on the latest technology to make you feel strange.

What he wanted, a drug that makes him feel like he feels "alone with you," can be found in phenethylamine, a nervous system stimulant that is also known as the "Love Drug," and is thought to be one of the chemical reasons (along with theobromine) that chocolate gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling.

The 1991 and 1997 books PiHKAL and TiHKAL, (acronyms for Phenethylamines and Tryptomines I Have Known And Loved) are still considered the bibles of drug synthesis.

Published by biochemist and psychopharmacologist Alexander Shulgin, and co-written with his wife Ann, they illustrate the processes of creating such now well-known compounds as MDMA, DMT, Mescaline, Melatonin, and LSD, as well as lesser-known synthetic psychedelics in the 2C family.

Both Shulgins were pioneers in the use of psychedelics for therapy and in publishing these books have "open-sourced" psychedelic drug research.

But what do these drugs have to do with future tech?


Think Different

Since Steve Jobs dropped acid at Reed College in the 70s, people have been associating industry-disrupting vision with drug-induced cognitive enhancement.

Microdosing LSD has recently become popular in the tech community: that is, taking 20 micrograms or less of lysergic acid, below the psychedelic threshold, so as to experience the creative and energy boosting effects of the drug – without the often debilitating or at least workday-derailing hallucinatory effects.

However, because LSD and other psychedelic drugs are largely illegal to manufacture and sell, studies on their long- and short-term beneficial use have been limited. Organizations such as MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, advocate for and sponsor scientific research into the therapeutic use of marijuana, MDMA, and LSD.

But the lack of research doesn't seem to be stopping people from trying it, as new stories continue to amass anecdotal evidence from anonymous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, groups of over 400 volunteers, a 64-year-old psychotherapist, and journalists from Marie Claire to the Willamette Week.

Even podcasters are getting into it: enjoy episode #44 of Gimlet Media's show "Reply All," if you want to hear people suprised that being high on LSD at work isn't a comfortable experience:


The Future Freaks Me Out

We can always turn to science fiction to predict the highs and lows, the uppers and the downers, of the future. Wikipedia's list of fictional medicines and drugs provides a comprehensive look into ways authors have imagined how we'll want to feel different, and notes that fictional drugs, "are often included by authors to create or to reduce the utopian/ideal nature of their fictional world and to introduce harsh realism and dystopia."

So here's a short list of fictional drugs that, based on today's trends, we might expect future chemists to take a stab at synthesizing:

"DMZ" from Infinite Jest: "Powerful hallucinogen derived from a species of mold."

New drugs made from previously-undiscovered fungi have been discovered as recently as June of 2017, according to Science Daily.

"Electricity" from Futurama: "While electricity is real, it is often abused by robots in the year 3000, and its effects seem to be psychedelic, with withdrawal symptoms of paranoia."

The question of whether robots can become truly intelligent and exhibit creativity is already being asked, so why shouldn't we think that artificial intelligences won't also seek psychedelic experiences?

"Bananadine" from The Anarchist's Cookbook and "Leeches" from Above The Influence: A joke or hoax psychoactive drug extracted from banana peels and an activity called "SLOMming" (standing for "Sticking Leeches On Myself") was depicted as being popular with high-school students looking to get high.

Both these fictional drugs caused people to actually try them in real life (yes, teens really did start sticking leeches on themselves thanks to a poorly constructed metaphor in an anti-drug PSA). But who knows, maybe some day a joke drug could unexpectedly prove to actually work.


Until we all have microchips in our brains, or spend the majority of our time in virtual realities, we probably won't have drugs like Tek (an illegal, addictive, mind-altering digital drug in the form of a microchip) and Snow Crash (which exists as both a computer virus and a hallucinogenic drug) but given that both of those advancements in technology are well on their way, it could be only a matter of time before microdosing LSD is as simple as running LSD.exe.

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