By virtue of being molecularly distinct, these newer synthetics now exist somewhere between the realms of legal and illegal, in the gray. That’s a big deal to most of the people who are drawn to them: those who are often drug-tested, particularly in the Army and Navy, or trying to dodge rehab (drug tests have yet to be updated for many synthetics); less affluent users who like the fact that a lot of these drugs are extremely cheap and sometimes even found in head shops; and kids who probably don’t even know a drug dealer, but they do know how to order things off the Internet. Most of these folks are looking for legal amphetamines. The Wizard’s crowd of underground psychonauts, probably made up of about 10,000 to 20,000 people, most of whom communicate through the forums, are a little different. They’re most interested in the ability to custom-match a substance with a desire—even if, in some cases, the new drugs are substandard to known ones (making your heart race; shoving you through a fractal landscape with elves coming out of the gloaming; making you feel weird, and not good weird, but bad weird). “You can pinpoint what you want now: ‘I’d like something of four hours’ duration with mescaline effects, or twelve hours’ duration with alternating mushroom and LSD rushes,’ ” says a 37-year-old software engineer whose activity in this realm has led friends to give him the nickname of Saddam Hussein’s poison-gas henchman, “Chemical Ali.”
One afternoon at the Jivamuktea Cafe near Union Square, Lex Pelger, a slight, unprepossessing 30-year-old with a degree in biochemistry, an evil eye pinned to his plaid shirt, digs past a copy of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and an invitation to a Bushwick burlesque party in his messenger bag, pulling out a creased, complicated chart of all the new synthetics. He points to the entry for the new hot synthetic psychedelic, the “N-bomb” (the NBOMe series), which resembles LSD in its effects but is shorter-lasting and cheaper, at about $1 per dose. You have to be careful with the dosage, which must be measured in submilligrams: “A tiny amount is so powerful,” Chemical Ali had told me. “I figured out that if you mix it with vodka and put it in a nasal-spray bottle, it’s a fifteen-minute come-up, peaks at an hour and a half, and you’re on your way out at two hours.” At Jivamuktea, Pelger takes a bite of his salad. “In New York, you can’t give acid away—it’s an entire day: ‘I have to do laundry,’ ‘I need to see this person,’ it sucks,” he says. “The N-bomb is less intellectual and about giant God questions than LSD, and a little bit more in your body—great for dates or art museums.” The last time he took it, he went to his favorite tripping spot in Prospect Park, then to the Asian-art section of the Brooklyn Museum. “There was this Korean pot that was so beautiful that I got it in my head that it was unsafe where the assholes and pigfuckers could see it, and I had to smash the glass and rescue it. It was the first time in a long time that I almost made a mistake with psychedelics.”
If you happen to be looking to vandalize a museum in order to rescue some Korean pots, obtaining these drugs is easier than you might imagine. Like everything else, the business of drug dealing is getting disrupted by the Internet. Some users download an encrypted web browser to purchase peer-reviewed illegal drugs on the website the Silk Road, but it’s far more commonplace for them to simply type “buy N-bomb” into Google, hit a site located abroad, and process fees through an anonymized payment service (some may rip you off, but that’s just part of the game). That the DEA has shut down U.S.-based vendors of these drugs doesn’t really have an effect on the end consumer, who still receives his package in the mail, usually stamped with a label reading not for human consumption on the front, in hopes of some protection from U.S. drug laws.
The bags usually come with a diagram of the drug’s molecular structure taped to the front, a nice wrapping paper, “and you could show it to a cop if you were ever stopped with a bag,” says one user, “and show him that the molecular structure of the drug makes it technically legal.” Like many others, the Wizard followed the recommended dosages for these drugs on Erowid.org, an online nonprofit sort of World Book of drugs that is funded entirely by donations. Run by a husband and wife, Earth and Fire Erowid (the names are pseudonyms), living outside Yosemite, the site has the slogan “Know your body. Know your mind. Know your substance. Know your source,” and some of its 59,000 pages of information were recently used as the most reliable source of human data on drugs in a study at UC Berkeley.