Written by Crystal Fraser, Contributor
Wednesday, 04 April 2007
ImageErowid.org bridges the gap between ‘Just say NO' and ‘Just say YES'
Marijuana, mushrooms, salvia, cocaine, heroin, speed, LSD, MDMA, MDA, PCP, antidepressants, alcohol, tobacco, glue, caffeine and the list goes on.
From over-the-counter cough syrup to underground manufactured chemicals, psychoactive drugs are everywhere, and it's hard to find someone who hasn't tried something. While access to drugs may be easy, access to information on drugs is another story. You can't trust parents and teachers who say, "Don't smoke pot!" and you can't trust the dealer who says coke will be better than the best sex you've ever had.
Where's the middle ground? Go online and open the Vaults of Erowid, and you will find it.
Erowid (www.erowid.org) is a virtual library of drugs founded by Earth and Fire Erowid, a California couple who have dedicated their lives to the hunt for psychoactive knowledge. Their vault is filled with valuable and sometimes unique data on just about every drug, from just about every angle.
"There were a number of reasons why we started Erowid," said Fire, the female half of the Erowid couple. "Primarily, we were very disappointed with the information that was available about psychoactives in the early 1990s."
Capitalizing on the accessibility of the Internet, Erowid has been able to fill the information void with over 30,000 documents that explore everything from effects to chemistry, art to recipes, experience reports to legalities. With its extensive collection and the ever-present need for answers, Erowid attracts millions of visitors every year, some of which may surprise you. Drug users, potential drug users, students, medical professionals, law enforcement officers, researchers and many others use Erowid to find reliable information they can't get elsewhere. Many of these groups are also contributors, offering different perspectives and information to further expand Erowid's ongoing discourse on drugs and their roles in people's lives.
Despite Erowid's controversial content, they have encountered little resistance.
"Generally, everyone likes having access to good data ( . . . ) and that's our goal. We want to provide the same good quality information to everyone," said Fire.
Const. Harry Lawrenson of the Ontario Provincial Police, and co-ordinator 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.
"I think the more education people get, the better," said Lawrenson. "I think they're doing the right thing; you know, people need to understand the consequences, pro and con, of what they're doing, or going to do."
Because Erowid writes for a more mature audience (while DARE targets elementary-aged children) Lawrenson said he would point skeptical teens and adults seeking information to the site. While Erowid has the potential to turn people off of drugs, it could also convince people to try them.
"I would tell them to cautiously go in there," he asserted.
The global respect that Erowid is earning is underscored by the neutrality of the website. It does not advocate a world in which everybody and their grandmother shoots up every night, but it does realize that drugs play a positive role in many people's lives. Their working philosophy is that an understanding of the human-psychoactive relationship depends on an ongoing and evolving dialogue on drugs and drug culture.
"A lack of factual information doesn't stop people from using psychoactives," said Fire. "If it did, there wouldn't have been much use before access to the Internet became common. So given that we can assume people will continue to use psychoactives, they should be encouraged to make choices based on factual data. We believe this will both increase safety and improve the decisions people make in other ways."
Erowid.org is not a hobby for Earth and Fire; to accommodate the many submissions, queries and updates requiring attention, the couple has made the site their full-time job. While Erowid is a public website, it depends on visitor donations to pay for the materials and the small staff needed to keep it running.
Despite their struggles, Fire maintains that Erowid will continue its mission.
"We sometimes joke that it's stupid that we're the ones doing this as it should be handled by a large neutral government-funded health organization. Four people and some volunteers trying to produce and pay for it with visitor contributions just seems silly.
"Maybe someday it won't any longer be necessary for us to do this
( . . . ) but until then, we hope to continue developing new and innovative resources that help people make good decisions around the ever-increasing variety of psychoactives available to them."