It’s legal to buy poppy seeds in America and it’s legal to plant them—unless you’re familiar with the simple process of turning them into opium, that is. Then having poppies in your garden is a felony.
Getting clean with a three-day trip.
Previously: The Longform Guide to Addiction.
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”
A punk heroin addict navigates 1980s Detroit.
"About an hour later, Harwell and Rollo were squatting (literal) in their squat (figurative) on Broadville, about a mile from the convenience store that had just fallen victim to their considerable wrath. They hadn’t said a word longer than four letters to each other since sprinting away from the Quality Dairy, and for the last thirty minutes they’d been listening for any movement outside, not sure if they’d been followed, or if Chavo and the night manager had enough information about them gathered from their several months of patronage to know where they hung their heads."
A forgotten birthday cake sets off a chain of unexpected events.
"The door to the bakery is meant to be pulled, but I push hard against it, like a bird hitting the glass. The lady behind the counter settles eyes on me, so I pull myself up as straight as I can and pull the door. On a wooden board above the register a TV is playing The Today Show. Jane Pauley and Madonna won’t shut up about Madonna’s dress like it’s gonna end the Cold War and I have to wonder if I’m the only person in the world living with trouble. Be-hind the glare of the case, I can see the Cinderella cake covered in icy blue frosting thick as a comforter. A glass carriage flies across the surface in needle-thin icing. I put my hand to the glass—forgetting the lady behind the counter—smudging it, until she clears her throat.
An undercover cop targets an autistic teen as a drug dealer.
How a 40-year-old IT consultant became nod, one of Silk Road’s highest volume heroin dealers, who turned informant and then fugitive.
A bungled operation in Honduras and the enduring ineffectiveness of America’s war on drugs.
How John Snavely went from petty criminal to porn star to prison.
An uncle sets out to find his wayward niece.
"I pick Jerry’s and I’m right. A couple of old people are hanging out outside the pizza place and next to them groups of highschool kids. I see Sara. She’s sitting on a mailbox, leaning over a guy, her back to me. The sharp outline of her spine showing through her tank top and she doesn’t look like she’s been eating. She’s a good looking girl though, I can tell. An old Ozzy Ozbourne song plays from the open door of a Lexus next to them."
The rise and fall of Colorado’s newly-legal cash crop.
What a secret audio tape revealed about the murder of mycologist and magic mushroom pioneer Steven Pollock.
Two malcontents engage in a phone romance.
"We talked for a long time, more than an hour, until I got sleepy, so I started to fall asleep with her on the phone. The next night, around the same time, she called me again. I was really happy she did that. We had a nice conversation. She told me this story, how she used to prank call a math teacher of hers in junior high. She did it so much, she figured out how to reprogram his outgoing message, using his two-digit remote-access code. She redid his outgoing greetings, said things that were explicitly sexual. Her teacher didn’t understand technology or remote-access codes. He assumed someone was breaking into his house each day to rerecord his message. It filled him with fear and paranoia. He bought a dog. He had an alarm installed and got a prescription for sleeping pills. It was a long time—nearly a year—before the police identified Koko and got to the bottom of the mystery. "
Adventures with a group of young Hasidic men looking for God in psychedelic drugs.
Research into mind-altering drugs is back.
How Georgia halted its drug epidemic, but not its addicts–and what the U.S. might learn from their efforts.
A high school athlete from a troubled Brooklyn family tries to stay on the right path in a small Virginia town.
"But it didn’t take long for Marcus to get around to missing Brooklyn. On weeknights his granny would be in bed by eight, and since the television in the living room got such poor reception Marcus would go to his room. The windows in Granny’s house had no curtains or blinds, so when it was dark he got a creepy feeling, like he was being watched. There were no yellow streetlights, no sirens or car stereos, nobody calling out to anybody else outside. Just unfamiliar sounds rising and filling up the air until it sounded like they were invading the room itself. Frogs? Crickets? He couldn’t tell. He’d make up his bed and lie down in it and put on his headphones and close his eyes and think about home."
On the renaissance in psychedelic research.
A woman struggles with her faith while caring for her addicted husband.
"She stood up, brushing off the back of her jeans. She would choose to believe the anointing had worked. That there would be some change. That she and Mitch would embrace and begin the path toward healing. God would never give her more than she could handle. It said that in the Bible. Nothing beyond what you can bear. She and Mitch were only being tested, refined like silver."
Sketches of late nights, drinking, friendships, and worries.
"We get drunk at the bar. We yell and sway. We hold up fingers in each other's faces. We wave our arms and say, But-but-but. We drink the cheapest beer we can find. Or we drink the beer with the highest alcohol content. Or we drink bottles of beer, not mixed drinks, in the bar down the street because the owner, Maria, has a weak pour. We stay up all night. We watch the sky start to grey and we feel sick, like we're seeing something we shouldn't, though it feels as if we missed something, too."
A trio of addicts--a man, a woman, and a prostitute--venture into Las Vegas to find a dealer.
"At the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard, we are swallowed by a cheery, comforting crowd of good mothers from Wisconsin and fathers from Minnesota, out as late as they ever have been. It is a sea of gaping purses. Flip-phones are holstered to belts, tucked under big bellies. Half-drunk gallon-sized tubes of ruby-red beverage crowd the trashcans and I have no qualms about picking one for myself and gulping it down. The liquid is warm and syrupy, but under it all there is the low burn of rum, a small relief. Deborah has powdered her nose and is eyeballing the frat boys on the periphery. Only Shelly is looking lost, still sweating around her underarms, her eyes bugging and the space under her chin, dipping up and down, swallowing nothing."
On November 12, 2012, after Belizean police announced that they were seeking him for questioning in connection with the murder of his neighbor, John McAfee began a well-publicized stint on the lam. Six months earlier, the writer had begun an in-depth investigation into McAfee's life. This is the chronicle of that investigation.
Listen to Joshua Davis disucsses this article on the Longform Podcast.
A young woman with Tourette's syndrome spends time with her wayward friends.
"I am secretly hoping that the haloperidol (that Betty stole from my dad’s medicine cabinet) will allow me to feel as free as Betty seems to, moving through the world as a lobster skitters on the ocean floor. Though she is my best friend, I am never free of the suspicion that Betty is unfamiliar with my most basic mindset. I don’t think she’s ever been really depressed or picked at a mosquito bite until it bled or called somebody in the middle of the night and cried inconsolably when they answered. She rarely questions the wisdom or consequences of her impulsiveness, tongue-kissing strangers and spearheading midnight road trips, creating an ongoing mosaic of haphazard worldly heat that never needs revising or regretting."
Is Bryan Saunders a drug-inspired outsider genius, or just in need of intervention?
In Colorado and beyond, a negotiated surrender in the war on drugs.
Dunks, drugs, and disappointment: an oral history of the 1980s Houston Rockets.
A simple title; a complex, detailed look at the ebbs and flows of modern dating and instability.
"'I’ve never felt you act this way before,' said Michelle, unsteadily, looking down; something in her previously assured, or at least focused, was now tired and scared, the protest of it having dispersed to something negotiable or seizable. They stood not looking at each other as the rain fell on them in an idle, general insistence of somethingness. Paul felt himself trying to interpret the situation, as if there was a problem to be solved, but there wasn’t anything, or maybe there was but Paul was three or four skill sets away from comprehending it, like an amoeba trying to create a personal webpage using CSS."
The evolution of an obsession.
The rise of the “wildly lucrative” herbal incense business, and the downfall of one company.
Wildly diverse thoughts while waiting for coffee.
"I then remember that I am only ordering coffee and wonder how that would be depicted and I settle on an outline of Columbia only to realize that I am giving far too much credit to the register’s operator to deduce that coffee is the blow state’s largest legal export and then wonder if it could be a button with a brown “C” and realize how easily that would be confused with Coke."
Life inside a provincial Russian drug den. Originally appeared in Russky Reporter.
Two gay brothers--one semi-closeted, one out--navigate a lifetime of tensions and problems.
"But something changed between Davis and me the afternoon we met downtown for lunch, sitting in a coffee shop in a small vinyl booth, facing one another. Davis leaned forward as he talked. When we were in high school, he confided, he'd sometimes taken our mother's Impala and driven downtown to have sex with a Korean man he'd met in a park, an accountant who lived in a boardinghouse near Dupont Circle. He and the man never really spoke, Davis said; nothing was exchanged between them, nothing but sex, which was hurried and guilty, and which provided only the most momentary relief, followed by Davis's long drive back to our house in the suburbs, listening to the call-in shows on stations our mother had preprogrammed on her car radio. He'd also had sex a few times with a popular boy, he said, a football player he'd occasionally brought back to our house while our mother was working, offering him some beer or a little marijuana, though the boy never acknowledged him afterward, not even with a quick nod if they happened to pass one another in the hallway the next day at school."
On the legal history of LSD in America and a researcher who never gave up on the drug’s promise.
“Transforming into an Administrative Jekyll for a certain amount of time every day limits the amount of time my Creative Hyde can come up with content to market and sell. Luckily, amphetamines have that problem tackled as well: when you’re using them, you don’t have to sleep… at all.”
Perpetually reinvented through experimental chemistry, manufactured in Asian mills, packaged in foil with names like White Slut Concentrated and Charley Sheene for use as “hookah cleaner,” distributed in college town head shops, snorted and injected by hardened addicts and high school thrill seekers alike, bath salts may be the strangest and most volatile American drug craze since crack. And they’re (quasi) legal.
The story of Christopher and Jeffrey George, the twin proprietors of a pain clinic empire.
A group of Long Island misfits with aspirations towards Satanic worship disappeared into the woods to take mescaline. One of them never came back.
Portraits from weed country.
A story about a young woman's history of drug addiction.
"They had met just before the holidays. She was still shaky from rehab, having jagged days, nightmares, humongous cravings. She hadn't felt that bad in years, not since after the accident, when she was sixteen and went through the windshield near dawn after a long foggy night at the clubs on Sunset. Then she had stayed in a coma for weeks. (Her mother always talked about it in this dramatic voice, 'Arabella was in a coma for weeks, she came back from the dead.') It was cozy enough for her, she was feeling no pain, just morphine and voices and a sense of almost being where she belonged. In a coma was fine with her. Coming out of it was a bitch."
An interview on the logistics of running North America’s only legal facility for drug addicts to push heroin and cocaine and other types of substances into their veins.
An investigation of the county’s Tactical Narcotics Team and, in particular, a Christmas-themed sting dubbed “Santa’s Helper”:
A two-month investigation by New Times has found that Santa's Helper was a colossal waste of police resources. Of the 112 suspects arrested, 73 people were charged only with misdemeanor pot possession. The vast majority of the busted pot smokers were either released within 24 hours or avoided jail by promising to show up in court. Of the 73 alleged tokers, 68 of them — including Dante Level and his siblings — had no violent criminal record. If they were guilty of anything, it was smoking a joint on their own front porch.
A stoned woman's journey encompasses family memories and political and feminist activism.
"The caravan of images broke apart, dispersing into the motes that poured through the windshield of her Dart. Ruth took off her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes. The tiny blood vessels felt huge. She did not know her sister anymore; they were separated by politics and by her marriage to Jack. Had she ever known Helene? Ruth put the saliva-soaked joint to her lips, aware now of the music coming over the radio. “All you need is love. Love is all you need.” She laughed, sapphires and rubies spilling from her mouth, and the sadness left for a moment."
How the CIA, under a program called MK-ULTRA, used a San Francisco apartment to dose johns with LSD.
A young man analyzes his personal problems while making a cattle delivery.
"I think about driving back through this mess after I drop the cows off, and speed up the drive in my eyes so that it’s like watching a movie in fast forward: me and the truck diving into the green again. I see my daddy in the house waiting for me, sitting at his same seat at the table. I picture this in my head even though I know he probably ain’t even going to be there, that the house will smell like empty: dust and cut grass and Comet and fried grease."
"Opium does not deprive you of your senses. It does not make a madman of you. But drink does. See? Who ever heard of a man committing murder when full of hop. Get him full of whiskey and he might kill his father."
A journey into New York’s turn-of-the-century opium dens to find out who gets hooked and why.
The unlikely people who’ve turned to selling weed in the recession.
A statistics-based argument that drug pricing, not drug use or law enformencement, is the only way to predict swings in violent crime rates.
Nick now claims that he was searching for methamphetamine for his entire life, and when he tried it for the first time, as he says, ''That was that.'' It would have been no easier to see him strung out on heroin or cocaine, but as every parent of a methamphetamine addict comes to learn, this drug has a unique, horrific quality.
The grimy despair of drug addiction: Celebrating Banned Books Week 2011.
"The D.S. retches into his handkerchief and points to the door with a limp hand. The Buyer stands up looking at the D.S. dreamily. His body begins to dip like a dowser’s wand. He flows forward..."
A man's crumbling life is explored through his precise medical afflictions and liquid consumption.
"“This is a little bit of shit luck that you’ll certainly shake,” his father had sighed sympathetically into the phone. “You know, when you step in shit, sometimes you just got to leave that shoe outside for a while, but eventually, it airs itself out.” It was an awkward attempt to imbue some wisdom on his son, but Fredrick wasn’t exactly sure what he meant."
A clinical test is underway to evaluate MDMA—ecstasy—as a treatment for PTSD.
A boy ("the kid"), a man, a girl, a dog, a a bag of drugs, and the Buddha.
"The kid didn't laugh, because he never fake-laughed. The girl laughed because she was nervous. There was an uneasy space where the kid was not laughing. "
Rust as a drug.
"Hydrated ferric oxide. A textbook will tell you it's what happens when iron oxidizes after exposure to air and water, but that's what happens to iron, not to you. Not to you if you put a fingertip coated with its sandy granules to the back of your tongue or when you inhale a long, coppery ridge. "
A trip to the Cannabis Cup serves as a backdrop for the story of how the War on Drugs revolutionized the way marijuana is cultivated in America.
New fiction from the author of 2010's Mr. Peanut.
"All of Patricia’s family pictures are still inside. Her clothes are still in the drawers. Her Garfield posters are still up on the walls. Everything."
Sasha Shulgin, a former DOW chemist who now lives a quiet life as a pensioner outside the Bay Area, is responsible for the discovery of the majority of psychedelic compounds currently known.
On the many lives and careers of Owsley Stanley (1935-2011), chemist, sound design innovator, and outback jeweler, whose name appears in the OED as a synonym for “a particularly pure form of LSD.”
Stuck between the Taliban and the U.S. Military, Afghanistan’s farmers risk their lives both when they grow, and when they refuse to grow, fields of poppies.
Dandenis Muñoz Mosquera, a.k.a. “La Quica,” was one of Pablo Escobar’s top killers. Now he’s in a maximum security prison in Colorado. Here’s the thing: for all his crimes, La Quica may not have committed the one that put him away.
A single-page version of Shalhoup’s reporting on the Black Mafia Family, one of the largest cocaine empires in American history.
The godfather of experimental psychedelics and his many occasionally imprisoned followers.
Pitching a no-hitter in the middle of a multi-day acid bender was only one of Dock Ellis’ many amazing exploits.
For most people who participate in clinical trials, being a guinea pig is just a way to make a quick buck. For others, it’s a career.
In the 1950s, L.S.D. became a Beverly Hills’ therapy fad, and it profoundly changed idols like Cary Grant.
On September 28, 1980, the Washington Post published a story by an ambitious young reporter about an 8-year-old boy addicted to heroin. The story won a Pulitzer. The boy didn’t exist.
In the early ’80s, underground chemists cooked up synthetic versions of heroin that took over the market in California—and left young users with symptoms typically associated with Parkinson’s.
Nitrous balloon vendors clash in the parking lots of jam band festival across the Northeast.
Anesthesiologists, in hugely disproportionate numbers compared to other doctors, are getting high.
In the 1980s, Billy Ray Bates, once dubbed “the Legend,” drank himself out of the NBA and ended up playing in the Philippines. For a few wild years, his legend grew–both on the court and in the bars.
Before embarking on dangerous rock climbs, Matt Samet would use whiskey to wash down powerful prescription tranquilizers. A first-person account of extreme addiction.
April Savino, a teenage homeless runaway, lived in Grand Central Terminal from 1984 until 1987 when she committed suicide on the steps of a nearby church.
Lenny makes $5,000 a week selling coke. It was easy to get into the business after finishing prep school. Getting out and going legit after his final score is proving much more difficult.
The not-so-underground culture of neuroenhancing drug use, and where it’s headed.
How the actor ended up with a house full of tourniquets and syringes, an unflinching belief in the restorative powers of “ozone,” and the brain scan of someone who has “experienced the equivalent of blunt trauma.”
It took a desperate screenwriter to find Max Mermelstein, Miami’s former coke overlord, after twenty-five years in hiding.
An excerpt from Night of the Gun, the memoir by New York Times media critic David Carr about his years as a junkie in late-’80s Minneapolis.
From Hong Kong to Bangkok to the Golden Triangle, the author searches for something everyone says no longer exists: an opium den.
How Todd Marinovich, engineered from birth to be the greatest quarterback of all time, ended up a heroin junkie while still playing pro football. A 2010 National Magazine Award winner.