Welcome to EX LIBRIS No News News – good to have you back. Or, if you’re a new subscriber, come on in. Last issue we promised our readers the equivalent of an editorial chill pill: no anxiety-inducing newsfodder, just a few well-researched segments to set your synapses stirring a bit. And while we’ll still steer clear of anything too FOMO-inducing, we can’t guarantee that you won’t feel it tingling here and there, as this, our second issue, is dedicated to recreational stimulants. DRUGS! Who knows, you might even develop a habit for our monthly dispatches...
No News News #2 featuring Hamilton Morris, Huw Lemmey, Idea Books, Nicole Maria Winkler, Tessa Love, Fede Reyes & Toby Grimditch
DRUGS SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO
I remember reading Go Ask Alice as a teenager; I didn’t want to end up like the story’s eponymous character, but I also wondered if all these “Bennies” and “Dexies” might be worth trying – just once. Today, I recognize the book for the poorly-written anti-drug propaganda that it is – Nixon had just declared his “War on Drugs” – but, to me, it probably created as much fascination as horror when it came to narcotics.
But times change, and so do our perceptions of drugs. After decades of suppression, education around addiction and the specific effects of different drugs has led to the understanding that at least some of these substances aren’t necessarily the path to certain death by overdose. Alcohol and tobacco kill more people than illegal drugs and if taxation works for them, why not for other substances? A heavy-handed stance isn’t shared the whole world over, anyway – the much-cited example of Portugal being a case in point. And health officials in Bilbao even ran a campaign a few years ago encouraging users “to chop up your line nice and fine” to protect the city’s nostrils.
Each scene not only has its own habit to nurture, but its own habitus go with it.
Different drugs attract – and create – different kinds of users. You only need to look at the various groups of drug takers in Berlin: from the ultramasc “Deutschrap” fans glamorizing the opioid Tilidine to the polytoxic and possibly also polyamorous ravers more likely drawn to Ketamine and MDMA. Each scene not only has its own habit to nurture, but its own habitus go with it.
Drug lore never seems to lose its appeal when it makes it off the streets, either: just think of Raf Simons appropriating the tale of Berlin’s number-one celebrity junkie, Christiane F. for his Fall/Winter 2018 collection, or the spread of Latin American narco culture across our TV screens and trap – music created around the drug houses of Atlanta – now defining its own subgenre.
There is so much to say about drugs and the cultures that have developed around them – we could have filled a year’s worth of No News News on their recreational aspects alone. Instead we have done our best to boil down, cut through and nicely package some of the stories we feel are the most relevant right now: drug researcher Hamilton Morris on the third season of his Pharmacopeia, LSD and the Wellness Industrial Complex, Telegram drug menus, gay chemsex and then some.
Maybe that’s best part about this plethora of narratives: someone else has already taken the drugs (and talked about it), so you don’t have to. And with that, I’ll leave you to it: puff puff pass…
Quote UnquoteJOSIE THADDEUS-JOHNS
Hamilton Morris has taken more drugs than you. Salvia, toad venom, hallucinogenic fish heads…he’s done it all. With the unofficial title of Vice’s resident drugs expert, it’s his job to pass on these mind-bending experiences, which he did first in a column, then a TV show, both entitled Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia. Morris is omnivorous in investigating the fact and fiction of psychoactive substances, taking the same intrepid approach to downing an opioid-leaf-laced orange juice as he does to examining these chemicals under a microscope in his pharmacological research at the University of the Sciences in Philadephia. As the journalist-psychonaut took a break from preparing the third series of his TV show, Josie Thaddeus-Johns caught him on the phone to talk experimentation, mistakes and why “natural” and “traditional” don’t necessarily mean better when it comes to substances.
As a “psychonaut” experimenting with drugs yourself, your approach is quite different to a lot of drug journalism, especially around the time when you first started out.
When I began, most of the journalistic coverage of psychoactive drugs was stupid, inaccurate and biased. I felt there was something senselessly negative, even condescending, about the way drugs were treated. There’s a widespread idea that there’s some kind of government influence that forces people to say negative things about drugs. But what I found far more disturbing is that people choose to talk about drugs this way, because they simply don’t know very much about the subject. It’s treated as if it’s some sort of fringe “naughty area” – but it encompasses medicine and public health, it’s not something that should be treated as a marginal topic.
Nature and tradition have both played strong roles in your reporting. Why is that?
I am politically aware enough to realize that it’s a controversial area, and there are certain ways of explaining drugs that people find more palatable. People are very receptive to the idea of tradition – so they’re more likely to listen and consider the potential value of something if it’s traditional. That’s also true for things that are natural. Personally, I’m more interested in synthetic things. I don’t see anything wrong with novel compounds. I just realize that that’s a harder point to make. For example, I’ve gone to China to visit chemical labs there three times, and I’ve made a couple pieces about that, but they haven’t been received as well as the ones about the tradition surrounding psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
What has your experience as a chemical researcher in the lab taught you?
It has helped me see certain continuities between substances. It’s so easy for people to create binaries, like: “Methamphetamine is bad, but MDMA is good”, and you think, “Okay, well, how different are these substances chemically and pharmacologically? How much of this is something that has been constructed socially and politically, due to various historical caprices? Is there any real sense in any of this when you look at these two molecules?”
“Of course, these substances exert certain types of actions on the brain, but we bring so much to it ourselves.”
Amphetamine [often known by the brand name Adderall] is, for example, a drug that is more or less considered a benign study aid by most college students, but methamphetamine is apparently life destroying, and it should never be considered useful. But these are really just substances – inanimate constellations of atoms. Of course, they exert certain types of actions on the brain, but we bring so much to it ourselves.
What can we expect from the next season of the TV show?
A lot of things that I wanted to do for years are going to appear. So, in the second season there was an episode about the 5-MeO-DMT contained in toad venom, and I interviewed someone who claimed to have been the first person to smoke it. His story was corroborated by two sources, and there were a number of good reasons to believe that he was telling the truth, so it was featured in the episode. But in fact, he was lying to me. So I’m dedicating one episode in the upcoming season to correcting mistakes from the show – and then branching off from my own mistakes, to talk about the roles of mistakes in drug journalism. There’s this amazing history of lies, and mistakes, that have had major political and legal ramifications.
Is there one experience you’ve had that sums up what’s interesting to you about drugs?
I went to West Africa twice this winter, to visit people from an African religion that combines Christianity with the spiritual use of psychedelics. I think that kind of syncretic religious process is fascinating. And on an even more basic level, it’s nice to see people that simply appreciate these things, that don’t get so hung up on: is it dangerous? Could it be bad for me? Should it be illegal? What if children do it? I always compare psychedelics to music – there is none of this hand-wringing associated with music!
As well as writing arts and culture dispatches from her home in Cambridge, MA, Josie Thaddeus-Johns helps to edit No News News. She’s interested in new realities, whether they are drug-induced trips, digital projections on screen or headset or just a product of our current unexpectedly dystopian world.
Full DisclothesureFEDE REYES & TOBY GRIMDITCH
Thomas De Quincey was 36 when he published his addiction memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, detailing the ups and downs of his youth spent in drowsy reveries. In this exclusive shoot, Matta, a.k.a. Dj Spotifly, slips into the role of a prom queen whose dreams are bigger than anything that could be ripped away by the harsh light of reality. After all, adolescents, just like the inebriated, have an uncanny ability to see beyond everyday obstacles. Never stop dreaming!
All clothes: Wellenstein Fundus – with special thanks to Petra Wellenstein; Talent: Matta @coreartistmanagement; Photographer: Fede Reyes @wearecollectiveinterest; Fashion: Toby Grimditch; Hair: Attila Kenyeres; Makeup: Kenny Campbell; Photo assistant: Terese Bygg ; Styling assistant: Hakan Solak
This text is an abstract from “Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell” (Montez) Huw Lemmey’s 2019 novel about a moderate Labour apparatchik between drug-fuelled sex parties and falafel-throwing communists.
There are, it is banal to say, moments that we tell ourselves we cannot forget. Some things, as they happen, we will ourselves to be able to recall them in the future. We cannot. At most, we hope, we can remember our memories; pull together enough stories of stories that the moment is rebuilt. But only trauma recalls itself, not as memory, but suddenly, back in the situation, against the will, shaken by its terrible recollection. But as Tom pulled the twenty over the little line, dragging it up into his sinuses, he experienced a rush that would continue to replay itself over and over, a beautiful trauma that might hold him in its grip.
As he smiled, he turned to a deeper gold, a bronze statue in Uniqlo pants, lighting a Marlboro he held between his teeth.
The first sensation came from beneath his balls. The cock is rooted there, not where the shaft meets the testicles. A common misconception, but the visible rod is the tip of the iceberg. As above, so below. But when the sexual drive and the spiritual connect, when desire erupts fully from the core of the male body, you can feel the second penis, the strong ridge of another shaft that runs past the balls, and right up to the simpering, puckering anus. The Romans had an embodiment of the divine penis called the Fascinus. Representations of these winged phalluses, touching little charms and amulets, often featured, alongside the wings and tail, two leonine legs. In Tom, these legs began to twitch and run on the spot. He felt an energy build beneath his balls, and with it, the sound of clattering hooves in his head, the sound of an assembly of gathered men, of shouting that threatened to overwhelm him. The man beside him, previously so softly sun-kissed, began to change before his eyes. His skin flashed and glowed, and burnished as he watched, first a pale and liquid yellow, then darker and richer. As he smiled, he turned to a deeper gold, a bronze statue in Uniqlo pants, lighting a Marlboro he held between his teeth. His sweat gave off a metallic tang, and Tom reached out to touch him. His flesh, fleshy, but as he ran his hand across his stomach, down his crotch, he felt an iron-hard cock beneath, a crowbar wedged snug against his thigh. The bronze soldier looked at him, smiled, and Tom slid himself to his knees. Between the man’s thighs, he pulled the giant tin cock from its wrapping, and it sprang up towards him. It glistened in the morning sun, like the Colossus drawing merchants and their heavy burden towards the harbour of Rhodes, catching each ray and firing it up and out into the room. It was perfect, and he let his mouth fall onto it, dragging his lips back and forth across its mighty metal form.
Each thought he had whilst under the drug’s manic spell exploded into life.
The Roman’s body sank into the grey sofa and he let this expert cocksucker draw him from his mind to his body. Tom kept his eyes wide open, staring at the man. He closed them once or twice but the visions were too much. Each thought he had whilst under the drug’s manic spell exploded into life. In one moment, he thought of Charlie Evans, who he had sat next to in double-history twice a week. Charlie’s perfect buttocks had captivated Tom before he knew what the implications were, and now, he was not imagining but actually there, beneath the classroom table, Mr. Partridge sniffling on about the French Revolution whilst Charlie’s heterosexual precum lined Tom’s mouth. Then next, a vision of a space shuttle breaching the upper cloud layer, trailing its vapour residue like a tower of fluff, and he felt, in real time, the unbearable g-force of orbit pushing the skin on his face against his high cheek bones. Each tiny thought overtook him, flooding his body in a powerfully erotic wave. It was too much to bear, to see his imagination made real. Only closing his eyes dampened down the sensation enough that he could focus on his technique. It worked; before he realised, the Roman’s buttocks began to twitch and clench and Tom’s mouth gushed with a fountain of rich cum, dumped straight at the back of his throat. It clumped and clung, seeming to fill his airways; he choked, and gagged, and gasped for air, feeling himself go lightheaded ... Air! Air! He needed air!
Huw Lemmey currently publishes a weekly essay series called “utopian drivel”. His new book “Unknown Language” is due out in September.
Further ReadingBLOW YOUR COVER
“I always look for drug books as they sell well. I’m basically a dealer!” says Angela Hill, one half of the duo behind Idea Books, the self-proclaimed “home of the superbooks” and provider of bound inspiration for the creative über-class. The title in question is the Cocaine Consumer’s Handbook and it’s not hard to see why it’s a hit: “Let's just say, yes, it is the best cover in all space and time. By a light year or two. That font!!!” – to quote the Idea Books inventory blurb of this small paperback.
Published in 1976 (and 1980 with small amendments as Cocaine Handbook: An Essential Reference), its author David Lee set out to educate the growing number of US coke fiends – some of which still believed (wished?) that the drug wasn’t addictive. Pictures of microscopic crystals, tips on how to test for purity and insights into the cocaine trade form a manual with educational aspirations.
The first edition may have flown a little close to the wind, however: the second version was stripped of the eight-step guide on how to fold a bindle – which Angela Hill refers to as “my favorite part”, while joking, “of course, being a dealer, I already knew this”. The 1980 book also introduced a small paragraph about the drug’s side effects, once it became known that – surprise! – you actually can get hooked on the other kind of snow from the Andes.
Just talking about this book is likely to create cravings, but like the white stuff itself, the Cocaine Consumer’s Handbook doesn’t come cheap, fetching up to four figures on Amazon, while Idea sell theirs for £250 a pop. Unfortunately, there’s currently no print version available on the site (unless you fancy it as an audio book on cassette – nice silver foil labelling included). Hill won’t reveal how many copies they have sold in total but given that “it is one of the greatest objects we have ever beheld”, one can assume demand has surpassed supply, with many a sweaty hand left cold.
Report In A StormTESSA LOVE
It’s hardly a surprise that the Netflix series The Goop Lab, which investigates a handful of questionable alternative health practices, is seriously lacking sound science. Like a live-action version of Gwyenth Paltrow’s snake-oil-peddling lifestyle movement, entire episodes are devoted to the healing powers of breathwork, energy healing and psychics. But the first episode in the series taps into a phenomenon that even a skeptic might have to admit has merit: the so-called psychedelic renaissance.
You’ve likely heard this term before. Ever since beloved New York Times Magazine writer Michael Pollan took an interest in the resurgence of research into psychedelic drugs as a treatment for a number of psychological and behavioral disorders – including depression, addiction, end-of-life-anxiety and PTSD – psychedelics have enjoyed an ever-brightening moment in the spotlight, after 50 years in the shadows. We’ve read breathless exposés on the drugs’ life-saving potential, tech money bigshots have invested in research centers and governments are loosening restrictions around their use.
In other words, Goop’s special on the topic may not be pure Goop after all. But what the appearance of psychedelics in this series does make clear is that they have found themselves in a role much sexier than “medical treatment”; they’ve become a wellness trend, and one so au courant that Paltrow herself would devote 30 of her 180 precious Netflix minutes to their mystique.
BREATHE IN, SPACE OUT
There’s a good reason this hype would happen around psychedelics and not, say, Prozac. While a growing body of research is showing that LSD, magic mushrooms, MDMA and the like can effectively change our minds, they do so in a completely different way than your typical antidepressant. Psychedelics can flood our brains with serotonin, quiet that noisy part of our minds responsible for negative ruminations and foster new neuropathic connections, but most researchers are coming to believe that their efficacy lies not in the physiological but in the mystical. On a heavy dose of a drug like LSD or DMT, people can lose their sense of self and hallucinations of God- or spirit-like entities often dole out lessons so profound that even months or years later, these experiences often appear deeply important and transformative. In other words, psychedelics’ healing powers appear when we lose our sense of self and use it to connect to the spiritual realm.
It’s easy to see why Goop and their ilk would glom onto this. While the brand excels at selling women on the idea that their lives could be complete if only they purchased a $600 sweater or $260 meditation pillow set (yes, they really sell that), their particular message taps into the new-agey, self-care ethos that tells us that, in fact, it’s not just our homes or wardrobes that are lacking, but our very souls. To be happy, we need to meditate, ecstatic dance and trip our way to spiritual wholeness – and we can only do that by pulling out our millennial pink, ethically-sourced and probably #blessed leather wallets.
It’s not news that spiritual wellness is no longer a personal pursuit but a multi-billion dollar industry selling us the idea that salvation finds its form in ayurvedic elixirs and sparkly rocks. Self-care has turned into a consumerist choice rather than a spiritual one. And with the massive commercial success of this movement, companies like Goop are always looking for the Next Big Thing to soothe our souls. Right now, their eyes are trained on psychedelics. In fact, some people are already predicting that these drugs could be behind a burgeoning billion-dollar business.
THE WELLNESS-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
While it may be true that an LSD trip can give us the insights needed to push ourselves to grow as humans, the danger in psychedelics becoming the next wellness darling is in the potential for them to be exploited and flattened into nothing more than an indicator of aspirational wealth. We’ve already seen this happen with cannabis, which went from seedy illicit drug to medicinal treatment to an integral part of a luxury bohemian lifestyle, complete with $1000 bongs, rose gold vape pens and “un-branded” branding to sell millennials on the sophistication of a particular CBD-infused face cream. Psychedelics could be following the same path into the wellness-industrial complex. And this could completely devalue or – worse – derail legitimate research into these drugs’ real potential as life-saving therapies, all in the name of aspirational self-optimization.
As with any new wellness trend, we should treat them with caution: psychedelics might be great, but they are not a mythical panacea here to fix all of our problems. If you start to feel like a mushroom trip could cure you of your 21st-century malaise, it’s likely because Goop and other entities betting on the psychedelic renaissance are telling you that’s the case – and will gladly take your money when you shell out for the experience.
Cali-native Tessa Love has written frequently about psychedelics, as well as wildfires and robot clothing. Currently waiting for lockdown to end in the American West, she’s thinking a lot about how capitalism might corrupt our spirits. Meanwhile Paris-based photographer Nicole Maria Winkler has taken to shooting a series of still lifes that, intentionally or not, seem to hint at the various debris on a post-party coffee table.
Archives of the InternetTELEGRAM TECHNO TAPAS
Hunting down drug content online is about as hard as looking for a mid-level finance bro trying to give his life some edge while on a molly bender at Burning Man. Which is to say: it’s everywhere. Just scrolling through the myriad posts in Facebook groups such as The Worst Techno Memes Ever can result in dizzying fatigue – similar to one brought on by an endless Berghain queue. There is no common trope that hasn’t been given the TWTME treatment: here, Catwoman becomes Ket[amine]woman and a “techno breakfast” consists of lines racked up to form a pentagram. The most clean-cut gems in this genre are the emoji-laden menus of Berlin drug dealers, who specialize in home deliveries (identifying details redacted, naturally). It’s commonly known that the city has a big fleet of “Kokstaxis” going around every day of the week – but marketing strategies vary. The real kings of the trade have taken their game from WhatsApp to Telegram, sprinkling visual “magic dust” all over those chat bubbles. Advertised in closed groups (still, over 5000 members) their menus employ emojis, generous spacing and straight-to-the-point verbiage that would make any junior copywriter blush (and if only with anticipation). We are reliably informed there are merchants with similar dedication to customer service in Barcelona, London and Warsaw. Do the drivers in those cities also comply with new COVID hygiene requirements? Thanks to the dealers of Telegram and their user-friendly menus, the serving of “techno tapas” has now become both anonymous and contactless.
Fashion and cannabis mostly seem to snuggle up in off-duty hours – according to certain models’ Instagram stories at least. One of the earliest champions of the five-fingered leaf on the catwalk was French designer Lucien Pellat-Finet. But while his creations upscaled the verdant star onto Scottish cashmere, Ottolinger’s design for SS20 is a little more chill: felted wool, that boxy fit, just a little cropped and with a bright green leaf that looks just as fuzzy as it could make you feel. Who knew that high fashion could be sooooo relaxed?
The affinity of skateboarding teenagers with cannabis is an open secret. Even so, it’s good to see Baker Skateboards encouraging young athletes to confine their experiments with substances to weekends spent in nature via their “Happy Campers” collection. You’ll also be happy to learn that pro skateboarder Rowan Zorilla’s model features a “mellow concave”. Now we know why skaters manage to remain so zen among lethargic but annoying hacky-sackers and aggressive winos in the local park – even their skateboards are on the 420.
Sewing patches onto your clothes: a proud celebration of one’s tribe, or, in the case of boy scouts, one’s wood-chopping abilities. Alternatively, if you're the US Drug Enforcement Agency, your identification with a particular operation. Some of these embroidered labels are worthy of a prog-rock album cover – the grim reaper is a recurring symbol, sometimes wearing a tuxedo and sunglasses. Others carefully depict eye-poppingly bright dragons, unicorns and blossoming marijuana plants: all more commonly found on outerwear of those taking the drugs, rather than confiscating them.
There are probably almost as many names for smoking devices as there are for pot itself. Take a moment now to appreciate their onomatopoetic qualities: Hubble-bubble. Hookah. Kawumm. Chillum. Bong. But like the rest of cannabis culture, pipes have come a long way since their humble beginnings. Just consider the “Illuzion Glass Galleries Annual 420 Party Vapor Bubbler” by glass artists AKM, Cowboy and Darby – households names in certain demographics we’re sure. Before we forget (that short-term memory loss can really get you): it sets you back a cool $30,000. That’s a lot of green going up in smoke…
We at No News News are currently obsessed with Stinksack, a brand that specializes in smell-proof bags that double as secret stashes. They must do a tremendous job of odor-masking, as close inspection of their exterior gives several suspicious clues. Exhibit A: the “Masterkush” credit card bags in the name of one “Frieda B Hyman” (say it slowly). The Stinksack team, whose brainstorming sessions we can only assume resemble a smoke machine warehouse, also came up with bacon packs called “Always Wake ‘n’ Bakin” and “Toasted” ziplocks complete with a toast and lettuce (!) print.
Every issue of No News News features a dedicated book plate. These ex libris, as they are also called, are commissioned works of art traditionally used to indicate ownership of one’s books. Like this one created for Dr. Giorgio Balbi, who seemed to have doubts about the nature of chemistry:
Editor: Hans Bussert (V.i.S.d.P.)
Art Director: Enver Hadzijaj
Contributing Editor: Josie Thaddeus-Johns
Proofreader: Redfern Jon Barrett
Web Development: Bruno Meilick
Image credits: Danilo Parra, Fede Reyes,
Nicole Maria Winkler