Before the first time I ever took acid alone, I booted up my laptop, went to YouTube and watched Adam trip his face off in front of a camera.
Adam, better known online as “PsychedSubstance,” is the most popular, widely referred source for psychedelics knowledge on YouTube. He has spent the last five years producing how-to guides on drug use, testing harm-reduction methods, experimenting with cutting-edge substances, conversing with scientific experts and recording his own trips. Endlessly name-checked in forums across the internet, Adam has garnered more than two million subscribers on YouTube and continues to be a singularly recognizable voice in the psychedelic zeitgeist.
When I started experimenting with psychedelics five years ago, Adam proved to be an invaluable resource not simply because of the clarity of his advice, but the assurance of his energy and mindset. He has a distinct difference in tone and personality from other, more straight-laced YouTube channels that also explain the makeup and effect of psychedelics. Adam doesn’t just seem like a guy who knows all about drugs; he speaks frequently about the transformative effects, warts and all, that they often have on a person’s psyche.
He is, in that sense, the internet’s collective psychonaut older brother, waiting with a grin and a clap on the metaphoric back when you start asking questions and end up with a tab on your tongue. He’s the final evolution of that too-smart-for-his-own-good college burnout who gets a little too excited about some dude named Shulgin. Hell, you can see that energy in his conversations with fans, in which he dispenses both practical drug advice and philosophical advice in equal measure.
A typical excerpt: “Our children are growing up with the ability to decide for themselves what ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are. And as much as it may look silly at the time being — e.g., people arguing about the semantics of say, gender pronouns — the fact is, people are slowly being less afraid to ask questions. And a society who isn’t afraid to ask questions will eventually be brought to the question of, ‘Why has something with such an insanely high ability to heal pain and trauma been made restricted from me?’”
This would all seem like pretentious, narcissistic blather if not for the fact that psychedelic use inherently shifts the neural connections our minds make, as well as the perspective it generates on life, death and ego. And it’s obvious that his fans appreciate the view he brings as a holistic person, not just a psychonaut who nerds out on scales and Marquis reagent tests; every single one of his videos has testimonies from viewers who swear that his advice helped them see new light in their lives.
Being a loud voice on the psychedelic vanguard comes with negative criticism from those who believe he goes too far, makes drug use seem too fun and breaks his own safety rules. Then there’s YouTube itself, which has changed its algorithm and restriction filters in a way that has killed traffic and monetization of Adam’s videos in unpredictable ways. Through the ups and downs, Adam has remained earnest about the consequences of his livelihood, including addiction, opposition from family and even accidental overdoses. He speaks openly about mental health, relationships and vulnerabilities in his life.
But in his struggle, we see so many universal narratives expressed: the fear of falling into a “bad trip,” the fight to justify psychedelic use to friends and family, the pressure of laws and ever-shifting regulations and the ultimate joy that comes from a truly mind-expanding, emotionally gratifying trip. His YouTube channel doesn’t merely document drug use — it reflects the culture of it, with all of its unwelcome edges. And in watching his content over the last five years, I see the journey of someone coming to terms with their life’s work.
For better and worse, the COVID pandemic triggered a surge in psychedelic experimentation. Even medical experts are hoping that psychedelic drugs, used in clinical settings, will help treat the shattered collective mental health of the nation in coming years. Add in a flood of dollars thanks to corporate and investor interest in the psychedelic market, and it becomes obvious that the psychedelic renaissance is here to stay.
More attention means more curiosity, and odds are, millions of eyes will turn to resources like YouTube to fill them in on what psychedelics really are. Waiting for them at the end of a search will be Adam, ready with answers to every question they have about Molly, LSD, DMT, ald-52 and beyond, holding out a virtual hand to anyone who needs a guide.