Are Swatties druggies? Few tour guides will give you a breakdown of their institution’s drug usage, and to many, the shape and structure of Swarthmore’s hard drug culture remains elusive. Nevertheless, it is present: small pockets of friends do lines on a Saturday night, trip in an anonymous dorm room recreationally, pop a pill before going to a party.
“Hard drugs” is a hard category to define. It relies, in many ways, on the preconceptions of individual users and their exposure to various substances. Here, we will use the term to refer to all but tobacco, alcohol and marijuana derived products. Many big names may come to mind — acid, shrooms, coke — but other newer, more obscure substances circulate around campus.
So what do Swatties take?
“I do a lot of drugs.”
Ruth* smirked at my question. An avid fan of psychedelics, she mostly takes analogs to better-known substances: synthetic compounds with similar effects that are not specifically targeted by the law. Although the Analog Act technically targets these, many of the more obscure ones have never been prosecuted.
“I try to avoid the law, and I think that’s something that’s becoming increasingly popular, especially since more and more classic drugs are expensive, difficult to get, and extremely illegal,” she explained.
Although purchasing from the deep web is the most certain way to get high-quality product, Ruth has found herself relying more heavily on sources in Philadelphia, mostly out of practicality. For what she considers to be a recreational hobby, online came to be too much of a time investment.
Will’s* preferences are more mainstream.
“The main culprit, the main drug I’ve used is probably cocaine,” he said.
Will takes coke when it’s there, especially if he’s already a bit drunk. It’s a substance he comes back to regularly, given that unlike most of his other friends, he doesn’t enjoy smoking weed: he finds himself resorting to the powder. Getting a hold of it, however, isn’t always simple.
“Procurement is very spotty, for a couple months-stretch you may have some reliable hookup, back from where I’m from or sometimes in Philly, but it’s very rare that you have a coke dealer at Swarthmore,” he said. “I’ve never seen one.”
Although the drug has become an important aspect of his life, it doesn’t necessarily lead to mistakes. Rather, the environment within which he’s taking it counts: if with friends, after a few drinks, the other substance would be his downfall.
“Usually, in terms of making bad decisions, that’s more often facilitated by alcohol,” he said.
Coke is a social, recreational drug to Will, and has shaped the way his friend group has formed. Of course, all of his friends don’t take it, but he’s found that a circle of intimates has appeared around their shared affinity.
“The habitual use of cocaine has shaped the friend group because of the insularity that the perception of it causes,” he said. “You know that if you’re in a circle of friends using coke they’re not within the vast majority of people who have this stigmatic perception of cocaine.”
Serena* and Morty* are good friends who take drugs recreationally, depending on availability. They source from other individuals on campus who offer as a favor, out of shared interest.
“I’ve done … acid, shrooms, whip-its, poppers, molly,” said Serena.
The list sounds daunting, but none of the substances has formed a substantive habit: both are open to most drugs and will take accordingly. Since they source from friends, I was curious as to whether these material relationships have shaped the interactions between these individuals.
“I think there are some friends in particular where, because our conversations are shaped mostly around drugs, I’ve come to associate them with these substances,” she said. “But for the most part, with the rest of the people I source from, it’s just another thing that we do.”
They both expressed the importance of purchasing from people they are comfortable with: these substances form relationships, and so their dealers should be close to them.
“I only buy from people I’d be comfortable taking the drugs with,” Morty said. “I think that if you take drugs with anybody, your relationship has been shaped by them.”
Matt* has a much more solitary relationship to drugs. He takes mostly psychedelics, but doesn’t always feel like company is necessary. When it is a group activity, he deals.
“I use more than most of my friends, though I don’t think they have a problem with my use,” he said. “I supply my friends when we trip together.”
Although his friends are fine with his usage, he doesn’t think this reflects the campus community at large. Drugs are still scary, and similarly to how Will expects stigma with regards to coke, Matt doesn’t assume everybody would be comfortable with psychedelics; they don’t know enough about them.
“There are a lot of people at Swat that are pretty open to psychedelics, but I wouldn’t say it’s the norm,” he said. “It’s not something you generally talk about unless you know you’re in good company. It’s not something most people take all that seriously.”
Unsurprisingly, others echoed these sentiments, revealing that although there should be awareness, these substances aren’t for everyone.
“I don’t think they’re for everyone,” Ruth said.
“I don’t think cocaine is for everyone,” Will said.
“I don’t think drugs are for everyone,” Morty said.
These substances, however, are valued by their users, who regret that they can be misunderstood.
“I get it, it’s like most drugs, you’ve got to keep it under the radar,” Matt said. “But it’s unfortunate. I really do think that psychedelics are powerful and can change the way you think. People have good and bad experiences, but if you go in with an open mind, you come out changed.”
There was a general consensus that users at Swarthmore are more educated than average, and care more about the quality of the substances they use. In many ways, those interviewed are just a bunch of dorks on drugs.
Drugs at Swarthmore are segregated by substance and friend group. Individuals like Matt and Will actively seek out their drug of choice, and others like Serena and Morty leech off of those more committed individuals. What does it mean, on this campus, to be a drug user? It would seem, to me, that the stigma they fear may be misguided: they’re individuals whose hobbies with friends happen to use substances less readily available in our campus bookstore.
*All names have been changed to preserve the interviewees’ anonymity.