Despite the current psychedelic boom and promising developments in psychedelic therapy, there haven’t been enough large-scale trials for researchers to really understand how drugs like psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA interact with the nervous system. So a group of researchers—including a machine learning expert and a researcher mapping a mysterious region of the central nervous system focused on introspection—harnessed AI to mine through thousands of testimonials on Erowid, a drug forum from the early days of the internet. The drug experience is so varied—from mystical and blissful to dark and panicky—so the idea was to use existing data from honest, real-life accounts of people who have been sharing their experiences for decades.

But we are far from freely administering psychedelic medication—getting the appropriate dose to the right patient will require a tremendous amount of fine-tuning. But for people to someday be able to use these drugs for therapy, without the hallucinatory side effects? What a trip.

While some entries can be bleak—particularly for harder drugs like meth or heroin—the vast majority are written in a companionable, curious voice that will be familiar to anyone with an older sibling or cousin who likes to test the limits of consciousness from their own backyard. The testimonials include highly specific descriptions not just of the chosen amount and imbibing method, but also the subtle shadings of each experience; sometimes with humor, but always with rigor, vibrancy, and clarity, often down to the passing minutes. These are good faith arbiters, truly interested in exploring the variance of human perception and making sure others can do so safely. There are none of Hunter S. Thompson’s “fools or frauds” here, though any one writer tends to give the distinct impression of being a bit of a weirdo.

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.