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Time Out magazine's continuing saga of misinformation

On November 13th 1996, Time Out ran a 'Drugs Special'. It contained several false statements which I pointed out in a letter published two weeks later:

In Time Out 1369, your feature on drugs contains a number of serious mistakes.

DMT and 2CB are not legal, as you say, but Class A drugs like heroin. LSD was first synthesised 52 years ago so could not have been used by Mexican Indians; LSD cannot "occur in the form of mescaline" as they are distinctly different drugs, and the drug you call Bliss cannot be LSD 27, as you claim, because that does not exist.

You do correctly say that "Stories about crushed glass or heroin in pills tend to be urban myths", but fail to add that Time Out (27/10/93) propagated that myth with a double page spread headed:
"Bitter Pills: Ecstasy pills spiked with heroin, LSD, rat poison and crushed glass." At the time, Time Out refused to publish my letter of correction on the grounds that your article was right and I was wrong.

But Time Out attached the following comment:

Tony Thompson replies:
Sorry Nicholas. We meant that Mexican Indians used hallucinogens in the form of mescalin [their misspelling]. But as far as the police are concerned, DMT, 2CB and Bliss remain legal. As for LSD27, that's its chemical name. As for the 'heroin in Ecstasy' debate: it was never widespread (hence our comment about it being more myth than reality), but it certainly did happen.

I was amazed! They published my letter but hadn't got the guts to admit being wrong. So I wrote a response for publication:

Thanks for publishing my letter (TO 1371) correcting several mistakes in your drugs feature (TO 1369). But you then added a note by Tony Thompson insisting that his 'facts' were right and mine wrong.

Contrary to Tony's repeated claim, the Home Office Drugs Branch agree with me that 2CB and DMT are both Schedule 1 drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

LSD 27, which Tony says is the "official chemical name for Bliss", is unknown to either Sandoz (the company where Hofmann invented LSD), or Alexander Shulgin who has invented a few interesting compounds himself including 2CB.

Whether "Bliss remains legal" depends on its chemical formula, but is highly improbable since the law prohibits compounds whose chemical structure makes it likely that they will be psychoactive: they don't even have to exist.

Tony ends by stating that heroin in Ecstasy "certainly did happen" but fails to give a shred of evidence.

It may be forgivable to make a mistake, but to then insist that you are right without even bothering to check is irresponsible. This looks much like a repeat of Time Out's 1993 article about rat poison and ground glass in Ecstasy: first Time Out propagated misinformation, then refused to correct its mistakes and finally exposed them as 'urban myths'.

I suggest that in future Time Out confines itself to the things it does so well: listings and articles about trendy things to do.

When that was still not published after two weeks, I wrote a personal letter to the editor, Dominic Wells, ponting out the mistakes and asking: "Could you please inform me whether you intend to publish my letter in the next issue, and if not, what are your reasons?" He didn't bother to reply.

We know the tabloids write lies and most of us realise that the 'quality' papers are biased. But Time Out projects an image of being 'on our side' and 'in the know', and is much more likely to be trusted by those who use illicit drugs. To publish wrong information and refuse to correct it is irresponsible. They are prepared to seriously mislead their readers to save admitting being sloppy in the first place. index
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