All over the world, people are turning to Yahoo! Answers to pose semi-anonymous questions about drugs and drug abuse. In this digital age, it’s not surprising that people are seeking advice online; however, what is startling is the extent to which people of all ages may forego real medical opinions on important health topics and, instead, settle for the virtual wisdom offered by faceless strangers.
We analyzed the global data of Yahoo! Answers, focusing on six countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, and Italy) and eight drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, Xanax, MDMA, opiates, methamphetamine, and bath salts). Take a look at our findings:
It’s easy to see that the volume of questions about marijuana dwarfed those of all other substances. Given the perception of marijuana as a relatively less harmful drug – and with its new status in medicine – it wasn’t surprising to find more people satisfying curiosities about this substance and its effects. However, what we found after delving deeper into the data was that people were less concerned with its effects than they were about dodging their next drug test.
Marijuana reigned supreme in five of the six countries, with the United Kingdom being the exception. Those in the UK sought advice about cocaine (34 percent) more than marijuana (29 percent). Mostly, these questions revolved around the effects of the drug, suggesting an upward trend of cocaine use in the UK. Indeed, as recently as May 2014, tests have shown cocaine use is so widespread that experts have located traces of the drug in Britain’s drinking water1. Another unsettling statistic: One in 20 British teenagers between the ages of 15 and 16 have tried cocaine.
To get a feel for the nature of people's concerns and their top inquiries, we looked at the first two words most commonly associated with questions about the drugs we analyzed. And, to get a picture of what advice people were receiving, we researched some of the answers to these questions. Keep reading for a glimpse into the accuracy of some of the prevailing answers provided.
The most frequently asked questions about marijuana started with “How long,” and while we thought these questions would continue a certain way – i.e., “How long does the high last?” – they turned out more like this:
Question: “How long does marijuana stay in your system?” (With respect to drug testing.)
Answer: “[...] Marijuana [...] attaches itself to fat or is fat soluble, so typically it can stay in your system for 7 days. Since you only took one hit, the levels may not be high enough to detect in a UA [urinalysis.] Drink lots of water and exercise. You need to sweat a ton and burn some fat.”
This is half-true.
They did get one thing right: Marijuana takes longer than any other common drug to be cleared from your system because THC is stored in your fat cells2. The rest depends entirely on your habits. If you’re smoking marijuana multiple times a day, most days of the week, you’re going to have a harder time expelling it from your body. We’re not talking a matter of days; we’re talking a month or longer. Heavy marijuana use changes the way you store THC in your body. If you only smoke occasionally or rarely, a week is more accurate.
The topic of cocaine, like marijuana, was riddled with questions related to drug testing and ensuring the substance would be out of the body by the time anyone was checking in. This led to questions like:
Question: “How long does cocaine stay in the system after being snorted?”
Answer: “72 hours max!!!”
All research points to cocaine staying in the blood for 48 hours. So yes, 72 hours is a truthful answer for blood specifically. While cocaine metabolites may be present in the body and urine for up to four days, a hair test may reveal cocaine use for up to 90 days after use.
Is your cocaine use in conflict with your school's and employer’s drug policies? If daily cocaine or crack cocaine usage is having a direct negative impact on your school work, job performance, or other daily activities, you may benefit from professional detox and addiction treatment.
The two most common words beginning questions here were “Where can,” which is worrisome since questions like this were frequent:
Question: “Where can I get the bath salts that get you high?”
Answer: “smoke some weed f**k bath salt”
Another half-true answer.
While we don’t endorse the illicit use of marijuana, it is without a doubt less harmful than substances like mephedrone, which is commonly present in cocktails labeled as “bath salts”3. The dangers of marijuana include inhibited brain development in teenagers and young adults, as well as respiratory problems from long-term use. Contrast those concerns with the immediate side effects of paranoia, agitation, hallucinations, psychotic behavior, and violent behavior that you get with bath salts.
When it came to MDMA, “Is it” were the two most commonly used first words when posing questions. In many cases, these words were related to the safety of using the drug, like this one:
Question: “Is it safe to take MDMA while on antibiotics?”
Answer: “you shouldn’t if your body is trying to heal... It pretty much defeats the purpose of taking the antibiotics. Also I don’t recommend taking antibiotics unless you have a serious infection. They really lower your immunities in the end.”
Relatively sound advice.
But the better question here is: Is it safe to take MDMA period? New research suggests taking pure, controlled doses of MDMA may not have any long-term side effects4. However, there’s a difference between pure MDMA and what is sold on the streets. With the latter, the dose and additional drugs used to cut the MDMA are unknown. It is definitely unsafe to take street MDMA.
“What is” questions were most prevalent when it came to heroin, which may seem peculiar. Some may think the questions would have been more like MDMA – i.e. “Is it safe?” – but it turns out there were many questions like this:
Question: “What is more dangerous, snorting heroin, or injecting heroin?”
Answer: “Both are eventually going to kill you, but you have a larger risk of overdosing from injecting it. If you do not know the purity of the drug, a shot will go directly into your bloodstream and stop your heart if it’s too pure and you used too much. [...] Snorting will transfer into the bloodstream slowly since 98% of the drug that is snorted is absorbed through the stomach at a much slower rate which would allow you the ability to get to an ER. Either way on a long enough timeline you are going to die or go to prison. There are no happy endings in heroin addiction, but if you are stuck in your addiction and aren’t ready to face the monster of detox, snort it. It is safer, and the sickness will be less intense when you’re prepared to quit. God bless you.”
True, but we take issue.
Yes, snorting heroin is probably safer, but there are things we have to clear up on this one. First of all, it’s not 98 percent of the drug being absorbed into the blood. It’s more like this: When you shoot heroin intravenously its bioavailability is 85 percent, though some sources have even suggested 100 percent bioavailability. When you snort it, it’s roughly 50 percent. So yes, you’re getting a far more intense dose of the drug when shooting it directly into the bloodstream.
Additionally, there are other dangers inherent with any intravenous drug use. Intravenous use of heroin can often involve needle sharing, which puts a user at risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis C5. It’s also easy for inexperienced users to damage their veins by shooting the drug along with any unsterile materials mixed with it. The answer’s warning also rings true: Each way of doing heroin is fraught with dangers, including snorting.
The various names, forms, and effects of methamphetamine resulted in the most common question starting with “What is.” Most were seeking information on its chemical composition and common terms, like this:
Question: “What is the difference between methamphetamine and crystal meth?”
Answer: “Methamphetamine is the name of the chemical n-methyl-1-phenyl-propan-2-amine. When it is in crystalline smokeable form, the crystal looking rock, its synonyms include “crystal meth”, “rock”, “ice”, “meth”, etc. On a side note, meth f**ks you up bad. All people I’ve personally seen that do meth have unbelievably horrible tempers, are constantly on edge, violent, unpredictable, and the smell of someone smoking meth is straight up gross.”
Our research on these claims showed this answer is correct. Though it might surprise some, methamphetamine has historically been found in medicines for ADHD and obesity6. However, its crystal street form – the one from “Breaking Bad” – is the substance most are more familiar with. Same chemical, different appearance. As for the second part, also true – over time. Methamphetamine is a notorious upper, also known as speed and crank. The symptoms described here come from long-term use and abuse. Psychosis, violent behavior, and unpredictable mood swings are all known behaviors of methamphetamine users7.
The words “How long” kicked off most questions regarding opiates. The problem with this type of question for this class of drugs is that the word “opiates” encompasses a broad category of both prescription and illegal drugs, treating heroin and Vicodin with equal footing. But opiates are a heterogeneous group of substances, with markedly differing potencies, rates of metabolism, and durations for elimination from the body:
Question: “How long does it take opiates and such to get out of your system?”
Answer: “It depends on the half life of each drug. Mary J usually takes about 28-30 days. But, if they test your hair it will be there for a long long time!”
A confusing true.
This question could be asking different things: How long do the effects last, or how long does it stay in your system in regards to a drug test. The half-life of a drug is the length of time the effects are felt8. The person asking this question could easily become confused by the answer given.
When it came to Xanax, “Is it” was the most popular pair of words leading off people’s questions. A lot of those questions were in regards to the safety of mixing the drug with other substances, leading to the following:
Question: “Is it safe to take 1 xanax after drinking 2 beers and 1 shot?”
Answer: “You definitely don’t want to take the Xanax. Before drinking you need to make a serious decision, do you want to treat your anxiety or use a depressant like alcohol. You can’t do both at the same time or the same night. Take care of yourself and it is a good thing that you asked before taking it.”
Xanax and alcohol can dangerously interact with each other, intensifying the effects of both of these drugs. Whether it’s a prescribed dose of the medication or recreational use done illegally, the risk of overdosing becomes much greater when alcohol is added to the mix9. It is best to avoid this combination at all costs.
Acute withdrawal from alcohol and benzodiazepines like Xanax should be supervised by trained professionals. If you’ve been abusing alcohol, benzodiazepines – or both – help is available to you. Detox and substance abuse treatment can help you make a positive change.
Though Yahoo! Answers might seem, at first glance, like a playground for pranksters looking to share awful advice with potential drug users, the best answers tended to be legitimately helpful, sometimes encouraging drug users to seek help with their addictions or encouraging people to stay away from potentially harmful substances.
However, if you or a loved one are seeking answers for drug-related questions or need help with treating an addiction, we would strongly advise turning to a professional for help before seeking help from an Internet community.
The following word clouds contain the most common words found in Yahoo! Answer question titles about illicit substances. The size of the word is determined by the frequency of mentions included in the question titles.
Please feel free to use any of the assets found in this project. While doing so, please attribute the creators by linking back to this project so your audience may access all elements, and learn about the methodology.