The Reddit Forum Devoted to Rare and Obsolete Drugs

Over 17,000 people have joined r/ObscureDrugs, where aficionados show off their collections of vintage opioids, psychedelics and more.
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Photo: The Gender Spectrum Collection, Reddit

A year and a half ago, Nick, 24, was scrolling down his Reddit feed when he stumbled across a picture of an antique drawer full of old bottles. Each bottle, still perfectly intact, contained some of the rarest and oldest opioids he had ever seen. 

“I instantly found myself wanting to learn more and more about the bottles of opioids,” remembers Nick. “So I clicked on r/ObscureDrugs to find hundreds of pictures and posts of other crazy collections with different medicines I had literally never heard of until I began reading and researching.” 


It wasn’t long before he started his own collection. “My first item was a bottle of phenobarbital, a barbiturate. My next was a bottle half full of authentic opium, which smells just like the YSL Opium fragrance,” he says. “My collection now is large, with about 30 bottles, but definitely not the biggest or most fascinating on the subreddit.”

Nick is part of a growing online community that spends their time collecting rare and obsolete drugs. Set up in 2015, r/ObscureDrugs started out life as a place to discuss drugs that were particularly hard to find: “This includes prescription medications, street drugs or anything else with recreational potential,” the forum bio reads .

But while detailed info about the drugs are encouraged, page members are banned from sharing where their collections are sourced from – especially if they come from a specific vendor. Knowing where hard-to-find drugs are actually found is a secret kept among those in the know.

“I always thought most of the people that find these old drugs are from cleaning out relatives' houses or yard sales,” says Grant, 48, who spends a lot of time on the forum. “I can remember cleaning out my nana's house when she passed and she had bags and bags of drugs kept over her and granddad’s lifetime, all chucked in the skip bin.”


Over the last two years, the page has grown exponentially, from 3,000 to 17,000 members. “It’s just gotten better and better the more members we get,” Nick says. The most common drugs shared to the page are vintage sedatives like quaaludes and their lesser-known siblings seconal, nembutal and carisoprodol.

Posts are usually filtered into various categories to make it easy to access the thread’s now expansive database, ranging from stimulants to psychedelics. “It’s like an elegant walk through a virtual museum,” says Nick, who recently became one of the thread’s nine moderators. 

While there are several categories of drugs to filter by, the holy grail of posts can be found under the label “Major Stash”. “Alright folks, lucky me just purchased this little package of old German stuff (Barbis, Librium, Codeinsyrup [sic]),” posts one user. The image includes a haul of vintage medication, ranging from boxes of injectable painkillers to jars of Reducdyn, a now largely obsolete medicine used to treat hepatitis. “Wow you got some good stuff! Love that meprobamate, cyclobarbital and butalbital,” another replies.

The subreddit’s rules are strict: All members must be over 18 and anyone asking to buy or sell drugs is immediately banned. “A lot of people visit our sub with the hopes of finding a source of drugs to use. But as moderators, we work hard to prevent any sourcing from occurring and destroying the historically beautiful posts and pictures that decorate our page,” says Nick. 


Still, spend enough time on the subreddit and it is clear this community is about more than just documenting pharmaceuticals. “There is a camaraderie on r/ObscureDrugs that I personally have not seen anywhere else,” says Tom, who asked us to change his name for privacy. He is also a long time moderator of the page.

“Recently, we have experienced a staggering amount of growth,” Tom tells VICE. “I have talked to so many subscribers who have expressed a similar interest in obscure, antiquated and discontinued pharmaceutical products but they have not been able to share this interest with family or friends for fear of being ostracised. Through the anonymity of Reddit, we have been able to express our interests and find like-minded people,” he adds. 

Tom first realized his love for discontinued substances when he was 11 years old. “I saw a secured, wooden case with all the different drugs on display. The beautiful capsules that shined [sic] like marbles and all the fascinating names really grabbed my attention. I asked my parents if I could buy a Physicians’ Desk Reference [a drug reference book], which I used to learn about all of the substances,” he says. 

The reason certain legal medicines become obsolete in the first place is complicated, but it has a lot to do with money; specifically, how the drug market works. “When a new drug is discovered and put on the market, there is obviously a patent situation, whereby it becomes protected by the company,” explains Gino Martini, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. “But companies are always trying to find better drugs that are being designed with less side effects, to make more money.” 


“So to manufacture a new drug, you've got to be showing a breakthrough with a significant clinical advantage,” Gino continues. “What's happening really is like natural selection. Drugs are being phased out because better ones are being brought in. To be honest, in this day and age, it's actually very hard to develop a molecule that is no better than what is already out there.” 

As a result, sourcing interesting drugs can prove tricky. “Most things I find are empty bottles,” says Grant. “I’m from New Zealand so we don’t see many old or strange drugs. I think our laws are very strict on selling or holding onto prescription medicines, especially if not in your name.” 

Nevertheless Grant is always holding out hope that he will eventually stumble across something cool. “I love hunting out New Zealand’s native magic mushrooms,” he says. The best thing Grant has seen on the subreddit were old bottles full of heroin, although he isn’t sure how they were discovered. 

For Nick, the joy of collecting is just as much about preserving historical legacy as it is about the challenge of tracking down rare finds. “Every time I find a new item, I know that I am personally keeping our American pharmaceutical history preserved for generations to come,” he says. And thanks to the thousands of people on r/ObscureDrugs, this database of drugs is only growing everyday.

“I know that if it weren’t for the dedication of the collectors on this subreddit, the world may never get to see these relics,” says Nick. “We’re damn good at it too.”