If there’s a drug associated with Oxford University, it’s probably cocaine. Boris Johnson has admitted to trying the drug while an undergrad at Balliol College, and in 2019, dealers in the city were cutting their coke with glass to deal with students’ voracious habit. Like most universities, party drugs like ketamine and MDMA are also popular night out choices: put young people with surplus cash in a high-pressure environment, and getting wrecked will tend to be the result.
But the city also has a thriving psychedelic subculture. It’s home to the world-famous Beckley Foundation, founded by Amanda Feilding in 1998, an institute at the forefront of the “Psychedelic Renaissance”. The university’s Medical Sciences division also regularly conducts research into the therapeutic potential of drugs like LSD and psilocybin, focusing on treatments for major depressive disorders. And while psychedelics aren’t as commonplace here as white powders, I’ve met more than a few students who use acid or shrooms every few weeks to help relieve term-time stress.
Oxford only has about 12,000 undergraduates, and most of them are housed in a number of “colleges” - sort of universities-within-a-university, which in the middle of national lockdown have more of a boarding school vibe. I spoke to Daniel*, a self-defined “LSD specialist”, about what it’s like to run a small psychedelics business out of his college room.
VICE: Hey, you around?
When did you get into dealing? You deal mostly LSD, right?
I’m an LSD specialist – that’s what I call myself to try and make myself sound different. I basically only deal LSD for a couple reasons: I think it’s a very good drug and it’s actually very safe, despite what some people might say, so morally I can’t really be in the wrong. It’s also very easy to transport – I don’t have to buy a bunch of tiny plastic bags like you might have to do if you’re dealing weed or any powdered substance. Being a student, I have paper lying around that I wrap the tabs up in, which makes it easy logistically, and discreet.
It started because one time, I had a bunch of spare tabs that I wasn’t gonna use any time soon. I sold a bunch to a friend and he said he knew loads of people who might be interested. I thought, ‘hey, this could be an easy way to get a little extra money’. That’s how I became someone who trades in LSD occasionally.
How long were you taking LSD for before you were selling it to friends?
The first time I had it was just with a couple friends, and I sold a significant portion of what I had remaining a week or two afterwards, because it’s so much more economical to order larger quantities when you order. They aren’t that expensive per tab - you can probably get a ten-strip for £30 of bitcoin, and sell that on for about £60. It’s cheaper again if you bulk buy in 20 strips. It basically pays for itself when to get those prices. You’re also doing a whole bunch of work and market research, too.
So you get it from vendors online, mostly?
The dark web is pretty good for this stuff. Honestly, most of the work is essentially just transferring cryptocurrencies around. You need the encryption keys – you have to be able to use PGP keys to actually do anything and communicate with vendors, so keeping that managed is most of the job. It’s fairly easy if you know how to do it, so my role is to make it so that people who want acid don’t have to do all that. [Dark web] markets go up and down fairly often; one of the first markets I used got taken down three or four months after I started using it.
Can you make better money by buying from vendors online? Is the profit margin much bigger than what you’d make otherwise?
Yeah, the margins are so much better. The only downside is the user base. LSD consumers don’t tend to use it every day, so you need to know a lot of people who sometimes consume it, or you’re not making that much money. I’m not really in it for the money, though. If I was, I’d probably sell something like ketamine.
Would you ever sell other substances, like other psychedelics, or coke and ket?
I probably won’t sell anything else. Even if in terms of business, it would be a good idea to do that. I’m not worried about the money, and I like being able to call myself an LSD specialist. I’ve tried 2C-B, but I’m not as big a fan of that, just for personal reasons – I’d only sell that if I personally enjoyed it.
The LSD you buy online gets posted to you. Do you live in college accommodation or halls?
Yeah, I do. The packaging looks like a letter, and inside there’s a piece of paper folded up, and inside that piece of paper there’s a vacuum-sealed moisture barrier bag with the LSD in it. It’s very inconspicuous.
Do you worry about getting caught?
I try to manage my risks as much as possible. I use encrypted channels of communication, and most of my clientele – if you would call it that – are friends, and friends of friends, and in some cases friends of friends of friends. I might end up selling a higher quantity to one friend, who’ll sell it on to people they know. By virtue of that, I sort of know everyone I’m selling to – it’s kind of multi-level. That makes it sound like I’m running a pyramid scheme, but it helps me make sure all the risks are managed in a reasonable way.
Would you say Oxford is a good city to be selling LSD in?
On the whole, any sort of university environment is gonna be a goldmine. In some ways the law gives us a pass when it comes to this stuff. You can walk around town tripping balls and no one will bat an eyelid because you’re a student and they expect you to be like that all the time. In my opinion, society should view that as normal – or acceptable, at least – for everyone. I think there are a lot of scheduled substances that have no place being controlled by the government in any capacity.
Do you ever sell to locals, or just students?
Pretty much just students – I don’t think I’ve actually sold to a local resident. I know a handful of locals who are my friends and know what I do, but I haven’t gotten around to actually selling to them.
Is there a certain kind of student that buys from you?
I don’t think there’s necessarily any one kind of person. The sort of person who does psychedelics and other drugs would be surprising… A lot of the people I’ve sold to are in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields, as opposed to humanities, and stereotypically you’d expect it to be the other way around.
How much money do you think you’ve made so far?
Certainly not enough to cover my expenses, even just for food. I think the amount of money I’ve made this term has covered my video game purchases, which is pretty good – having free video games for three months is a pretty good deal.