What does a person who has taken 140 different drugs look like?
I didn't know what to expect before Skyping Dominic Milton Trott, author of The Honest Drugs Book – but really, his appearance shouldn't come as a surprise: a man in his fifties with a round, avuncular face and a warm Mancunian accent. Bald pate with funky ponytail tickling the nape of his neck and a hippy shark's tooth necklace hanging just below his Adam's apple.
Perhaps I was expecting something altogether more bereft: the Renton-esque image of someone who has dedicated their life to drugs. But exploding our stigmas around drugs is life mission for Trott, who embarked on a near-decade journey to write a book he hopes will serve as the ultimate harm reduction Bible. Make no mistake: The Honest Drugs Book – for which Trott consumed 140 drugs, writing intimate, semi-academic reports for most – is not a hedonist's handbook. So what inspired him to dive so deep into the rabbit hole?
VICE: What's the history of The Honest Drug Book?
Dominic Trott: I started creating logs of my experiences with drugs seven or eight years ago. It was more of a spreadsheet then, but I had a vague idea that somebody needed to compile this information. It was only once I got to 30 or 40 entries that I thought it needed to be more readable – a book – to make it appeal to the average person. Later, when I noticed on online drug forums the amount of people that were dying through a lack of knowledge about how to take drugs, I realised I was creating critical data that could save lives.
Does another book like this exist?
No, the closest is [Alexander] Shulgin's book [PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story]. But that's just about psychedelics, and illegible to the kid on the street.
You're very forward about the effect psychedelics have had on your life. Your experience in Peru with ayahuasca was – as it is for many people – utterly transformative.
It bestowed me the most wisdom. It had the most fundamental impact on the way I see the world. It gave me more confidence to see things differently – like finishing this book. Before I took ayahuasca, I had visions of someone like The Daily Mail turning up on my front lawn, declaring it the most dangerous book in Britain. I still do worry, but after ayahuasca, I stopped caring enough to not complete the project.
The same can't be said of your experience taking Black Mamba – an artificial cannabinoid not unlike Spice. It gave you "acute fear" and you call it "an absolutely horrendous ride".
I was rolled up in the foetal position on the bed. It was horrific. But one of the things that got me through that experience was the knowledge it was going to come to an end. I had done my research before. But if I was a naive 16-year-old kid who just thought it was artificial cannabis, then it descends into this inferno of hell, it would be truly terrifying. It was this sort of experience that drove me to write and finish the book.
You had a bad time on heroin – it makes you sick.
Heroin was nice, but I took quite a large dose. It's like alcohol; if you take a lot of alcohol the first time, you're going to vomit. I think that's what happened with me. I woke in the morning with a hangover that was very close to an alcohol hangover. It's a depressant, so maybe that's not a surprise. I think if I'd have stopped it would have been a different thing, but it's moreish! I wanted to keep on going. I didn't have a bad time for a few hours, but overall I had a terrible time. The next morning, I thought you could easily wake up and have hair of the dog. I didn't – I'd thrown the rest of it away anyway – but it made me realise how someone could carry on like that.
You enjoy amphetamines, but lots of people hate them – they think they're the dodgy cousin of the stimulant family.
It's probably because you don't have the same effects you do with cocaine and other research chemicals. But the amphetamine lasts much longer and you can forget you're on a drug almost, except for the fact you're really high. With amphetamine [speed] I recovered after a few days. Crystal meth, I didn't. I think it's something to do with dopamine. I think you suck out so much on the crystal meth high – you've had such a fundamentally great time – to get back to a baseline takes a lot longer than serotonin. In the right setting I might take amphetamines, but I'd never take crystal meth again.
You have a section trying to dissuade non-adults from taking drugs. But might some people might say a book like this arms young people to take drugs?
Telling kids that "if you take drugs you're going to die" is just a farcical message. It's never going to work. But I tell young people at the start of the book that they shouldn't take drugs, including alcohol: that their brain isn't fully developed yet and they should wait. Hopefully that message will get through. But if they still want to experiment they should be able to get the safety data and the information. To me, that's just sane, and anything else is political ideology trumping human life.
You mention in the book that you've raised a family. How does having kids dovetail with taking so many drugs?
The kids are grown up and they were at university when this started. Also, I know what it sounds like: "This guy took 140 drugs so he must have been stoned all the time." But it wasn't like that. I'd take it when there weren't people around. I'd research what it was going to do. With stimulants, it's mostly OK, because I knew broadly what my behaviour was going to be like.
It seems you were mostly alone when you were testing stimulants. How do you think that affected the way you experienced them compared to a normal user, i.e. a clubber?
I accept that they're in a very different setting. I would get over the "euphoria bit" and mentally shift to documenting it as an academic procedure. But it was to create a chronology of what the experience is like so people understand what their experience is going to be like if they take this drug.
One of the regular ways you measure how you’re being affected by drugs is their effect on your "horn". Why is this relevant?
When I was researching forums and trip reports, arousal was commonly discussed. For a lot of people, sex is a big aspect of stimulant use, so I thought I should discuss it. And when you have a drug like crystal meth, you won't find many forums that don't discuss sex. Of course, a danger is that people develop relationship problems because the sex they have after crystal meth becomes incredibly unfulfilling. It's a serious problem you see recited, and I didn't want to shy away from that.
Which drug would you do tomorrow if you had a clear day?
I wouldn't, really. I rarely engage these days. If I went to Amsterdam, I might smoke weed. If I was traveling somewhere that had an interesting psychedelic, I'd try that. With most drugs I just think it's not worth the two or three days that I will feel bad afterwards. I'm also not sure it's a great look for an older guy!
Fair enough. Lastly, you deliberately don’t include a picture of yourself in the book. What is your job and what do they think of your second career?
Well, I used to be a programmer when programming was a sexy job. I eventually became a security risk consultant for banks. I analysed vulnerability, controls, impact, that sort of thing.
That makes sense.
Yeah. But I left that about ten years ago and went self-employed, which gave me the time to pursue things I wanted. This eventually became The Honest Drug Book.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Buy The Honest Drug Book here.