The Strange and Fascinating World of r/meth
a guided tour of the meth subreddit — a shadow-people-haunted forest of madness and intrigue
On Reddit, 144,000 people have formed a vibrant online community centered on the shared experience of doing meth. One moderator, an addict himself, attempts to ward people away from the lifestyle. But for the most part, from practical advice to robust, dedicated discussion of the “shadow people,” this is mostly just literally a place for addicts to talk about meth.
A surreal weekend read from River Page.
“It’s been quite the experience,” reads the pinned post on r/meth. Below this headline is a photo of a glass pipe that’s cracked in a million places, and below that, an announcement. The head moderator is leaving after four years of managing what he calls “the world’s most nocturnal and psychotic subreddit.” He reminiscences:
I can still remember when the subreddit was barely 20,000 members and I was bright eyed, well rested and still had quite a lot of aspirations for a better tomorrow. I joined with the intention of harm reduction as we had very little information, and in my eyes if there’s a way for people to not fuck themselves up by using safely, why not right?
R/meth has 144,000 followers now, far more than r/StopSpeeding, a subreddit with 28,000 members dedicated to helping people get off meth. In the pinned post, the mod thanks his fellow tweakers for the laughs, late nights, and camaraderie — and tells them they’re in good hands with the new moderator. A guy in the comments mistakes the pipe for the Death Star, and says it’s time to sleep now.
A few days later, a new pinned post appears.
“I have just been given this subreddit literally seven days ago. Prior to that, I was banned,” says the new mod in a video posted under the headline “Message from r/meth CEO that will send our stonks skyrocketing.” He’s a big white guy who goes by the username Twack2theFuture, and he’s wearing a Batman mask. He said that when he was given control of the subreddit, he was the only remaining mod. He’s since recruited others.
I talked to one of them. He’s a 32-year-old-software engineer who calls himself WilliamWegman, after the artist who takes surreal photographs of his Weimaraners dressed up like people. He said when he found the subreddit he became “obsessed and in love,” but also “disgusted, concerned, and humored.”
“Sometimes I can’t look at it. Sometimes I can’t look away,” he told me. “There is this incredible lawlessness about it, and this almost indescribable atmosphere that I more often find worrisome.”
Wegman seems to take his newfound job as a moderator pretty seriously. He tries to be helpful. In one recent post, he replied to a user who complained about vomiting up “yellow stuff,” telling the guy the “yellow stuff” is bile and that he needs to put his phone down and eat. Nobody bothered responding. Unlike some other users, Wegman stresses quitting when possible. He recently wrote a long post titled “if your here because you're new to meth,” encouraging new users to stop before they become hopelessly addicted.
For Wegman, this is personal. A ten-year addict, he’s been sober for two years, but relapsed about two months ago and became a r/meth moderator soon after. During those two years, he told me, he went from making minimum wage sorting recycled electronics to making six figures as a software engineer. “I went to school, I worked nights and weekends and studied all day. I was a machine. Kicking ass at everything. I had never been completely sober before. This is who I actually was. I did not expect this. People who use drugs can’t imagine the kind of success they could have if they were absolutely sober.” He continued:
If you want to make sacrifices of all kinds so that you can maintain a somewhat normal life and use at the same time then do that, and I hope you get high as fuck.
The problem is most people do not have the will power, maturity, or support to use methamphetamine in a somewhat responsible way and wind up getting hurt.
At r/meth I see it like we are all running this marathon together. Drinking copious amounts of water, taking vitamins, staying awake until we hallucinate, having sex for 16 hours straight, taking a break to eat, have a cigarette and go right back to it.
So when I see someone laying on the side of the road saying their heart hurts I stop and say, 'Hey I think it's time to get some help.' I stay with them for a while and tell them everything I can think to encourage them to stop, then I turn around and keep running. I keep running because I can't stop running, most of us can't stop running.
So it is harm reduction, not sobriety, which seems to be r/meth’s official raison d’etre. That said, it's mostly just posts reminding people to drink water and use lube. “There is an absolutely titanic knowledge deficit about true harm reduction,” Wegman said. “So what is commonly known and passed around is always the same stuff. Magnesium, vitamins, electrolytes, food, water, sleeping every couple days, and how to ‘wash’ or remove some of the ‘cut’ from your meth with paint thinner.”
The harm reduction content accounts for a small percentage of posts on r/meth. As a whole, the subreddit is a community built around the shared experience of doing meth, and not much more or less than that. The back and forth in comment sections can get pretty long because, well, everybody’s on meth. But nobody pretends otherwise. There’s no pretense here, no personas. It might be one of the last places on the internet where people know exactly who they are, and are honest with themselves and everybody else about it. They post pictures and videos of themselves, shitpost, ask for advice, and commiserate over their shared experiences on the drug — encounters with the so-called “shadow people” being one of the most interesting.
The existence of the shadow people is an ongoing debate on r/meth. Wegman told me they’re hallucinations caused by sleep deprivation and that people hallucinate them in the darkest places where you imagine a person might be, like an unlit plot of land across the street. Others disagree. “I think they are demons that are given access to your energy field when you don’t sleep and use this substance,” one user said. “I don’t think they are a fake figment of your imagination, I think they are real entities from another dimension.” Another insists that they’re Jinn, and that he’s seen them sober. People also debate whether they are good, evil, or both. “Seen all types. They are real. Closest thing to angels and demons in real life imo,” one user said. “If more people did meth, they’d be more openly known or studied.”
Unlike the mysterious shadow people, many r/meth users are more than willing to show people exactly who they are. Although depictions of intravenous use are banned, videos of users smoking meth aren’t, and such videos are ubiquitous. The people posting videos of themselves don’t bother concealing their faces, and they could look like anybody. Some of them are young, some old, every race, men and women. I asked Wegman whether or not he thought all these videos might trigger relapse in people trying to quit, or possibly encourage them to smoke more. He said that if people were looking up a drug they used to abuse online, it was only a matter of time before they relapsed again.
“If you’re trying to stay clean and you do anything related to the drug you’re abstaining from, you are starting to relapse. Period.”
As for the videos encouraging people to use more, Wegman was skeptical. He admitted that a lot of addicts are sexually aroused by seeing other people use, and that this might “excite someone to take a few more hits,” but nothing more than that. According to Wegman:
The thing that encourages you to do more meth is the meth itself. You take a hit, it feels so good immediately you want another and take it. The higher you get the more you want it until you are literally screaming inside your head “fucking give me more yes!!!” And you are not rationally deciding to take more, you're giving in to the insanely powerful urge the drug creates. You are aware of this and you find it absolutely captivating and you love letting the drug tell you what to do. Really what it is, is you lose control over your rational thoughts, of your conscience. You are still aware of your rational self and are aware you are parting ways with it. That your willpower is being unassigned to operate through the moral conscious, and is being put on standby so your high self can take over. Once this happens, and it happens every single time, the real fun begins. Meth highs are about losing control to what the meth wants you to do.
Some of the content is extremely concerning. Here, a user asks if he’s having an overdose. A year ago he was posting pictures of his cat and talking about video games and music. He’s 14. I asked Wegman if he thought that people were better or worse for r/meth existing at all. He said:
The bad are already bad and getting worse without reddit. The good are good and also getting worse without reddit, but the good’s stronger rationale and moral compass digs its claws in deeper into the slippery incline, so it's a slower descent into complete debauchery and self-destruction. Note the claws can be forced, with great willpower, deep enough into the slippery meth incline that the user is able to stay at one altitude, but the strain is very great, and the position awkward.
Methamphetamine is a complicated and cumbersome drug that requires a lot of time and effort to manage somewhat, or even to just stay alive. It is a high maintenance drug par excellence. Like owning a dragster or something. It needs maintenance (your body) after every race or it falls apart.
Then he gave me a list of pros and cons.
The benefits are:
Social interactions, which users can be deprived of due to social alienation.
Having a place to speak openly about addiction, safe ways to use, side-effects people are having, and ways to avoid them, and mostly things related to harm reduction.
The negative side is:
Social interactions that become real world interactions.
When you're on meth most likely you are alone, and most certainly you are horny, extremely horny... so some people meet other people in their area for sexual activities if they can find them. The problem with interacting with other users is they may use a lot more than you and get you using more.
Wegman’s response was more nuanced than I expected. Once you peer beyond all the shitposts, cloudblasting videos, and Spongebob memes about copper wire theft, it becomes pretty clear that a great deal of the users on the sub are fairly serious and intelligent people. They’re degenerate drug addicts for sure, but they cope well. One user said that his addiction made him unsuitable for “public work,” so he became a taxidermist and makes over $100,000 a year on Etsy. Of course, he’s a meth addict, so he could be lying, but in his defense, a meticulous, time-consuming task like taxidermy does seem like an ideal job for somebody on meth.
There’s something unique and fascinating about this subreddit. Its users are terrifying, hilarious, tragic, and often, kind. As of today, the top post of the year is a before and after picture of a young man, his gaunt face, once covered in scabs, now healed. He looks happy. The second is a middle-aged man’s laptop selfie, his eyes open in a way that whispers “oh fuck.” The caption reads “Been up for a week.” The third: a pretty girl sitting in a car, 52 weeks sober. The fourth: A shirtless twink in Birkenstocks, smoking the most meth anyone has ever seen through a jerry-rigged bong. He titled the post “A Gram Per Line Keeps Me Feeling Fine.” He hasn’t posted since, and people in the comments are debating whether he’s in rehab or dead.
This is r/meth — a shadow-people-haunted forest of madness and intrigue. Everything is chaotic and fascinating, from the moderation panel (stable as an Italian government), to my source, a bright and empathetic drug addict who uses a high-art pet photographer’s name as a pseudonym on Reddit, but didn’t bother using a burner account when he emailed a journalist he’s never met. Self-pity, the driving force of the internet since the 2010s, is hard to find here. In an internet of people who feel sorry for themselves, the jittery tweakers of r/meth don’t. Sometimes they seem to feel sorry for others, the ones who are too young, or too unstable, the ones who can’t handle it. When people get clean they celebrate. When middle-aged uncle types stay up for a week and post funny pictures, they laugh. When young men do a gram of meth in a matter of seconds, they cheer him on. When he doesn’t come back, they worry and daydream him to rehab. I’ve never seen a place on the internet where hope and nihilism co-exist like this. I’ve never seen a place so human.
Quotes, interviews, posts, etc., are edited for clarity, spelling, and grammar.
Read more of River’s pieces on Pirate Wires:
Thanks for sharing. It's a relief to see a writer come down off the surreal ivory tech tower, to acknowledge the real world of the ground below where people are addicted, starving, or dying in silence on the street. This hits on a personal level as well, with a few family members currently enslaved by meth and my own feeling of powerlessness in being able to help them. Exploring r/meth for ten minutes has already helped me understand the drug better and feel more empathy for what people that use it are going through, and given me some tools to better help them. I found this story that I wanted to share on the "pretty girl sober" thread that inspired me and also made me weep because it touches on such a deep level what I've been going through with my family. Thanks for this.
"Congratulations!!! Take pride in what you have already accomplished.. It does get better with time. But it's something that none of can ever just turn our back on like we are completely impervious to relapse. The fact that we have such a small percentage of people that don't get out of it for food, does not mean it's impossible. If you want it. You can achieve it. I know from my own life experience with my dad. He was the best dad ever for the first 12 years of my life. Had 3 tragic deaths in our family within six months. My dad that I had never seen even drink a beer went to full on head within a few months. He was completely a different person for about 3 years. For a 12 year old kid that has his dad turn from a poster dad that spent every second with me to a dad that was hardly home, and when he was it was to crash. That went on until I was almost 15. He went from the most loving and nurturing supportive dad ever to physically, emotionally and mentally abusive was a nightmare. I remember him coming home, and he started packing clothes which was a first throughout the entire few years. The only words he said to me was," Goodbye, son. Maybe will run into each other one day." I don't know for sure why, but I ran into my room and immediately started writing a simple note. It said,"Dad, I have always loved you, and I always will love you no matter what. There's nothing that you have done or will do that will change that." I snuck over to his truck and laid it on his dashboard. He just started driving away while I was completely sobbing while watching him leave for what I thought could be the last time I would ever see him. While waiting to watch him completely disappear in the distance his truck stopped in the middle of the road. Sat there for a minute or two. Then immediately started to turn around and drive back towards our house. I didn't know what was going on, but he pulled into our driveway. He got out with tears in his eyes. He walked up to me and said,"Son, I am so sorry. I have failed you. But if you will let me and give me an opportunity to be the dad that I was before and an even better dad than ever is what I want to do. I promise you that I will not fail you and will never hurt you again.' I jumped in his arms and said,"Please, do." It's been 28 years since that day. He never relapsed with any substance not even once. He became so much more than my dad before in every way. People can quite and make it, and of course it's never simple or easy. But it can and has been done. I wish you all the best in life because you deserve nothing less." - updownandblastoff https://www.reddit.com/r/meth/comments/uz84a0/comment/jheh4sz/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3
Once again, River hits it out of the park.