From “herbal highs” to the “heroin of cannabis”: Exploring the evolving discourse on synthetic cannabinoid use in a Norwegian Internet drug forum
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Original versionInternational journal of drug policy 2016 10.1016/j.drugpo.2016.01.011
In the early 2000s, online vendors began selling an array of so-called “legal highs”—apparently organic produce made from exotic herbs. Simultaneously, members of online drug discussion forums began to debate the alleged effects of the new drugs, creating an enormous base of user-derived information based on personal experiences.This study combines the historical data spanning a seven-year period derived from a Norwegian drug discussion forum about synthetic cannabinoids and interviews with 14 male forum members who all had experience with the drug. By combining the two sources, this study reveals not only the evolving discourse on synthetic cannabinoid use but also how forum members related to the online information that they gathered and co-produced.Analysis of the evolving online discourse revealed three distinct phases. The first was an enthusiastic phase, with users embracing the new drugs. The second was a phase characterized by growing ambivalence and scepticism towards use of the drugs. The third was one in which members of the community rejected the new drugs based on negative reviews from users.The analysis displays the communal process whereby members co-operate in the exchange of an extensive body of knowledge accumulated about synthetic cannabinoids, and the way in which this evolving discourse influences members of the forum in their views and representations of the drugs. Paradoxically, the online discussions of synthetic cannabinoids, which had great significance for their proliferation when they were initially introduced to the market, now seem to be a deterrent. The role of online drug communities in the development of new drug trends should receive renewed attention.