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A Young Person's Guide to Over-The-Counter Stimulants
by Richard Kadrey

How are you feeling? Calm? Centered? Get enough sleep last night? No, of course not! It's a trick question!

The sharp decline in numbers of well-rested human beings in the developed world probably goes a long way toward explaining the boom in legal, over-the-counter stimulants. The fact that these products exist—products with names like Ener-B, Hi-Ener-G and Escalation—says a lot about contemporary values.

During the sixties, the big problem was middle America getting hooked on legal downers (go find a copy of the old Rolling Stones song "Mother's Little Helper"). Valium and alcohol were the drugs of choice as pre-liberated moms and organization man dads tried to tabula rasa their frontal lobes and get a break from the pressures of work, war and their increasingly inexplicable children. In the nineties, we don't bother to downshift out of work mode. If you're not ready to cobra strike the competition, learn a new software package daily, and keep up on where your tie, cuffs and collar should begin and end, you're a ghost. A loser. Out of the game. The junkies of the today are hardwired for velocity. Smack might have been the counterculture cocktail of the past, but crack and crystal meth are the wine cooler for the fin de siecle.

Clearly, there's some unconscious cultural choice at work here. Smart drugs turned out to be the Pyramid Power of the early nineties. The focus shifted: if you can't be smarter than the next guy, at least you can be faster...

And, to be honest, faster can be fun. It's why we'd rather take the car than the train, and why our cars go 80 or 90 mph when that's illegal or impossible on 99% of the roads in the country. It's also one of the reasons coffee bars have replaced wine bars as the place to hang. The slurred speech and boneless Rat Pack three-sheets-to-wind slouch are out. A jackhammer-Uzi-on-full-auto intensity is in.

We are working too many hours and sleeping too little. Fortunately, and opportunistically, your local pharmacy, health food store and head shop are lined with row after row of colorful pills, capsules, liquids, gels and powders promising you instant energy, better concentration and utter bliss.

I gathered together a group of like-minded, pubic-spirited synaptic adventurers to field test a cross-section of the most popular—and easily obtainable—legal stimulants on the market. Here are the results of our rigorous study.

(Note: Though these are sold over-the-counter, they are still drugs. We do not recommend that you try these at home, nor do we take any responsibility for anything dumb you might do.)
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