For generations, many of us have started our morning with caffeine and ended it with alcohol. These were the permissible drugs, both federally legal and delivered to us in a socially accepted way (from free diner coffee refills to Starbucks shots, from shaking a cocktail to popping the cork on a bottle of wine).
But now, with the rise of easy vaping technology, the state legalization of cannabis, and a new wave of positive research on psychedelics, society is starting to reassess its relationship with drug use. Drinking a craft beer isn’t any more morally righteous than puffing a joint. And nowhere are the possibilities of this new era more clear than in Human Nature, a conceptual product developed by the London-based design firm NewTerritory.
Human Nature is, in essence, a smart vape that destigmatizes microdosing by transforming it into a ritual, while easing new users into psychotropics through beautiful iconography and assistive controls. Human Nature is designed to feel inviting rather than illicit, and something to be savored rather than hidden away.
“There’s a real stigma around drugs looking and feeling–even tasting–a certain way. Since we were kids, taking medicine has never been a particularly nice thing,” says Ravenhall. “[Our concept is] moving away from that.”
The vape comes with four cartridges that New Territory renders as tiny sculptures, shaped from glass or possibly 3D-printed algae. Each contains a specific drug, advertised by its form. And, yes, some are still illegal today. LSD is a blob that resolves into a sharp point, promoting mental focus. Melatonin is a cloud representing lucid dreams. Psilocybin—the hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms—forks to resemble a brain split into right and left hemisphere thinking (an idea that has been debunked, but is a powerful metaphor all the same). And CBD resembles a figure slumping, relaxed, to its side. Even though the cartridges are shaped differently, they share a universal connector to the vape.
“We’re starting to pick up on this metaphorical language of what we might expect [from a drug],” says Ravenhall. Furthermore, by packaging these drugs into unique containers, rather than anonymous vials of vape juice today, the design should also mitigate mix-ups. No one wants to accidentally dose themselves with shrooms when they were planning to take a small amount of melatonin to sleep on a plane.
Alongside the vape itself, the concept features a connected app and a skin patch. Much like the Pax app can regulate your consumption of cannabis vape pods today, this app would allow you to manage your dosing carefully, ensuring you don’t get more affected than you like. Meanwhile, the patch is a means to sample your biometrics. Just as diabetics can wear patches to continuously monitor their blood sugar, NewTerritory imagines their patch tracking your temperature, blood vessel movement, and perspiration to quantify both your resting state and the effect each drug has on your system. It’s sort of like a FitBit for altered states. And while this idea is far more technologically challenging than creating new vape cartridges, in the long term, a patch could offer a more quantified feedback loop on the experience of taking hallucinogens and other drugs.
“We imagined this phase where we don’t just drop people into the deep end with a bunch of psychedelics,” says Ravenhall. “It’s more, how do we make some of those invisible things more visible to you? If you’re feeling low or down, why is that? If we have smart technologies to understand what’s going on, almost at a molecular level, we could use that to better diagnose you for a soft prescription of some of these drugs.”
No doubt, Ravenhall has presented an optimistic vision of our drug-fueled future, in which the largest companies in the space are more concerned about our well-being than pushing as much product on us as possible. Is it overly optimistic? Possibly. But feel free to pass me the CBD while we talk it over.