Most Controversial Drugs on Wikipedia
Wikipedia has become one of the most expansive and popular reference sources on the web. With 4.7 million articles, 9.2 billion monthly pageviews1, and over 30,000 active editors volunteering on the English Wikipedia, it’s often the first place anyone goes for both quick overviews and in-depth information on almost any topic. But when anyone can contribute to these collaborative resources, who’s accountable for the content? Where do the people who write these articles come from, and what are they most interested in writing about?
Luckily, Wikipedia offers a public record of each page’s history of changes, showing who made an edit and when they did it. By examining the histories of several dozen Wikipedia articles on drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other vices, we’ve identified which substance- and vice-related topics are the most controversial and in which cities and states such controversy is highest.
Top 25 Controversial Pages
Of all the drugs we studied, marijuana was by far the most frequently disputed: Wikipedia pages relating to cannabis were edited over 15,000 times in total, nearly 66% more than the runner-up drug, methamphetamine. MDMA, or ecstasy, was neck and neck with meth; heroin placed fourth with 7,524 edits.
In some ways, this aligns with patterns of national drug use2 – 43.7% of people over age 12 report using cannabis in their lifetime, more than any other illicit substance. But it’s not quite a perfect match, as only 4.7% report using meth, and 1.8% report using heroin. Surprisingly, even as oxycodone has swept the nation and become a widely abused painkiller, it turned out to be the least-edited drug-related article in our study – with a mere 3,612 total edits.
In terms of alcoholic beverages, beer-related articles had only 7,399 edits, placing it below several drugs but above wine. National interest in alcoholic drinks3 shows a similar trend, with beer being preferred to wine and liquor for the past eight years.
But the most edited drink of all? Coffee. Second only to cannabis in our study, the edits to coffee articles outnumbered meth, heroin, cocaine, and all other drugs considered. Even cigarette articles were only edited about half as often as coffee. This is not so surprising when you consider that Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee per day4.
Cannabis: The Most Edited Topic in 28 States
Marijuana’s reign as the most controversial drug topic is even more visible in this map of which drug-related articles are most contested throughout the U.S. In 28 states, cannabis topics are the most edited, while methamphetamine is the most controversial article in only seven states. Among those seven are North Dakota5, New Mexico6, and Alaska7, all of which are facing a serious meth problem.
Meanwhile, only two states – California and Oklahoma – rank MDMA (ecstasy) as their most controversial drug article. While California’s party scene has an obvious link to this popular and deadly club drug8, Oklahoma might not be the place you’d expect to find so much interest in ecstasy. However, the Sooner State has historically struggled to contain the spread of ecstasy from the suburbs to the inner city via gangs9.
Visualizing Cannabis Page Edits per State Resident
As cannabis is far and away the most frequently edited drug article, we chose to look at marijuana specifically to see which states had the most edits. In this map, the darkest states are in the top 25% for changes to the cannabis page, the lightest states are in the bottom 25%, and the rest are in between.
The states’ rankings are broadly similar to statistics on how many people over the age of 12 report using marijuana10 in the past year. Both the Northeast and Pacific Northwest show high prevalence of recent cannabis use and the highest number of edits to the cannabis article, while the Southern U.S. shows some of the lowest levels of both.
Cities with the Highest Per Capita Page Edits
By localizing Wikipedia edits to major cities, we were able to identify the cities in which these substances elicit the most controversy, which is revealing of both current and historical trends. San Francisco, the epicenter of ’60s counterculture, is still in the first place for edits to the article on the hallucinogen LSD. And Durham, home to Duke University, is at the top for revisions to both beer and caffeine. Last year, a massive oxycodone distribution ring was busted near Washington, D.C.11, which has the most edits for the drug. Meanwhile, as Rochester, New York has seen a fivefold increase12 in heroin-related deaths in recent years, the drug’s newfound prominence is reflected in the town’s number of edits.
A number of drug, alcohol, beverage, and gambling articles on Wikipedia were collected for the study. Each article’s history of edits was downloaded using the Python mwclient package, and the number of edits was quantified for each of the studied articles. Wikipedia provides IP addresses for edits that were made anonymously. These IP addresses were fed through a geocoding tool that returned the location information for each IP.
Once location information was established for each edit, we determined the most edited page in each state, the number of cannabis page edits per state resident, and the “capitals” for 22 of the top 25 most edited substance- and vice-related pages considered in this study. “Capitals” (a.k.a. “Drug Edit Capitals” in the fourth graph on this page) were the U.S. metropolitan areas with over 200,000 residents that had the highest number of edits per resident.
1. The map for cannabis edits by state was generated using 2013 state population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau13.
2. 2013 city population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau14 were utilized to determine the number of page edits per city resident, which allowed us to determine the “capitals.”
One might infer that the more frequently edited or contentious Wikipedia topics mirror the high number of people whose lives have been affected by the topic in question. This affected group includes people who themselves have suffered from substance abuse, have struggled with gambling or other vices, or who have friends and loved ones who have. Contending with addiction – be it chemical, behavioral, or both – is a daily struggle for many. Finding help for yourself or someone close to you can begin by speaking with one of our treatment support specialists. Place a call to our toll-free helpline today at 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? .