The dA-Zed guide to new drugs

#Tripping out on our rundown of the 21st century's newest pharma developments

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Historically, four or five new drugs appear in Europe each year. Last year, 73 new drugs were found on 690 websites – super-potent proof of the powers of underground chemists and testament to the consumer power of the research drug scene, e-psychonauts, and anyone with a credit card, an internet connection and a desire to get off their heads. From bath salt zombies to binaural beats, we map out the new psychoactive territory. 

A is for Alexander Shulgin
Shulgin poses in his research lab

A IS FOR ALEXANDER SHULGIN

The patron saint of the research chemical scene. In the 80s and 90s, Shulgin synthesised hundreds of new psychoactive compounds and heroically tested each one on himself to record the results. Recording substances with names like 5-MeO-DMT and 2C-T-7 (later coined by some as “alphabetamines”), his ‘cookbooks’ PiHKAL and TiHKAL are basically required reading for anybody in the research chemical scene.  

B IS FOR BINAURAL BEATS

Digital technology means “digital drugs”, right? Binaural beats claim to get you high by synchronising your brainwaves, with a cottage industry of mp3 sites selling everything from beats to reduce anxiety, induce hallucinations, and even improve your performance in Call Of Duty. Open source generators like Gnuaral allow you to create your own binaural beats. 

C is for China
Undercover photographs of a Chinese drug lab

C IS FOR CHINA 

The manufacturing hub of the new research chemicals flooding the market (although Eastern Europe comes close). China’s relatively lax regulations mean that anybody with a warehouse in Guangzhou and Walter White ambitions can set up shop and start cranking out product. Legislating against these chemical powerhouses, for now, has proved futile: once one chemical structure is outlawed, enterprising chemists come up with a substitute. 

D is for dosage
Samples of 25-i on blotter paper Erowid

D IS FOR DOSAGE 

Get this wrong and you might end up in A&E. Many new research chemicals are tweaked to be ten (or more) times more potent, and should be administered in sub-milligram doses. Unfortunately, they’re often sold as substitutes for illegal drugs, which leads people to think they need to take the equivalent amount to feel their effects. An LSD synthetic like 25I-NBOMe, otherwise known as 25-i, is active at minimal amounts, but ingesting the same amount as conventional acid has allegedly led to a number of hospitalisations and deaths.    

E IS FOR EROWID

The granddaddy (in Internet terms, at least) of drug testing sites. Founded in 1995 by two anonymous Californians who call themselves Earth and Fire, Erowid acts as a repository for drug knowledge and trip reports. Unsure about that white powder with a name that ten letter-long molecular structure? Someone on Erowid has probably sampled it, and written a meticulous 2,000 word timeline of their experience. 

F IS FOR THE 4-HOUR CHEF

Bro lifehacker Tim Ferris authored this guide to self-improvement by any means necessary. Ferris devotes entire chapters to supercharging your brain via legal (and not so legal) smart drugs, from using bed-wetting prescription drugs for memory enhancement to popping pills for senility in dogs. 

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Global Drug Survey have been running drug surveys for over a decade

G IS FOR THE GLOBAL DRUG SURVEY 

One of the biggest, most wide-ranging online drug surveys, conducted in association with Mixmag, Gay Times and the Guardian. Last year, over 22,000 responses from all over the world were logged. It’s currently soliciting responses for 2013 here

H IS FOR HIV ANTI-RETROVIRALS         

HIV medications like Efavirenz are gaining street value as a recreational drug, with LSD-like hallucinogenic effects. South African users spike joints with crushed-up pills to create a mixture called ‘whoonga’ that prolongs their high. 

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Bluelight.ru even runs its own drugs wiki page

I IS FOR THE INTERNET

Thanks to the internet, drug fiends everywhere can compare notes and keep tabs on new and exciting pharmacological developments. Other than Erowid, thriving forums like Bluelight provide an online hang-out and information source for new substances, while obscurer research sites serve as a log for wannabe chemists to log their findings.  

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An 2010 Talk to Frank leaflet on mephedrone Hamilton Morris

J IS FOR JUST BE SMART

Sound advice from Erowid’s founders: “When one takes a new and unstudied drug, one makes onself a human guinea pig.” Most research chemicals are so new that their side effects and interactions with other drugs are little-known, at best. Even test kits, normally used to ferret out the presence of dangerous substances in illegal drugs, don't detect newer, potentially more dangerous, drugs. Intrepid ‘travellers’ usually take a threshold dose (i.e. milligram’s worth) in company when faced with a new and undocumented drug.

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Samples of K2 Houston Press

K IS FOR K2

K2, and its close relatives Spice and Potpourri, are synthetic cannabinoids that were once sold at petrol stations and head shops across America as “herbal smoking blends” (i.e. weed substitutes). In 2010, a Iowan teenager called David Rozga killed himself after smoking K2 with his friends, leading to a successful campaign to ban K2, Spice and other synthetics. 

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Media pressure from tabloids such as the Sun also plays some part in making drugs illegal The Sun

L IS FOR THE LAW

Right now, the fastest way to ban new drugs in the UK is to put them under a temporary class drug order, which bans their import and sale (but not possession of the drug). The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, a government advisory panel of chemists and medics, then has 12 months to analyse the drug to recommend a full ban.

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Drug meme Mephedrone Cat was a short-lived phenom

M IS FOR MEPHEDRONE

Before mephedrone’s emergence in 2009, the research chemical scene was basically the province of esoteric drug nerds and open-minded clubbers looking for the next designer drug. When people realised you could basically pay £15 for a gram and have it delivered to your door, the horse had well and truly bolted out of the pharmacological door. 

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Nootropics such as Adderall have even inspired T-shirts

N IS FOR NOOTROPICS 

Initially meant to treat medical conditions like ADHD, nootropics (i.e. smart drugs) like Adderall and Modafinil are now routinely abused as by stressed-out students on deadline and anybody looking for a quick cognitive boost. An estimated 16-20% of American college students take nootropics, leading some to speculate that, far from providing an easy cheat, smart drugs will power the workforce of the future.  

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American police pose with a seizure of synthetic cannabinoids

O IS FOR OUR DRUGS POLICY ISN’T WORKING

Enforcing drug laws around the world costs at least $100 billion a year – America alone spends $15 billion annually on the war on drugs and imprisons more than 2.3 million people for drug offences. Unfortunately, the development of the drug trade means that governments struggle to play catch-up – which might explain why lawmakers in Colorado have made the first steps towards legalising low-risk drugs like marijuana, and why the police chief constables in the UK have called for drug legalisation

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Professor David Nutt speaking at the Hay Festival

P IS FOR PROFESSOR DAVID NUTT

Nutt was the chief government advisor on drugs before he was sacked for suggested that the drug classification laws didn’t actually reflect the harm levels of each drug. Now he’s the poster boy for British drug reform, particularly thanks to headline-making opinions like how taking drugs is no more dangerous than horse riding.

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Soldiers often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from active service in conflict zones Jae C Hong/AP

Q IS FOR QUITE USEFUL, MAYBE?

Could MDMA cure post-traumatic stress disorder? Perhaps. Could LSD make you more creative? Maybe. A small-scale study at the University of Arizona found that psilocybin (the active ingredient in shrooms) even eased the symptoms of severe OCD sufferers. You might have to wait for a while till you can get a Boots prescription for MDMA-based medication, but it might be on the cards. 

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The now-defunct frontpage of roflcoptor.co.uk

R IS FOR ROLFCOPTOR

In 2012, Mixmag announced the birth of a new drug, ‘roflcoptor’, and the news promptly went viral. The problem was, while the drug it described (methoxetamine or MXE, a derivative of ketamine) did exist, nobody was sure if ‘roflcoptor’ was an actual street name or just an elaborate prank. But this being the internet, a site selling ‘roflcoptor’ was immediately launched to capitalise off the hype.   

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Silk Road ships millions of dollars worth of drugs and black market items

S IS FOR SILK ROAD

Described as the ‘Amazon of drugs’, Silk Road has re-asserted itself as the darknet hub for drugs trade since the recent demise of Atlantis, its closest direct competitor. Modelled after commercial e-commerce sites, complete with feedback ratings and buyer resolution services, the site ships $1.9 million worth of drugs and other black market items per month.  

TRANSHUMAN
Transhumanism advocates the use of technology to improve human existence disinfo.com

T IS FOR TRANSHUMANISM

A sci-fi influenced vision of mankind. Transhumanists are devoted to using emerging technologies – and drugs – to better human existence. Google’s attempt to “solve death” is a prime example of transhumanism in action. 

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Ego death is also practiced by some monks during meditation

U IS FOR BEING ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE

Ego death, in which the perceived boundaries between self and environment melt away, is actively pursued by more adventurous users. Some say it’s expanded their minds for the better; others experience the worst two (three, four, or more) hours of their lives. It’s a toss-up.

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5-HTP can be bought over the counter from health food stores

V IS FOR VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS

More committed psychonauts tweak their diet to maximise the effect of drugs. One of the most commonly used supplements is 5-HTP, which apparently helps minimise the unpleasant comedown after taking MDMA or Ecstacy. 

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Foxy came into use on the club scene in the 90s and early 2000s Erowid

X IS FOR X-RATED ACTIVITIES

One casualty of pharmacological adventuring is usually the libido – although clubbers in the 90s and early 2000s will fondly recall foxy, or 5-MeO-DIPT, a designer drug renowned for boosting the effects of sex. (It was even the subject of a Playboy article.) But who cares about what’s in your pants when there’s some consciousness to expand, right?  

Y IS FOR YEEZY TAUGHT ME 

One of the great democratising effects of drugs is that when shit is good, anyone can get into the game. Take, for example, the sudden proliferation of MDMA references in rap music (aka the ‘popped a molly, I’m sweating, woo!’ effect). Maybe if molly was this big in the 90s, everyone involved in the East Coast – West Coast rivalry could just have hugged it out.    

Z IS FOR THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

In 2012, America descended into Reefer Madness hysteria when a Miami resident tried to chew off a homeless man’s face, prompting a wave of reports on other bath salt-induced rampages. Fears of the zombie apocalypse have subsided somewhat since Obama’s aforementioned ban on the family of khat-derived stimulants, along with synthetic marijuana and a host of other related drugs.  

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