Source: The Guardian
Date: 16 February 2004

Goodbye ecstasy, hello 5-Meo-DMT:
new designer drugs are just a click away

Psychedelics legal in US but banned in UK
are openly available on the internet

David McCandless

British recreational drug users are turning to a new generation of designer class A drugs from the United States as demand for ecstasy plummets, the Guardian has established.

The majority of these new drugs are powerful synthetic psychedelics from the same chemical families as LSD, magic mushrooms and mescaline. They are too new to have enticing street names; instead their lengthy chemical names are shortened to abbreviations such as 2C-I, 4-HO-DiPT, and 5-Meo-DMT. Unlike ecstasy, methamphetamine or other synthetic recreational drugs, the new compounds are not made in illicit factories or backroom kitchen laboratories. Instead, "research chemicals", as they are euphemistically known, are synthesised by commercial labs, often based in the US, which openly sell their products on the internet.

The rapid growth in the transatlantic online trade in such chemicals has been fuelled by international differences over legality. While Britain has outlawed all of these drugs - under an amendment to the Misuse Of Drugs Act in February 2002 - they remain legal in most other countries, including the majority of EU member states. Even in the US, despite some of the most draconian anti-drug laws in the world, the bulk of research chemicals are legal to manufacture, sell, possess and consume.

With ecstasy dropping in price and popularity, users and dealers in this country are looking further afield to obtain new highs. A recent Home Office survey found that ecstasy use had dropped 21% in the last year. The street price had also dropped to an all time low of 2-3 a pill.

But while most research chemicals are too psychedelically powerful to make it as club drugs, one, 2C-I, is rapidly gaining popularity in this country as a dance drug, thanks to some similarities in effect to MDMA, the main ingredient of ecstasy. More than 125 pills of the drug were seized by police last year, including 65 at the Glastonbury festival, and some London dealers are offering it for 10 a tablet.

British police acknowledge that the internet drugs trade is a growing problem. "It is one of our key priorities," a spokeswoman for the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, responsible for policing internet crime, told the Guardian. "Supply of class As is one of the areas we are examining."

Most research chemicals come as crystalline white powder. They can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected. Some users prefer to administer them via enema.

Psychedelic stimulants such as 2C-I and 2-CT-2 induce visual hallucinations, energy surges, and euphoria. The most powerful is 5-Meo-DMT, doses of which are smaller than a grain of salt. When smoked, its effects are nearly instantaneous, propelling the user into an alternate reality, described as like "being shot out of the nozzle of an atomic cannon". The experience lasts 10 minutes.


Competitive

Online drug trading is becoming an increasingly competitive and sophisticated industry. Last month, the Guardian revealed that at least five British websites were selling cannabis online.

The leading research chemical sites compete openly to offer the purest product, the best customer service, the fastest deliveries and the lowest prices. Sophisticated e-commerce technology, electronic payment systems and next day courier services guarantee swift, effortless "one-click" transactions. Most sites offer between five and 15 different drugs, with prices ranging from $95 to $350 (about 50-185) a gram excluding delivery. The maximum order is 5g. Customers must be over 21.

Credit cards and international money orders are accepted. Drugs like 2C-I can be shipped, via UPS or Fedex, worldwide. Next day delivery is often guaranteed. Most will ship to the UK and other EU states with one caveat: "All purchasers are responsible for compliance with any applicable city, county, state, federal or national regulations related to the purchase, possession and use of any and/or all product," reads the disclaimer on one site.

"It's very easy to get them if you know where to go and you're prepared to take the risk," said Charlie, 34, a photographer and graphic designer from south London. He calls himself a regular customer of a research chemicals company based in New York.

Every three months he buys a selection using his credit card. It usually takes three days to arrive via UPS Express. Most recently he made a repeat-order for 1g of 2,5-dimethyoxy-4-ethylthiophenethylamine (or 2-CT-2 for short), a class A psychedelic similar in effect to mescaline. It costs $175 excluding delivery.

"It's pure. You know exactly what you're getting," he said.

Research chemicals are advertised online as 99% lab pure, but experts warn that that does not mean they are safe. Compared with similar drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms, which have undergone decades of informal human experimentation with relatively few direct fatalities, research chemicals are unknowns. Few human or animal toxicity studies have been carried out.

Even their proponents are at pains to point out the unpredictability and danger involved in reckless experimentation. "It is not reasonable to assume that these chemicals are in any way 'safe' to use recreationally," states the FAQ at erowid.org, the internet's biggest underground drug resource. "When you take a research chemical, you are stepping out into the unknown, and you could be the unfortunate person to discover a new drug's lethal dose."

Safety is a big issue among avid users of research chemicals. Detailed "trip reports" and harm reduction tips are shared through an extensive network of websites and bulletin boards. First time users are expected to read up on their drug of choice and start with small amounts.

Nevertheless, with active doses running to hundredths or even thousandths of a gram, overdoses triggering unexpected reactions can be a very real threat, even with electronic scales sensitive to these weights.

In October 2000, Jake Duroy, 20, from Oklahoma, snorted 35mg of a research psychedelic called 2-CT-7 he had ordered from the web. He was an experienced user but this was a massive amount of the drug to take nasally, which can greatly amplify the effect. He quickly became agitated and violent and two hours later died of a heart attack.

In April the following year, a 17-year-old died after snorting a similar amount of the same drug. A year later in July 2002, 2-CT-7 was emergency-scheduled by the US Drug Enforcement Agency. In their statement, they cited information from trip reports on the internet. After these tragedies, 2-CT-7 was removed from the online marketplace and has not reappeared.


Police warning

The EU recently recommended that member states ban 2C-I as a matter of urgency, although they turned up no evidence of large scale manufacture. The police, however, were quick to sound the alarm. "The chemicals to make this are available and it can be made pretty much anywhere," a source said.

Most research chemicals were invented by one man, Californian biochemist Dr Alexander Shulgin, 78. As an expert witness and adviser to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, he held a licence permitting him to study psychoactive drugs. Over decades, he created hundreds of new mind-altering compounds and then tested them on himself and a small coterie of fellow "psychonauts". The recipes for more than 170 of his materials were published in two biochemical cookbooks in the 1990s and now form the backbone of the research chemicals industry.

Despite the risks, Charlie is prepared to order again, although he admits he gets nervous every time. "I track them via the delivery company's website and can watch when they pass through customs safely," he said. "Then I know I can relax."


* * *

Strange and outrageous chemicals

DMT Dimethyltryptamine

Found in minute quantities in certain Amazonian plants and in the human brain. Smoked, the effects are nearly instantaneous and very strange. "The closest you'll get to experiencing death bar actually dying" as one user put it.

Dose 2-60mg
Duration Less than 10 minutes
Legal status Class A
Price 100 a gram on the street

***

5-Meo-DMT Methoxydimethyltryptamine

A more powerful sister compound of DMT, occurring naturally in the venom of the Bufo alvarius toad but generally smoked in synthesised form. Not uncommon for those who take large amounts to suffer psychological and emotional difficulties for weeks afterwards.

Dose 1-20mg (smaller than a grain of salt)
Duration 5-20 minutes
Legal status Class A but available to buy on the internet
Price $175 (about 90) a gram

***

2C-I (2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodophenethylamine)

Most likely candidate for the coveted title "the next ecstasy".

Powerful psychedelic stimulant described as a cross between MDMA and LSD but with much gentler side-effects. Already appearing in pill form on the UK dance scene.

Dose 10-25mg
Duration 5-8 hours
Legal status Class A but available to buy on the internet
Price $299 a gram web price; 10 a pill on the street

***

2C-T-2 (2,5-dimethyoxy-4-ethylthiophenethylamine)

Respected psychedelic, from the same phenethylamine family as MDMA and mescaline.

Noted for its warmth and "outrageous visuals".

Dose 10-25mg
Duration 5-8 hours
Legal status Class A but available to buy on the internet
Price $299 a gram web price; 10 a pill on the street


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