Update: Post mortem has confirmed that the Miami cannibal was not high on bath salts, LSD or synthetic cannabinoids.
The USA yesterday booted a host of previously unregulated drugs in to the “schedule 1” bracket. The move appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to recent events such as the “bath salt zombie attack”, believed by the police (apparently based upon nothing but pure guesswork) to be related to “bath salts”, the name euphemistically given to unscheduled drugs when it is not clear from the packaging what chemical(s) a drug contains. If you think that sounded confused, you’d be right – in classic McCarthyist style, a whole host of drugs have been banned despite there having been no research in to their effects whatsoever.
The newly classified schedule 1 drugs are as follows, effective October 1st 2012:
‘(i) 5-(1,1-dimethylheptyl)-2-[(1R,3S)-3-hydroxycyclohexyl]-phenol (CP-47,497);
‘(ii) 5-(1,1-dimethyloctyl)-2-[(1R,3S)-3-hydroxycyclohexyl]-phenol (cannabicyclohexanol or CP-47,497 C8-homolog);
1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-018 and AM678);
1-pentyl-3-[(4-methoxy)-benzoyl]indole (SR-19 and RCS-4);
1-cyclohexylethyl-3-(2-methoxyphenylacetyl)indole (SR-18 and RCS-8); and
It’s not surprising to see MDPV on the list, as MDPV is a primary culprit in many drugs marketed in the US as “bath salts”. MDPV, often likened to PCP, is a drug known for a range of thoroughly unpleasant side-effects. Some of the other drugs on the list are somewhat more surprising however. It is particularly bizarre to see the 2C* family described as “new” drugs by the US DEA, the 2C* family was of course first synthesised by Alexander Shulgin over three decades ago and has been known for its unusual blend of psychedelic and aphrodisiac qualities ever since. Like many psychedelics, the 2c* family is also known for its relatively low-risk toxicity profile (it is highly active at doses on the miligram range while relatively high doses have been reported with few ill effects). The US DEA have cited only one instance of overdose through improper use of 2c-E as justification for the ban of the entire 2c* family.
Paradoxically, the newly listed Schedule 1 drugs are to be defined as having:
“A high potential for abuse.. no medical use in treatment in the United States; and lack an accepted safety for use of the drug”
This is an ironic definition considering that not only is there a complete lack of human research for most of the drugs listed above, but now that these drugs are scheduled it is near impossible for US scientists, like UK scientists before them, to study these drugs to determine whether there could ever be a medical use for any of the drugs. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this vicious cycle could end badly. We will likely witness the chemicals above rapidly dumped on the underground market, to risk being mislabelled and sold as cutting agents. There is now little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to investigate relations of the drugs as they are now likely controlled under analogue legislation. Furthermore, there is now every incentive for underground drugs manufacturers to develop new drugs, with new unknown risks and contraindications, to be unleashed on the next generation of guinea pigs – and the self-defeating logic of the drug war once again prevails.Follow Neurobonkers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
Update: Post mortem has confirmed that the Miami cannibal was not high on bath salts, LSD or synthetic cannabinoids.
A freak attack described as drug induced “zombie face eating” has hit international headlines this week. Until the results of a toxicological analysis emerge, the drug(s) involved is unknown and open to speculation. This has not stopped the newspapers, who understandably have gone absolutely bat-shit over the story. The Daily Mail has claimed the attacker was “high on LSD”, while the Guardian initially claimed the assailant was “under the influence of a potent LSD-like drug called bath salts”, the Guardian went on to make the bizarre claim that the assailant had taken “the delirium-inducing drug, which is similar to cocaine and other forms of LSD” – as if cocaine is a form of LSD. The Guardian have now “corrected” the piece to state that “the delirium-inducing drug, which can have effects similar to cocaine and LSD” – as if the effects of LSD and cocaine are similar. Reading a local news report goes some distance in helping us understand how matters have been confused, a head of Miami police has stated: “We have seen, already, three or four cases that are exactly like this where some people have admitted taking LSD and it’s no different than cocaine psychosis”, clearly misinformed local police have also reportedly used the phrase “bad LSD”. It’s unclear precisely what previous cases of acid-fuelled-zombie-face-eating the Miami police are referring to, it seems the media and the Miami police have jumped on LSD with zero evidence, apparently confusing LSD with the disease in 28 days Later. It seems far more probable that if this attack is connected to drugs, the attacker was in a severe state of stimulant induced psychosis as opposed to being under the influence of psychedelics.
Just in case it isn’t clear from the two reports above, the proposal that the assailant had consumed the famously tranquil hallucinogen depicted below is pure uninformed speculation, the idea that this could be the result of a “bad batch of LSD” is completely nonsensical and appears to be based on utterly uniformed conjecture.
A closer reading of the news reports reveals that rather than LSD, a chemical listed as one of the safest psychoactive drugs in relative terms (Nutt et al, 2010), it is now being reported that the assailant was under the influence of an unspecified drug known as a “bath salt”. Bath salts are not unique to the US, in some areas of the UK, a study (Measham et al, 2011) found that self reported use of “bubble” was higher than for mephedrone or amphetamines. 18% of people asked reported having taken “bubble” whilst amphetamine use in the past month crashed to 3% compared to 9% for bubble. “Survey respondents were not only unclear about, but also apparently unconcerned about the speciﬁc chemical identity of the stimulant white powders they consume”… “a considerable number of respondents were adamant that they had never heard of mephedrone but that they had taken Bubble”.
Both the danger and sudden prevalence of unknown white powders is a direct result of government restrictions on the precursors of relatively safe drugs such as LSD and MDMA and the clamp down on labs producing pure alternatives such as Mephedrone. The end result is that drug developers are rushing endless new drugs on to the market place in order to stay ahead of legislation and now more worryingly, producers are avoiding labelling their produce in an attempt to help distributors stay at least one step ahead of the plods on the ground. This vicious circle is unhealthy in the extreme and is being entirely fuelled by zero tolerance legislation. The zombie case may prove to be just one possible result of what can happen when a policy of harm reduction becomes a policy of harm maximisation.
The million dollar question remains, what were the chemicals in the “bath salts” that are reported to be involved? It is worth noting that this incident is clearly an unusual occurrence, the incident can certainly not be described as typical of any single drug. Far from LSD or even formerly popular legal chemicals such as mephedrone, the consensus among speculators appears to be that the “zombie face eater”, in addition to likely having an undiagnosed pre-existing mental condition, may have been in a state of severe drug induced psychosis and/or may have taken something more along the lines of a PCP analogue. This is obviously pure guess work, however PCP is known for its astounding ability to precipitate psychosis, bizarre behaviour and extreme violence. It has even been linked to cases of cannibalism in the past, cases such as this are of course rare and heavily publicised but the fact that people are now taking drugs blindly as a matter of course, the contents of which may contain substances they are utterly unprepared for is extremely worrying. Another key factor pointing to PCP is that it is well known that PCP users are prone to getting naked and becoming violent. Another popular guess that may be more grounded in reality is that the drug could be MDPV, a drug with a thoroughly unpleasant reputation that has been known to be marketed as bath salts in the past. These guesses are of course, absolute speculation based on the apparently unfounded claim that “bath salts” were involved, judging by the fact that the event occurred in down-town Miami it seems perhaps more logical to propose that the attacker might have been using old fashioned nasties such as crack or crystal methamphetamine. We will not discover what the drug was that the “zombie face eater” had taken until after a forensic investigation, this goes to once again underline the danger of “bath salts”, until they are tested we simply do not know what is in them. It is certainly worth taking this particular horror story with a pinch of salt, the assailant had previous convictions for beating his own mother in 1994, on this day he was the first person to ever be tasered by his local police force. It therefore seems clear that whatever drug he took, it was not the only factor at play.
Measham,F. Moore, K. Østergaard, j. (2911). Mephedrone, “Bubble” and unidentified white powders: the contested identities of synthetic “legal highs”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, 11 (3), 137-146 (PDF)
Nutt, D., King, L., & Phillips, L. (2010). Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis The Lancet, 376 (9752), 1558-1565 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61462-6 (Subscribe to the Lancet fore free for access)Follow Neurobonkers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
Timothy Leary’s floatation tank has been put up for auction on eBay by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. MAPS are the world’s greatest sponsor of research in to psychedelics, currently funding countless much needed research programs that government budgets won’t touch with a barge pole. Leary was the controversial Harvard psychologist responsible for much initial research in to LSD and Psilocybin, he is remembered for such timeless catchphrases as “turn on, tune in, drop out”, “set and setting”, and “think for yourself and question authority”. Leary was branded by Nixon as “the most dangerous man in America” and during the 60’s and 70’s was held captive in 29 different prisons around the world. The inventor of the floatation tank, John C. Lilly gave the floation tank to Leary as a gift when he heard that Leary was dying of cancer. Leary sadly passed awat on May 31st, 1996. The tank is now being auctioned to raise money for future psychedelic research.
The BBC have an excellent biopic of the amazing story of Timothy Leary, it’s well worth kicking back for. The documentary tells the story of Leary’s most famous experiments including a project to use Psilocybin to reform convicts and experiments demonstrating the clear effect of Psilocybin on spirituality. Leary’s autobiography reports an experiment in which LSD was given to 300 professors, graduate students, writers and philosophers and 75 percent of the test subjects reported the experience as one of the most educational and revealing experiences of their lives. The film also documents Leary’s troubled relationship with the law, in 1965 Leary overturned his conviction for posession of cannabis in the US Supreme Court. In 1968, Leary was arrested again, for the posession of two cannabis roaches; this earned Leary a twenty year prison sentence due to his status as a cultural icon. When jailed, Leary was given a standard psychological test battery that it just happened he himself had devised. Leary used his knowledge to answer the Leary Interpersonal Behavior Test with answers that led his guards to believe he was a conformist who could be locked up in a minimum security prison. Leary escaped jail by climing out along telephone lines before going on the run to Algeria. Leary was later captured and returned to jail where he continued to write. He was eventually released and lived the rest of his life as one of the most outspoken proponents of the value of psychedelics.
If you happen to have a spare twenty grand you might just be able to grab yourself the tank and the following portrait for good measure. If you don’t, you can help fund the continuation of Leary’s ideas through a donation to MAPS on their website.Follow Neurobonkers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
A beautiful new film tells the story of Alexander Shulgin, the chemist who re-discovered MDMA (after it was synthesised and abandoned by Merck) and went on to discover hundreds of psychedelic drugs such as the 2C* family. He is famous not only for independently discovering and developing so many psychedelics but for testing them extensively on himself and for writing the core textbooks of the psychedelic literature, PiHKAL (‘Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved’) and TiHKAL (‘Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved).
The film provides a rare insight in to how one man achieved so much from a humble workshop in his garden shed. You can buy the DVD on Amazon. Shulgin recently suffered a stroke and his family are seeking help paying for his medical bills, you can donate to the Shulgins directly on the Alexander Shulgin Research Institute website.
Benzenhöfer U, & Passie T (2010). Rediscovering MDMA (ecstasy): the role of the American chemist Alexander T. Shulgin. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 105 (8), 1355-61 PMID: 20653618Follow Neurobonkers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
This week a number of big names (and Peter Hitchens) joined for a marathon debate on the motion that “it’s time to end the war on drugs”. Those debating included:
Juan Manuel Santos (current President of Colombia), Vicente Fox (former President of Mexico), Antonio Maria Costa (former Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime), Jeffery Robertson QC, Misha Glenny, Richard Branson (speaking as part of the Global Commission on Drugs on behalf of 15 ex South American Presidents), Russell Brand, Johann Hari, Elliot Spitzer (former Governor or New York), Barry McCafferty (former director of US National Drug Policy Control), Ed Vulliamy, Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, Sandeep Chawla (Deputy Executive Director UN Office for Drugs and Crime), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Former President of Brazil, Head of Global Commission on Drugs), Dr. Bernard Koucher (Former French Foreign Minister, Former French Health Minister), David Eaglemen (Neuroscientist), Geoffrey Robertson (Human Rights Lawyer), Julian Assange (Wikileaks).
I have transcribed the key quotes from both sides to encourage fact checking and to help establish a public record. I’ve attached the relavent source materials where applicable – if you would like to add a source or post a rebuttal to a factual point, just transcribe and source appropriately in the comment section and I’ll paste the info in. Only strictly evidence-based rebuttals will be included.
Current President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos begun the debate by describing: the very high cost Colombia has paid for the war on drugs:
“We have lost our best judges, our best journalists, our best politicians, our best policeman, our best soldiers but this problem has not disappeared”.
Misha Glenny followed:
“Drugs are more available than ever and more powerful than ever”. He describes how Mexican narco-traffickers wish the prohibition to continue to participate in an illegal unregulated market because this type of market is so profitable. Glenny describes how according to UN estimates, to prevent drugs being profitable we would have to block 75% of the trade, the current estimate is between 20% and 30%.
Antonio Maria Costa Former Executive Director, UN Office of Drugs and Crime fought back:
Arguing that the illegal drugs market is smaller than it would be if drugs were legal and described his fear that pharmaceutical companies would cash in if drugs were legalised.
Misha Glenny later rebuked this point: “Before the other side gets too carried away attacking big pharma and big corporations, let us not forget Plan Colombia, a plan to deliver $1 billion a year from the US to Colombia to bring down the Cocaine trade. Of that £1 billion a year, $750,000,000 never left the US. It was instead given to companies such as Lockhead Martin and other big companies who then went on to make a fortune out of the war on drugs.”
Jeffery Robertson QC pointed out:
Quoting one of Costa’s own recent reports that stated that “250,000,000 people take illicit drugs and less than 10% have any problems which means about 225,000,000 people take drugs for pleasure or to relieve pain” without issue.
Richard Branson speaking as part of the Global Commission on Drugs on behalf of 15 ex South American Presidents:
Described how the war on drugs is “an unmitigated failure” and how “in Portugal 10 years ago they decriminalised drugs and they have reduced the number of heroin addicts by 50%”…, “they have managed to stop an enormous amount of people breaking and entering”, “the number of people under 18 taking drugs has gone down for all drugs”. The most important thing is there is a no sign of a major increase
Russell Brand describes how (by criminalising drugs):
“You exacerbate and enhance the problem, I am a recovering drug addict and I know that drug addiction is an illness it is a disease, so by crimanalising that, you criminalise a large section of the population, you malign them and stigmatise them, you generate more crime, you create a criminal culture and speaking from the perspective of a sufferer, it’s simply not helpful”.
Vicente Fox, Former President of Mexico (2000):
Once described the war on drugs as the “mother of all battles” but now believes that it is “most urgent that we stop the war that has got 60,000 young kids killed.. among them many innocents, among them hundreds of policeman and hundreds in the military… the loss and the cost is incredible, the fear, the loss of hope for the future. This has put a heavy economic burden on the nation, the loss of tourism, the loss of foreign investment, the loss of our pace of growth. When I was president, the economy was 25% larger than the Brazilian (economy), today the Brazilian economy is 50% larger than the Mexican economy”.
Robertson QC, comments how Mexico was placed under:
“pressure from the White house, in 2006 not to decriminalise small amounts of cocaine or cannabis”
*Health warning: Mexican authorities have been accused of “under-reporting homicides and manipulating the data“.
“When you criminalise a really popular substance it doesn’t vanish, you transfer control from doctors and pharmacists to armed criminal gangs.. which are absolutely on the side of the war on drugs”. Hari describes how the head of Mafia Cruenza, one of the largest old drug cartels was caught on wire-tap stating his view that “this war is an absolute sham which keeps all of us in business”. Hari goes on to state that “any country which enforces the war on drugs has a significant rise in homicide rate, after alcohol prohibition ended in the US, the homicide rate fell by 20% and never rose to the same level until prohibition was enforced in the 70’s. China is currently detaining half a million addicts in what are effectively Gulags, torture is absolutely widespread.. that’s the face of the war on drugs in the largest country in the world.. Russia has the fastest rising HIV rate in the world because when you crack down on heroin addicts, they hide their needles, they don’t throw them away – they share them. The war on drugs is the biggest friend the HIV virus ever had”
Elliot Spitzer, former Governor or New York leads the debate against the motion along with Barry McCafferty, former director of US National Drug Policy Control:
Responding with the claim that they have reduced drug consumption by a third over the past three decades. Both Spitzer and McCafferty emphatically claim they “we do not incarcerate just for use, it is the violence that attends that use that sends people to jail” but admit a “discracefully high encarceration rate, 2.1 million people behind bars”. They admit that they estimate 80% of people behind bars have a drug problem but completely ignore the argument that this is a result of prohibition.
Misha Glenny later directly accuses Spitzer and McCafferty of outright lying, asserting “that the number of people arrested in 2009 (in the US) for non-violent drug offences was 1,600,000”.
Continues Spitzer’s staggering ability to ignore all the arguments addressed so far, stating “the one thing that stands a chance of throttling all the misery” is to address drug profits through the banking system. He appeals to the audience shouting he wants to see “the bankers in the cells” but in a double act that has clearly been well perfected beforehand a grinning Spitzer interrupts him so he doesn’t have to provide any explanation of how this could ever work in practice.
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple (former prison doctor):
Challenges the idea that the relationship between crime and drugs is as simple as presented, arguing that the crime rate in Portugal has increased (Dalyrymple later cites Eurostat for this claim. Eurostat note that over the same period, comparable countries such as Italy and Spain have also seen rises in crime, suggesting that the rise in crime in general is not related to drug use.)
Sandeep Chawla, Deputy Executive Director UN Office for Drugs and Crime:
States that “while crime rates may come down, public health costs would go up”. In a spectacular failure to understand the notion of a debate, Chawla both ignores the fact that his statement about crime directly conflicts with his compadre Dalyrymple’s statement a moment earlier and goes on to blindly ignore all of the prior evidence based discussion about public health costs to the contrary. Chawla makes the good point that there is a prescription drug epidemic in the US but negates this with the weird argument that “tobacco use has gone up” when this is patently not the case.
Peter Hitchens enters the debate with a stream of bile and bigotry vilifying drug users and calls Russel Brand a “selfish kid”. Hitchens argues the case with Brand and shows his true colours (just in case we didn’t know them already).
Antonio Maria Costa Former Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime:
“Stop all drugs wars.. In 2012, we celebrate a dreadful anniversary.. 150 years from the end of the Opium wars. When the west, our countries, forced China to consume drugs. At that time, greedy investors, it was the East India Company as you recall, wanted to make money by poisoning the Chinese with Opium. China opposed this, our countries won the war and forced the Chinese to consume drugs for a century, tens of million died in China from addiction, war and famine. The tragedy of drug legalisation we forced on China dwarfed what is happening in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia etc. To conclude, when I hear drug investors in Europe and North America advocating drug legalisation behind the fig leaves of a campaign to stop the war on drugs I cringe and I say stop all drugs wars whether fought by bullets or by bombs, investors greed can be as harmful as Mafias guns. Drugs have come from both sides of the aisle, therefore vote no, against this motion.” This is a strange argument to make in the context of the modern day situation for a number of reasons, notably the East India Company was effectively a front for the British imperial government of that era.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President of Brazil, Head of Global Commission on Drugs:
I was surprised when hearing the previous case (Antonio Maria Costa) because in our case in Latin America.. people have been killed by the war on drugs, it is a complete failure of what the war was supposed to do – control cartels, as the president of Colombia just said before me. Our democracy is being undermined by powerful cartels.. We must explore legal and social models of regulation of drugs.. The point is that in Portugal they are being successful in reducing the number of people that are using drugs”.
Dr. Bernard Koucher, Former French Foreign Minister, Former French Health Minister:
“We have lost the war on drugs.. the drug consumers are more numerous and the consumption is higher.. we acted the same way against alcohol and tobacco, what was the result? Alcohol consumers were not so high after the end of prohibition, we had to enforce the mafia and we did, it was a stupid war. It has taken 40 years to convince anyone we are right about Tobacco but now (we have), it must be under the control of the state.”
David Eaglemen, Neuroscientist:
“What’s clear is the reason that we are losing the war on drugs is because we are attacking supply and that’s like a water balloon, if you press it down on one place it comes back somewhere else. We need to be addressing demand, the brain of the addict. At this point we know a great deal about the circuitry and the pharmacology of the addict’s brain. There are familiar pharmacological treatmets that obstruct the effect of the drug – you can block the high.. you can recruit the immune system to sop up the drug and there are new methods that use real time feedback via brain imaging… we can train a person how to deal with the craving. We could do a great deal with neuroscience with that money (the $40,000,000,000 spent on the war on drugs in America last year).”
Geoffrey Robertson, Human Rights Lawyer quoted former opposition candidates who have changed their views since winning office:
David Cameron: “I beg the labour government not to return to the war on drugs”
Barack Obama: “The war on drugs is an utter failure”. Before he became president and dedicated $40,000,000,000 a year to fighting it.
Julian Assange, Wikileaks (Via video link from house arrest):
“Any situation that has clearly come to an impart where there is a clear failure needs experimentation and trials with models around the world and there have been steps to do that but we have seen that the US through it’s diplomatic force has been exercising it’s force to prevent these trials.”
View the relavent cables here.
“We must have basic principles.. we as individuals have a right to our own self determination, we have the right to freedom of thought, we have the right to freedom of speech, provided we do not engage in some sort of violence to others, these are our rights to do what we will with our own thoughts and own bodies and this is sacrosanct. The state should not intervene with these rights. In order to keep our freedom of thought we should have the right to control our own mental states. (Drugs) give some people extra creativity and this is something that we need accross the world. We should look to marijuana as an example, this is a drug that is about as addictive as potatoes, yet it has been swept up in to this war on drugs. We have to remember we really do have a war on drugs and like all wars it is irrational, it is a raquet and there are industries that fight and lobby to keep the money flowing.”
Jahangir, A. Fuentes, C. Gaviria, C. Zedillo, E. Cardoso, F. Papandreou, G. Shultz, G. Solana, J. Whitehead, J. Annan, K. Arbour, L. Cattaui, M. Llosa, M. Caspers-Merk,M. Kazatchkine,M. Volcker, P. Branson, R. Dreifuss, R. Stoltenberg, T. (2011). War On Drugs. Report Of The Global Commission On Drug Policy. (PDF)
HUGHES, C., & STEVENS, A. (2012). A resounding success or a disastrous failure: Re-examining the interpretation of evidence on the Portuguese decriminalisation of illicit drugs Drug and Alcohol Review, 31 (1), 101-113 DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00383.x
Eurostat: Portugal Crime Figures (PDF)Follow Neurobonkers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
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