Hello Dr. What an excellent idea for a blog. A while back I bought a legal high pill (packet, receipt and all!), and it was a complete disaster. It was okay for about half an hour after taking it, everything felt a bit tingly. Quickly after I went into hourly cycles of vomitting, feeling tired and struggling to maintain consciousness, then becoming alert enough to repeat the process. This went on for almost 24 hours. I was ill for about 36. I'm thinking piperazines. What do you think?
The problem with almost every ‘legal high’ on the market is that they exist in a legal grey area. They are marketed as not for human consumption, or advertised as products for other purposes such as 'plant food’ or 'bath salts’. This is good for the seller or manufacturer, because they can therefore peddle their wares without having to conform to the standards set out by labelling bodies such as the Therapeutic Goods Association, and other standards commities which control what can be sold, and how it is labelled. Non-TGA approved products (or whatever your local governing body is) cannot be sold through official channels (such as pharmacies or supermarkets) for human consumption.
This means that no matter what is says on the label, you cannot trust it. There are hundreds of 'herbal ecstasy’ type preparations which advertise as containing various plant extracts, vitamins, amino acid blends, and general holistic hokey pokey. And a lot of the time, they probably do just contain large amounts of caffeine, b-vitamin complexes, and other (mostly) harmless substances. These preparations are also notorious for not doing jack shit at the best of times. At the worst of times, you can get awful and sometimes dangerous side effects such as the ones you described.
It’s impossible to say for sure what it contained. Far and away, most manufacturers will throw in cheap bulk extracts and vitamins, aiming for a quick buck. But you do also get the less ethical groups who will press tablets or sell solutions of grey-area stimulants, mild hallucinogens and designer drugs. Piperazines are a very good example of this. Piperazine derivatives were legal for a long time in many countries, and you could buy commercial preperations and tablets at many stores. New Zealand was RIFE with them for several years, with more companies than you could poke a stick at selling various blends of BZP, TFMPP, mCPP, and many other analogues. These had the advantage of being stimulants, slight enactogens and often slightly hallucinatory, and were being produced in BULK by commercial and industrial laboratories through eastern Europe and China. They’re cheap, and they got you buzzed.
People pretty quickly wised up that most of these chemicals had horrid side effects though. MDMA was a comparatively safe choice, in terms of its physical effects on the human body. Piperazines on their own have a very steep dose response curve - That is, the dose required to get a pleasant experience, is very close to the dose required to get unpleasant or dangerous side effects. Such risks are magnified when combined with alcohol or other drugs. Alcohol especially, when taken with piperazines, is guaranteed to cause gastrointestinal upset (cramps, vomiting), cluster headaches, and sometimes seizures and nervous system disturbances. In my opinion, there is no justification for taking piperazines - Even when they were available in pure form as research chemicals, and carefully dosed, the side effects are just not worth the high they do give. Distribution and sale of piperazine derivatives and preparations is illegal in most countries now. A more recent development is a compound known as DMAA, a mild stimulant found naturally in geranium oil. It too has its own side effect profile, and has been popular in the steroid community for some time as a workout drug - But it too has not had a long enough history of human trials to declare it safe yet. Take it as read that any product claiming to contain geranium extract almost certainly will contain DMAA or perhaps an analogue, and caution should be exercised if you do decide to take it.
To illustrate the dangers of these practices, I’ll call up a case study. Not too long ago there was a company called Neo-Organics in Israel who were distributing several 'legal high’ products under the names Neodove, Sub Coca, SC2 and Spirit. There was a lot of speculation as to what they actually contained. The Stargate analysis group found a mixture in various proportions of the compounds 4-methyl methcathinone, metamfepramone, caffeine phthalimidopropiophenone. Without getting too deeply into the chemistry of it, the first two chemicals were designer stimulants which were developed as a way to bypass the Israeli legislation banning the sale of methcathinone (a semi-synthetic stimulant phenethylamine which was extremely widespread in the party scene in that country). The phthalimido- compound was most likely a reaction intermediary produced as an impurity in the manufacture of the desired cathinone compounds. Recent experimentation has shown, though, that it is potentially capable of acting as a prodrug for cathinone when ingested, that is to say, when consumed, the human metabolic enzymes convert it to an active drug in your system. So it may well have been deliberately added to the product to give more of a kick. Unfortunately, it has also been theorised to have potential stereoisomeric toxicity issues - further research is needed, but as a general rule of thumb, if something isn’t provably safe, it’s probably not worth guinea pigging yourself to some shady chemist in another country who’s getting paid for the risks you are taking.
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