Drug tests

You can take these ‘legal’ intoxicants, but do you really want to?


You should have seen the kid’s face at the head shop when I told him I wanted to buy some salvia and some mephedrone. His lineless face dropped open, and he nervously stammered. He was plainly conflicted: If he told the old guy who looked about half like a cop how to take the drugs, he could be forfeiting his job and maybe even his boss’ business. If he failed to tell the old guy how to take the drugs … well, maybe there would be one less old guy.

“I can’t tell you. Maybe if you just ask questions, I can nod.”

But I was too ignorant for even that. Finally, simple human concern overcame fear of reprisal, and he told me what I needed to know to keep me out of harm’s way. It’s too bad our government is not guided by the same principles.

It’s like this: I’m the kind of guy who prides himself on doing the dirty work. I’ll never ask anyone to do something I’m not willing to do myself. So when it came time to do a story about legal drugs, the sort you can buy online or in local head shops, I was not going to ask for volunteers or assign out the story. But one of those third-person, moralistic stories where I’d talk to the cops, a doctor and a couple of consumers—tsk, tsk—seemed sterile and hypocritical. So even when the arts editor and the intern offered to help, like the guy who fought off rescuers as he drowned in a vat of beer, I bravely declined the assistance.

Still, the taking of legal, mind-altering substances for journalistic purposes would have appealed to me more when I was a younger man. In fact, I remember taking and writing about herbal ecstasy when I went to Burning Man back in ’95 or ’96.

In the days after high school, I occasionally wandered into head shops in Lincoln and Omaha, Neb. They were different back then. Smaller. Less slick. I remember there were products like “Yocaine” and pills that mimicked uppers like White Crosses, Christmas Trees or Black Beauties. While bongs—water pipes, in today’s parlance—came in every shape, material and size, pot pipes were generally wooden or metal and mostly without the artistry of today’s blown-glass pipes. I don’t remember any marijuana substitutes. I guess what I’m trying to say is even though I haven’t been in the neighborhood head shop in years, it’s not like it’s in a new subdivision.

Back in the day, though, I sampled many of the wares offered in head shops, and generally, the stuff was ineffective. Bunk. The “Yocaine” was some kind of numbing agent, like lidocaine, but I imagine it had caffeine or pseudoephedrine to add a speedy buzz to the numb. Subsequent research says there’s something called Yocaine that’s derived from the Yoimbe root, but I’d be surprised if it’s related to the stuff I bought. The various other “snuffs” had menthol and varying flavors, but they mainly just made your boogers brown.

Bottom line: The highs were mild, in some cases psychosomatic. I ate those White Crosses by the handful. Basically, all they were good for was letting us drink or work or study longer. It was about like drinking one or more of those energy drinks—my favorite is the sugar-free Rockstar—you can buy at any grocery or convenience store. I never felt they were dangerous. I found out later that many of them, particularly the speedier ones, were not safe.

But in those days, my friends and I were doing illicit and illegal drugs: Coke, pot, hash, acid, Quaaludes, mescaline, mushrooms—more illegal substances than I can even begin to recall. And nobody but the consumer was in charge of quality control. We did some truly stupid, risky shit back in those halcyon days.

Now, it seems if something has the potential to make your body feel good, the government’s going to make it illegal. Yet, there are many places to get materials to aid and abet in stonery. Google “head shops in Reno,” and you’ll only get four good hits: Art Dogs & Grace, S S Smoke & Liquor, Smoke N Head Shop and Still Smokin’. There are others in Reno, though, where the “in” crowd goes, and some in Sparks.

My initial plan for this piece was to try salvia divinorum, mephedrone (the “new Ecstasy”), and one of the legal marijuana substitutes (sold as incense and not for human consumption).


The big plan hit a roadblock almost immediately when several people convinced me not to try the salvia. Adjectives like nightmarish, out-of-your mind and frightening were tossed about. And when the guy who was selling the stuff, a guy who didn’t know me from Adam (except as a regular reader, he recognized me from my Editor’s Note column), was very emphatic that I did not want the experience, well, my nerve broke. After all, I don’t want to put anything toxic in my body.

To be emphatic, this was the most help I got from any worker in a head shop. They are constrained against saying anything about dosages or even acting like they know how people really use this stuff. If I’d gone in without specific street knowledge, I could have easily had a very unpleasant experience.

Spice, a legal alternative to pot, is sold in packets more akin to candy than to chemical-laced incense “not for human consumption.”

Photo By Audrey Love

I spoke to a friend who had tried salvia. She, like the guy in the head shop, said that salvia is a one-time drug—because even though it takes you places, they aren’t places you necessarily want to go.

“You smoke it, it doesn’t taste like anything; it doesn’t make you cough,” she said of the salvia. I’ve heard otherwise about the flavor. Salvia is a common plant available at any nursery, but the variety divinorum is more exotic. “But as soon as you exhale, it’s a mind-body experience,” she said. “It was the most intense psychedelic experience of my life. Uncomfortable, uncontrollable laughter that was scary, more like a spasm.

“I just saw and felt something that I don’t ever want to feel again. It’s not like mushrooms or acid; it’s a crash course into psychedelics that’s not as pleasant as you might think. When I was tripping, I thought I was in a Simpsons episode. You just lose your mind for four or five minutes. It was a strange experience, but not a pleasant one. Just search YouTube, and look at the teenagers losing their minds.”

According to the The Salvia divinorum User’s Guide: “Salvia divinorum is classified as a controlled substance in the states of Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Virginia. Salvia divinorum is also illegal in the states of Louisiana and Tennessee, but only if intended for human consumption.”

Finally, I spoke to a local member of a religious group that believes psychedelic drugs are a true way to know god. (I wrote about them, Psychonauts, in Filet of Soul, Nov. 19, 2009.) He’s tripped more and on more arcane substances than anyone I’ve known. He gave me a stern warning against salvia divinorum, saying its use actually steered the user away from knowing the divine.

“The godhead is not in salvia,” he said. And that settled it for me.

I left the store with three items: Sleep Walker (Euphoria Awareness Enhancer); Bath Salts (mephedrone), and a pinch of B. Happee (incense, right?). All legal.

I constrained my experimenting to a week my son was at his mother’s house. Due to my work schedule, I elected to try the Sleep Walker first. According to www.reddawnpill.com: “Sleep Walker promotes a euphoric state, sensitivity to touch and an overall happier mood. Its pleasurable effects last up to 8 hours, unlike any other product. Sleep Walker was designed for multi-purpose use—2 pills to boost your mood, 4 pills for the maximum euphoric pleasure.”

I took two of the pretty blue pills at about 7:30 p.m., after a full meal. My only concern was the ingredients: Vitamin B-1, 30 mg, 2000 percent daily value; Vitamin B-2, 42 mg, 2471 percent; Vitamin B-6, 102 mg, 5100 percent; and proprietary blend 3294 mg. I take vitamin B complex supplements, and adding this seemed like potential overload. Probably just made my pee fluorescent.

A few hours later, I asked my girlfriend, Joy, if I seemed euphoric. She mentioned I was smiling. “But then, you’re always smiling,” she said. I’ll have to admit, I had the tiniest of tickles in my tummy, but, euphoric? Mellow maybe. I get more euphoric when we get a newspaper out on deadline. By 11:30 p.m., even after the high dose of B vitamins, I was ready for bed. The next morning, after eight solid hours of sleep, I had that tired but calm feeling some might recognize from sleeping too hard. An upbeat mood lasted several hours into the morning.

The new Ecstasy

I got much of my information about mephedrone from an article in the Hartford Advocate. It’s an alternative newsweekly similar to this one. The article, which was titled “Mephedrone: The New Ecstasy” begins with the words: “The story about the British teenager who tore off his scrotum while tripping for 18 hours on mephedrone, a popular-in-the-U.K. party drug? It turns out not to be true.”

As is often the case with new-drug hysteria, authorities may have overreacted, manufacturing evidence that it’s a killer, a scourge of youth. The article reported that before it was outlawed in the United Kingdom, you could buy it in any head shop in London. Various internet sources report that it’s to some extent “unscheduled” (read: not illegal … yet) everywhere in the United States, except North Dakota, and as such, it’s available in Reno. It’s also widely available on the web.

According to that bastion of accurate, unbiased information, Wikipedia, it’s now the UK’s fourth most popular illegal drug after marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. It goes by such names as Meow Meow (or Miaow Miaow), MCAT, 4MMC, Drone, Bubbles, Bubble Love, Bounce, Plant Food, Meph, Shake n Vac, Mad Cow.

Again from Wikipedia: “Mephedrone, also known as 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC), or 4-methylephedrone, is a synthetic stimulant and entactogen drug of the amphetamine and cathinone classes. It is reported to be contained in some legal highs and is sometimes sold mixed with methylone. It is a synthetic substance based on the cathinone compounds found in the khat plant of eastern Africa.”

The writer was all set to give the legal drug salvia a try until more experienced people warned him off, saying there are some trips you just don’t want to take.

Photo By Audrey Love

Various articles made reference to around 30 deaths caused by the substance. Not to diminish the warning, but in the United States, there are some 443,000 deaths annually caused by tobacco and 79,000 from alcohol. Of course, that’s from our government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so, again, you have to consider the source. After all, our government, through the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, was the power that, after years of testing, OK’d Advair for asthma, Vioxx for arthritis, and Avandia for diabetes. Might as well prescribe a noose for depression.

My source behind the counter was kind enough to draw a thin, half-inch line with my pen on my notebook to indicate the proper starting dose.

Having had some experience with Ecstasy, I picked up a 12 pack of Corona Light and a pack of Marlboros. I took my mephedrone at about 6:30 p.m. It came in a small jar with a blue and purple psychedelic design. “TranQuility. Concentrated bath salts,” the label proclaimed. “For an invigorating, energizing and truly Scentual experience.” It’s a fine, white powder. I presume the word “Scentual” is a reference to the idea that it’s made to be snorted. I’ve also seen references to it being injected or mixed with liquid and swallowed.

By about 7 p.m., I was pacing around the house, feeling slightly overheated in my face and body, antsy and zoned. I wished I hadn’t elected to stay home but was unwilling to drive anywhere and uncertain if that was all there was to it. This was plainly a step beyond a Monster energy drink and a joint, but more like Ecstasy Lite than anything. Colors were a little enhanced, my mood elevated, and the breeze from the fan felt great, but I didn’t find myself compelled to dance, even though the alternative station on the satellite radio was playing great music. Oddly, if there was any sensual enhancement, it was that food tasted really good, and I nibbled ham, a pork chop, birria, a hot dog and some pomegranate seeds. I guess the most noteworthy result was I found myself writing about current, ongoing events in the past tense.

By 9 p.m., I could barely feel that I’d done anything even vaguely naughty. Nine o’clock is my regular bedtime, but it seemed as though I might have trouble dozing off, so I checked out my queue on Hulu.com, put on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and was asleep by 10:45.

I’m going to leave the final judgment to the court of public opinion. The stuff felt dangerous. I believe that most people who took this drug would be less restrained than I, particularly if they added alcohol to the mix, which I did not. I awakened to the sound of birds chirping at about 5:30 a.m., pretty much the usual time, and my nerves were jangly, a bit over-caffeinated. Not the barrel-against-the-chin downer those bad-E-driven raves back in the early ’90s caused, but I felt on the verge of irritable. I’ll tell you what it felt like: It felt like I’d had a Red Bull and vodka before bed.

I’ll admit it. Those ingredients and cautionary tales on the web got under my skin. Lots of sources suggest mephedrone could be addictive—like sugar, caffeine, taurine, cocaine or meth—or even deadly—like sugar, caffeine, taurine, cocaine or meth. If my little journalistic experiment has done anything, it has raised my awareness to two things: 1) Legal drugs are everywhere; 2) I don’t believe what manufacturers say about ingredients on anything.

So, let me ask a question: What’s the practical difference between 4-methylmethcathinone and 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine or even ethanol? They’re all legal, all psychoactive, all addictive, all subject to abuse, all potentially deadly. It seems the only thing caffeine and booze have over mephedrone is a lobby. That and centuries of tradition. So if coffee were outlawed, wouldn’t Starbucks develop a designer mocha latte? (And isn’t that what they’ve done anyway?) We only have to look to the 18th Amendment to see how Americans reacted when their martinis were taken away. On the other hand, we only have to look to the emergency room or homeless shelter to see what happens when unrestrained substance use follows its course.

But after I washed down my vitamins, drugs and supplements—1 gram omega-3 fatty acids, 300 mg alpha lipoic acid, 200mcg chromium picolinate, 500 mg L-Arginine, 250 mg magnesium, one tab Centrum Silver, 50 mg Pycnogenol, 162 mg aspirin, one capsule B-complex, 500 mg more niacin and 500 mg Metformin—with a cool solution of water, apple cider vinegar and psyllium husk fiber and did an hour with heavy weights at the gym and 20 minutes in the sauna, I felt like a million bucks. I am, after all, concerned about my health.

Spice boy

Last but not least, I was to try the synthetic marijuana. Generally, it goes by the name “Spice,” but almost all the products have one thing in common: JWH-018.

JWH-018 is a chemical. It was invented by—sorry, internet sources again—Dr. John W. Huffman, an organic chemist at Clemson University, and it’s a synthetic analogue of THC, the principal active component of marijuana. It’s very close to THC but different enough that it’s legal, although it’s not sold for human consumption. JWH-018 can be purchased on the web.

Basically, herbalists and industrialists combine various herbs and other materials, spray them with the JWH-018, package it, and sell it as incense. The more spray, the more strength. The idea is to use herbs that mimic the taste and feel of pot, but most of the high comes from the chemical. It is sold under many brand names, K2, Black Mamba, Halo, and the various Spices (Silver, Gold).

JWH-018 is actually more expensive than pot, but it doesn’t show up on drug tests. So, there ya go. Who gets drug tested? Members of the military, public safety workers, criminals, casino workers, lots of segments of society.

Again to the bottom line: The high is exactly like the high from pot. I smoked it—I mean I burned it as incense while taking deep breaths of the smoke—at about 7:30 p.m. While it was slightly harsh, I was uncomfortably stoned for about 90 minutes, and then happy and buzzed until I went to bed after watching two episodes of The Sopranos. I also ate two bowls of dry Honey Nut Clusters cereal and momentarily forgot where I put my wallet when I woke up the next morning.

How stupid is this? Illegal marijuana is organic, has beneficial effects beyond the buzz, but it’s illegal because it gets people stoned. There are a few, like Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick or U.S. drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske, who would dispute its ancillary positive effects, though their number has dwindled.Synthetic marijuana, on the other hand, is legal to sell, but only gets people fucked up. And Spice can be made with anything. Manufacturers could put JWH-018 on used toilet paper, and if someone smoked or ate it, they’d be just as high as though they’d smoked the finest chronic.