Tag Archives: legal highs

Government regulates, councils panic.

I am starting to see a link between the Psychoactive Substances Act here in New Zealand and the moral panic created in our media about legal highs. For a while, I couldn’t work out why the panic was being stirred up when regulation was being passed already – what purpose would it serve to make the populace react like this?

Now the law has been passed, local councils have been given the power to decide whether, and how, legal highs will be sold in their areas. So we are getting situations like this, where councils are moving to ban the substances locally based on anecdata and hype about the so-called dangers of legal highs. Many of which have been given an initial interim tick by the Ministry of Health to be sold, but perhaps will not pass the more stringent safety testing planned for later this year.

So the government gets to look progressive internationally, meanwhile creating a moral panic locally and passing the banhammer to councils. It seems quite a few councils are looking at preventing the substances being sold by placing onerous restrictions on retailers through zoning, restrictions on opening hours and the like, in response to public petitions that have come about because of the moral panic around the issue – which was created in the media. *sigh*

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of synthetic cannabis. I have tried it three times and on the third occasion I had an anxiety attack and threw out all the rest of the stuff I had because it just.felt.wrong. I know of another person who’s had a similar reaction. I know still another person who had found themselves becoming dependent on one of them – but that was the one that was later found to contain benzodiazepines, which are highly dependence-inducing. And the whole point of regulating sales and putting in place a testing regime is to ensure that benzo-containing synthetic pot can’t slip through in imports, and that if a substance causes anxiety attacks in people, it won’t be sold.

And I also fully recognise the much larger number of people I know who have used synthetic pot and had no problems, in fact have found it to be easier on them than cannabis. These people’s anecdata should count too, right? Oh wait..

Councils are starting to ban things before they’ve even been tested – on the basis of media hype and second and third hand anecdotal evidence by people who’ve been trained to see only the bad side of drug use. This seems .. actually it seems like exactly what the government intended when it gave them this power while simultaneously stirring up a moral panic in the media, eh?

A rant about Rudy Eugene

A lot is being made of the face-chewing incident from Florida and an alleged link to a legal (ish) high known as ‘bath salts’. Bath salts, like many street names, doesn’t really mean anything, but in general it describes a combination of cathinone analogue type substances, most commonly mephedrone and/or MDPV. These are stimulant substances in the same sort of league as khat. You might remember the moral panic and banning of mephedrone in the UK recently.

In this case, I’ve seen everything from ‘he was out of his mind on bath salts’ to ‘he had an addiction’ to ‘bath salts are to blame for this tragedy”. This is, oddly enough, coming from people who had never heard of bath salts prior to it coming out in the news. I wanted to know what was being said. So I googled ‘was eugene on drugs’ and clicked the first four links from that page.

Bath salts, drug alleged “face-chewer” Rudy Eugene may have been on, plague police and doctors. The police are speculating that the man may have been using bath salts. Note the words ‘speculating’ and ‘may have’. LSD is not a stimulant, it’s a hallucinogen. The article cites only 2 actual cases of tragic death where a person had ingested bath salts – and also over 6000 where people had called the poisons centre about reactions to the drug. I don’t know about you but to me, that suggests that a hell of a lot of people are using this stuff and that the paper has had to scratch around to find links between it and violence. And oddly enough, the guy who has never seen someone on bath salts happy is either a cop or a doctor – not the sort of people that folks having a good time on drugs would be seeing, right?

Did Drugs Make Rudy Eugene Chew on a Naked Miami Man’s Face? Again, doctors say the attack ‘may have been fuelled by drugs’. This one suggests ‘cocaine psychosis’ where a person’s body temperature goes up enough to frazzle their brain. The article also equates bath salts to LSD (which incidentally, is a complete falsehood and probably only in there to generate some pearl clutching). It acknowledges that the attacker had some historic problems with the law and with violence, and also that we won’t know for sure until there’s an autopsy.

Will Street Drugs Cause the Zombie Apocalypse? I apologise for this article, it’s an awful travesty that makes light of a horrible tragedy, and even this one says that police are merely speculating that he may have taken bath salts. Again with the LSD reference. It even goes so far as to say “An overdose on any LSD drug usually results in fits of rage and increased body heat, resulting in the person removing all of their clothing and behaving erratically.” Seriously, that is utter bullshit. You can’t overdose on LSD and there’s no evidence that it leads to fits of rage or increased body heat. That line is entirely made up.

Miami cannibal zombie-like attack linked to powerful ‘bath salts’ drug Oh for fuck’s sake, this one has LSD in it too! Even though it’s probably the most factual in that it does actually mention mephedrone and some of the effects it can have in high enough doses. And it does mention the attacker’s history of trouble with the police. Note that all the headlines emphasise the drug connection.

So let’s clarify. A man attacks another man in a bizarre way and is shot dead by police. He has a history of violent offences and ‘drug charges’. He has yet to be autopsied but police have speculated that he was on a new designer drug known as ‘bath salts’, that according to all four articles has some relationship to LSD.

And this is where I go “Stop reading these bloody articles and wait for the autopsy.” Because the articles, essentially, are speculative in the worst way, which is speculative without fact-checking the things they are speculating about. LSD and bath salts are not the same thing, either chemically or in effects. The media is stirring up the drug angle the same way they did with LSD when the government was trying to create a moral panic over that in the 1960s. Mephedrone (and the others) are more risky than LSD in that there have actually been deaths associated with them (unlike LSD), it is possible to overdose on them (unlike LSD) and they do have a high re-dose impulse (unlike LSD). Injecting mephedrone users describe their experiences as hellish, and have been known to be violent. But violence and psychosis are two different things. Thousands upon thousands of people have used mephedrone and had no ill effects whatsoever – and every single one of the deaths recorded in the UK have had other circumstances attached to them that bring any conclusion that the drug was to blame under suspicion.

Other media-generated fallacies attached to drugs over the years: LSD makes you think you can fly, cocaine makes black men rape white women and immune to bullets, cannabis makes you sexually deviant. Nuff said.

Quick drug lesson: there are three things involved in a reaction to a drug – the drug itself and its pharmacological effects, the psychology of the individual ingesting it, and the social setting in which the drug is taken. So a well-adjusted person with a large support network, a good job and no worries could take X drug and have a completely different response to it from a marginalised person with, say, a history of violent offending. Just a thought.

Notice how the papers are trying to blame bath salts before it’s even been shown that the man had taken them. Notice how lots of people are buying it. Notice how almost all of the articles fail to mention that this guy may have already had undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues. Notice how they won’t even speculate about the man’s place in a society that has repeatedly rejected him and how that might have affected his behaviour. Nope. All the speculation is about what drug he’d taken. Because it’s much easier to blame a drug than it is to blame the set and setting that this incident took place in.

The autopsy may well show that Rudy Eugene had taken high doses of a drug, and that tipped him over into psychosis. The drug may well turn out to be one (or a combination of) the bath salts ones. But can we please wait to see if that’s actually the case before we start our moral panic? And even if he was out of his gourd on mephedrone when this happened, can we not forget the thousands of other people who use it quite successfully and start to think about what unaddressed issues made this particular man so at risk when using it? Because that will have a far more positive outcome for everybody than to just blame the drug and go merrily on our way.

Realistic drug policy needs to acknowledge the Rudy Eugenes of this world as humans, not as mindless automatons helplessly at the mercy of The Evil Drugs. Because that kind of thinking makes it easy to let mental health issues go untreated while we jail people for self-medicating. And it’s the kind of thinking that led to this kind of thinking. I don’t think the world is a better place because of it.

Oh look, an unregulated industry!

So there’s this stuff called Dime. It’s been sold as a legal high in NZ for a grand total of about three weeks. Now someone’s ‘discovered’ that it may contain one of the 2C analogues, which are classified here as Class C, the same level as cannabis. Naturally, the sale has now been stopped.

The importer apparently never bothered to test the stuff to see if it had anything illegal in it, because it was taken on trust that it would be fine.

Colour me completely unsurprised that someone is being irresponsible in the legal high market. This industry is almost completely unregulated, the government having instead elected to go for a prohibition and criminalisation approach to new substances. There was a small glimmer of hope when a Class D was added to the Misuse of Drugs Act. It was thought that this would become a ‘holding class’ for untested new substances while it was decided how to regulate them and their safety was tested. Instead, the only things in Class D are precursor substances, and the legal high market remains unregulated.

What this means is that people can import stuff without testing it, and then sell it to the public. Remember when it was found that Kronic contained benzos?. Same thing. There is no requirement for these things to be tested at all, never mind proven safe before sale. And then people are surprised when folks import things that may be dodgy.

Personally, I don’t think the 2C analogues are particularly dodgy – at least, not the ones that have achieved status as substances in this country. They were synthesised by Alexander Shulgin, who is perhaps most well known for the resynthesis and popularisation of MDMA. Man has an interesting history – but one of the important things about him and his 2C analogues is that his process and testing were all meticulously recorded in a set of books that are available for anyone to read. In terms of information of both the scientific and subjective experience nature, these substances are much more transparent than many other substances available today. They are certainly more transparent than the ‘other piperazines’ that were in some of the party pills you could buy in 2007. So in terms of safety and education and prior knowledge, a pill containing a 2C is probably safer than one containing a benzo, or one that you don’t know what’s in it.

And that’s the problem. This dime stuff was being sold without people knowing what was in it and I place the blame for that squarely at the feet of this government that refuses to seriously address the issue of legal high regulation. In this case, dime will be taken off the market if it’s found to contain a prohibited substance – the 2Cs are already illegal so it’s a simple matter. But if they really gave a crap about people’s safety, why is there no requirement for new legal highs to be tested to ascertain their contents before they hit the market? Why is there no labelling requirement so that people know what they are ingesting, the way alcohol is required to be labelled? How does someone get to import something from Poland that’s made in China and sell it to kiwis and not bloody well know what’s in it? And how do people who are that irresponsible get to be in a position to sell things?

It happens because of the head in the sand attitude of our government which continues to believe that trying to prevent people from using anything other than alcohol is the best way to approach ‘the drug problem’.

Hint: approximately 17% of NZers have used an illegal substance in the last year. Of those, only about 3% experience difficulties due to their substance use. Is there really ‘a drug problem’ in this country?

Frankly, I think the 2Cs would be a good opportunity to test out a regulatory framework for legal highs in this country. What do you reckon the odds are of that happening when this is the sort of data we are using to judge a substance in the public sphere:

““Because it’s such a tiny amount of powder which does something for so long, there must be some pretty hard-out chemicals in it.”” ~ Random 19 year old.

*cough*