Purported legal highs
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Purported legal highs include common foods and other substances which, if consumed in a certain way or in sufficient quantity, are rumoured to have psychoactive effects. Most frequently they are claimed to have similar effects to marijuana.
The reality of this ranges from urban legend, to some truth to the rumor, depending on the substance.
- 1 Urban legends
- 2 Marketing ploys
- 3 Actual legal and semi-legal highs
- 3.1 Research chemicals
- 3.2 Inhalants
- 3.3 Deliriants
- 3.4 "Natural" highs
- 3.5 Sensory stimulation
- 4 See also
- 5 References
The placebo effect has a lot to answer for here. Keep in mind that if any of these really did have the claimed druggy effects, somebody would have made them illegal already. Mostly these are all a bunch of woo, for silly kids who can't get the real stuff because mommy won't let them out of the house.
Aspirin with Coca-Cola
Purportedly, consuming aspirin together with Coca-Cola gets you high. This is a rumor that has made the rounds from time to time among gullible teenagers. According to snopes.com, this rumor goes all the way back to the 1930s, and like most of the others is baseless. The original Coca-Cola formula prior to 1904 however did contain alcohol and coca leaf extract.
This was a hoax published in the Berkeley Barb newspaper in 1967, claiming the scrapings from banana peels contained a fictional drug called "bananadine", which would produce a brief marijuana-like high when smoked. It caused a brief shortage of bananas in Berkeley, California. Researchers have found the banana peel contains no intoxicating chemicals at all, but this has not stopped bored teenagers from continuing to conduct their own banana "experiments". You will probably have a more significant mind altering experience by listening to The Dead Milkmen.
Catnip's (Nepeta cataria) apparent druggy effects on cats have not translated into a druggy effect on humans, but goodness knows some have tried smoking or ingesting it in an attempt to replicate the effect. Best leave the catnip for your furry feline companion, and enjoy a cold beer instead. The active chemical in catnip, nepetalactone, does exhibit very minor sedative effects in humans and has been used by herbalists in the past as a mild sedative or a treatment, but this is nowhere near a "high".
Starting in 2018, a product marketed as "catnip cocktail" was found to not be actual catnip but to contain an illegal drug, 1,4-butanediol, which is actually psychoactive and toxic.
Jenkem is a gas produced from fermented fecal matter and urine. First reported in Zambia, it was considered a popular "drug of choice" by US teenagers in the mid 2000's. It is widely believed to be a hoax after it went too far and ended up on an official Sheriff's Office memo.
Along the same lines as the banana peel legend, a rumor that smoking peanut skins could get you high started among the late 1960s counterculture. As with banana peel, it takes a lot of fiddly effort and any resulting "high" is pure placebo.
Mobilat is a salve containing salicylic acid, used for muscle aches. In Finland, there's a common urban legend that if you shave your head and cover it with Mobilat, you get high. At least there's the practical joke dimension in this - to get the victim to shave their head.
Sinicuichi is a brew formed from plants of the genus Heimia and was used ceremonially by the Aztecs. Some publications by Victor Reko and others spread the rumor that it was an auditory hallucinogen, but almost everyone who has tried it reports that it's extremely subtle (read: indistinguishable from placebo) and not worth the effort. Oh, and it generally causes severe muscle aches the day after.
There are various quack products or methods that are purported to bring you to a "higher state of consciousness" or replicate a legal high based on dubious claims about adjusting, manipulating, or synchronizing brainwaves. I-Doser is probably the most common of these.
Can you get "high" just by listening to sounds? Only if they synchronize your brainwaves and cost $4 a time.
Actual legal and semi-legal highs
While many, if not most “legal highs” are bullshit, there are many legal substances that in fact can induce intoxication and altered states of consciousness. These drugs vary widely in terms of safety and even legality (as many substances are legal for research purposes but not for human consumption). Some of these highs are listed here.
In drug culture, research chemicals (also known as “RCs” or “designer drugs”) are substances designed as functional analogues of illicit or controlled substances with little to no well-studied effects or history of medical use. By creating substances that are chemically different but functionally similar to an illegal drug, and calling these substances “research chemicals” while selling them in bags labelled “not for human consumption”, many RC vendors are able to bypass existing drug laws. Given the untested nature of these substances, it is impossible to accurately determine the safety or even exact effects of these chemicals. Instead, drug users often rely upon firsthand anecdotal experiences of previous users, in forms such as “trip reports” posted on websites such as Erowid. Because of this, there have been several deaths and serious illness caused by many research chemicals. Some of the substances that have caused such deaths include the psychedelic 25x-NBOME series, synthetic cannabinoids (aka “spice”) such as MDMB-FUBINACA, opioids such as various fentanyl analogues and stimulants such as MDPV (aka “bath salts”). While some RCs (such as 1P-LSD and various other LSD analogues) do not appear to be any more dangerous than the drugs they are mimicking, one should consider whether it is really wise to consume any substance based only on the anecdotes of other drug users on the internet.
While these general safety issues are likely obvious to many or most drug users, the simple fact is that people are gonna get high no matter what the state says. The RC industry is a direct result of drug criminalisation, and every time a certain RC class or substance is banned, another new, untested, but currently legal version takes its place. Until all drugs are legalised or decriminalised, there is no reason to believe any action of the state can mitigate the constant development and sale of more and more obscure and potentially dangerous substances.
“”You shall ride eternal, shiny and chrome.
|—Immortan Joe, Mad Max: Fury Road|
The term “inhalants” refers to any drug that is inhaled as a pressurised gas or volatile vapour. Drugs that are smoked or vapourised by a heat source (such as meth, weed, etc.) are not considered under this class. Once again, the safety of these substances varies widely, with some substances being almost harmless, and others causing effects that are completely inseparable from brain, nerve and organ damage. For example, nitrous oxide (commonly known as “laughing gas” or “whippets”) is safe enough on its own that it is often used as an anaesthetic for young children (though long term, extremely heavy use can lead to some nasty nerve damage as vitamin B12 is stripped away). Alkyl nitrites, often referred to as “poppers”, are another example of a relatively safe inhalant (much to the relief of bottoms all around the world). In contrast, volatile substances such as toluene (found in many types of glue and paint thinner), acetone (found in nail polish remover) and petroleum are so inherently, dangerously toxic that they can even lead to instant death due to something called “Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome”. That’s right, your deodorant can is not even slightly exaggerating about the dangers of solvent abuse. Sadly, this type of drug use is alarmingly common in young people, particularly homeless children, as it is an easily accessible and usually legal way to escape from reality. Given the difficulty of criminalising these substances which are present in a vast range of normal consumer products, it seems that inhalant abuse in impoverished and marginalised communities and groups is unlikely to be solved without eradicating the poverty and marginalisation causing the problem in the first place.
The Psychoactive They Cannot Deny.
The term “deliriant“ refers to a class of hallucinogen different from psychedelics like LSD and dissociatives like ketamine. As the name suggests, taking these drugs generally causes one to become delirious — extremely confused, with suppressed short term memory, completely lifelike hallucinations, and full-on delusions (such as that one is talking to a person, but they are in fact a fully solid delirious hallucination). In addition, these drugs often have extremely uncomfortable physical effects, such as extremely dry mouth, shaking, blurry vision (often to the point of blindness which, in some cases, can last several days after the drug has worn off). Basically these drugs fucking suck, so the government does not tend to restrict them in the same way that drugs which are actually enjoyable might be restricted. Some examples of deliriants include diphenhydramine (aka DPH, or the OTC antihistamine commonly sold as “Benadryl”), as well as plants such as datura and deadly nightshade, and even the antidepressant Mirtazpine. Despite the fact that these drugs are obviously terrible, and nobody in their right mind would take them, the lack of legal restrictions on most of these drug leads many people (especially young people) to experiment with them — there are even entire communities based on the use of deliriants such as DPH. It should go without saying that these drugs are extremely dangerous — not only due to direct physical effects such as tachycardia and hyperthermia, but also due to the extremely disorienting mental effects and hallucinations, frequently leading to accidents and extremely dangerous behaviour. Long story short, even if you apply all the usual harm reduction strategies for hallucinogens (having a trip sitter, being in a good environment, etc.), these drugs are extremely dangerous in any situation, and tend to have extremely unpleasant, unsatisfying effects, just going to show that the level of legality of various drugs does not in any way correlate with the safety of the drug.
Salvia divinorum is known to cause hallucinogenic experiences which are relatively brief but often very powerful. S. divinorum was featured on the TV show 99 Things To Do Before You Die, where the presenter claimed the effect was "like coming down from the fucking mothership". S. divinorum is legal in most countries, although its growing popularity may cause that status to change. Driving on it is possibly not the best idea.
Wild lettuce (not that one), usually Lactuca virosa, is a smoking herb used for its analgesic and sedative effects similar to cannabis. The plant contains milky sap called lacutucarium or "lettuce opium", that flows through the stem, leaves, and roots. It's great for setting bones and dislocated joints. Although the standard definition of lactucarium requires its production from Lactuca virosa, it was recognized that smaller quantities of lactucarium could be produced in a similar way from Lactuca sativa (standard lettuce) and Lactuca canadensis var. elongata, and even that lettuce opium obtained from Lactuca serriola or Lactuca quercina was of superior quality.
Genus Amanita includes a few psychoactive mushrooms, but also some deadly ones, such as the Death Cap. The most popular one, the quintessential "Mario mushroom", Amanita muscaria (or fly agaric), thankfully is relatively easy to identify. Its main active compound, muscimol, acts as a deliriant, euphoretic, stimulant, relaxant, and causes hallucinations at fair doses. It is extremely advisable to have a trip sitter, as it is quite possible to damage furniture or hurt yourself in the state of delirious agitation. And it doesn't help that the effects can last up to 10 hours.
Kava (or kava-kava) is the unofficial drink of Fiji. It is prepared from the powdered root of the kava pepper (Piper methysticum). The drink has sedative properties, and it has also been proven to reduce social anxiety. Pharmaceutical-based kava is banned in Europe, and sale of the plant is regulated in Switzerland, France and Netherlands Kava is banned in Western Australia, and regulated in other parts of the nation. It is regulated in much of the world. However, there are no laws against it in the United States.
Datura is a genus of plants found the world over. Easily recognisable by its trumpet-shaped flowers, Datura flowers and/or seed pods can be brewed into a tea or eaten raw. What follows, assuming you survive the dosage (not all do), is an intense 24-72 hour long swim into delusion with effects tapering off after 3 days (which the user will likely not recall). Expect to smoke cigarettes that do not exist, talk to people who are not there, and throw cats into bathtubs. Datura is not for the faint-hearted — or anyone else, for that matter. If you are tempted, be extremely cautious and have a sober sitter.
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a medicinal leaf harvested from a large tree in the Rubiaceae family native to Southeast Asia. The active ingredients, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, are mild opioid receptor agonists. Kratom is sold in powdered form, which is typically used to brew tea. At low doses it acts as a stimulant much like caffeine, whereas at higher doses it behaves more like a relaxing opioid. Other effects include cough suppression, a boost in antioxidants, and very mild sense of well-being. Kratom is usually marketed in concentrated form, and it can be lethal.
As with most drugs, the vast majority of recreational users do not exhibit patterns of problematic use as a result of the legal availability of Kratom. However, the small minority of individuals who use the drug on a daily basis, such as those self-medicating for chronic pain, are physically dependent (but not necessarily addicted) on the plant and will experience the characteristically awful withdrawal syndrome associated with opioids upon abrupt discontinuation. Further, many daily users of Kratom may be successfully preventing themselves from relapsing into a prior, more severe opioid addiction, since Kratom can act as a self-limiting pharmacologically satiating alternative to illicit opioids. Compare this to the two primary pharmaceutical agents used in Opioid Replacement Therapy, buprenorphine and methadone, which continue to be the most effective medical intervention for cases of chronic, relapsing cases of opioid addiction and dependence. However, it is very important to note that clinical trials for the effective use of Kratom as a formal treatment for Opioid Use Disorder have not been conducted, and existing data is limited to anecdote and self-reporting. The FDA currently states that there is no scientific evidence that Kratom has any potential medical uses, and as such many argue that it should be classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside other very dangerous and useless drugs like heroin. Surely this will prove effective in curbing addiction, as evidenced by the prohibitive policies that have served the US so well thus far (as opposed to Harm-Reduction measures which in no way have proven far more effective in preventing overdose deaths and cutting the social costs of problematic drug use and are really just saying it's okay for dirty druggies to continue their sinful lifestyles).
The Iboga root (Tabernanthe iboga) contains ibogaine, a psychedelic hallucinogen with dissociative and oneirogenic (dream-inducing) properties with an introspective, long-lasting effect that can take over 24 hours to vanish, although the actual visionary phase usually lasts only about 4 to 8 hours. The introspection can help break various addictions, for which it has been used repeatedly. It's also been linked to sudden death, long qt syndrome, and has neurotoxic effects at larger doses.
Morning glory seeds and Hawaiian baby Woodrose seeds
Morning glory is the common name for over 100 different species of flowering plants in the family Convolvulaceae. Rumored to contain LSD, the seeds actually contain a very small amount of a related substance, LSA (lysergic acid amide), which is structurally related to LSD but tends to produce weaker visuals (or more accurately, takes a rather higher dose to do so), and has a more sedating effect than LSD. However, given a sufficient dose, these seeds can produce hallucinations which could likely rival those generated by a moderate dose of LSD.
Urban legends and "recipes" abound on the Internet claiming to give instructions for extracting "LSD" from morning glory seeds. It is however possible to extract the pure LSA (the stuff that's actually in the seeds) so higher doses can be taken without having to eat several hundred disgusting seeds that also happen to have cyanogenic glycosides, which can lead to severe nausea. Because of this, eating enough seeds to have a full-on LSD style trip also tends to result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes generalized intestinal pain lasting into the next day. For this reason, some recommend the use of OTC anti-nausea drugs like meclizine (Bonine), or ginger (which contains documented anti-nausea compounds) The extraction processes are all fairly simple, but extracting more than one dose at a time may be problematic as the 1-4 milligram doses are difficult to measure since they're so small. Hawaiian baby Woodrose (Argyreia nervosa) seeds also contain LSA, although in a much higher concentration, so you have to eat about 1/10th compared to the morning glory seeds.
Poppy seeds (Papaver spp.), mainly from the opium poppy (P. somniferum), can easily be brewed into a foul tasting tea which produces an opiate effect due to its morphine, codeine, etc. content. Poppy seeds do not contain morphine, but when the seeds are extracted from the poppy small amounts of opium are left on the outside of the seeds. Opium is very addictive and can cause death if care is not taken; this is especially true of plant sources of drugs because of the tendency for alkaloids to vary from batch to batch. Warning: Consuming excess amounts of poppy seeds (bagels, muffins, pastries, etc.) can yield a false positive on drug tests. US Offenders on day release are specifically advised to avoid poppy seed rolls.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) contains myristicin, which really does have a psychoactive effect in larger amounts, as does mace, which comes from the same plant. The amount of nutmeg usually used as a spice has no effect. Up to a tablespoon may produce mild euphoric effects; anything over a tablespoon can cause vertigo, nausea, extreme thirst, nasty headache, and other unpleasant effects along with a "high" and hallucinations. Unfortunately, myristicin has a horrible dose-to-toxicity ratio and a sufficient amount needed to produce a "high" will also inevitably produce vertigo and nausea. The effect is rather like a bad hangover from alcohol. Even larger doses can cause seizures or lead to a visit to the emergency room for nutmeg poisoning. Because of this, nutmeg has never gained much popularity as a recreational drug.
Chocolate contains usually-inactive amounts of psychoactive phenethylamines. Baking cocoa contains higher concentrations and when used in combination with emulsifiers to increase bioavailability this has been used to yield psychoactive effects.
Arecoline is found in areca nuts or betel nuts (Areca catechu) which are mostly used in rural parts of south and east Asia and the Pacific. These are also carcinogenic and cause a host of other problems.
Khat or qat (Catha edulis), a plant found in the Arabian peninsula and in the horn of Africa, which functions as a stimulant when orally consumed. Its legality varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; while the US and the UK have banned it, it remains legal in Israel and Yemen.
The yohimbe root (Pausinystalia yohimbe) has variously been claimed to be a stimulant, a mild hallucinogen, and an aphrodisiac or sexual aid (often included in "herbal Viagra" concoctions). Scientific studies have shown it may be effective in treating erectile dysfunction; yohimbine.HCl (an isolate of the active alkaloid) is a prescription medication in some countries for that very purpose. This alkaloid is a potent α-2 adrenoreceptor antagonist and can dilate small blood vessels, enhancing the turgidity of male and female genitalia. This α-2 antagonism gives yohimbine/yohimbe extract both physical and mental stimulant properties. It lacks notable hallucinogenic effects, however, and is dangerous when taken in high doses due to its hypertensive impact. Yohimbe is also an monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) and should not be taken with other MAOIs, which includes some pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs, and herbal medicines. And as with all MAOIs, consuming tyramine while taking it will lead to excruciating pain and (most likely) a horrible death from hypertensive crisis.
The Dreamachine was invented by Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, and Ian Sommerville. It emits pulses of light at a constant speed, corresponding roughly to the brain's alpha waves. When one closes one's eyes in front of the machine, one experiences complex multi-colored patterns in a hypnotic state. Some people may experience epileptic seizures from usage.
- See the Wikipedia article on Coca-Cola formula.
- The Dead Milkmen — Smokin Banana Peels
- Chemistry.About.com — Nepetalactone
- ‘So bizarre’: People are getting high off Catnip Cocktail and going wild, New Jersey police say by Antonia Noori Farzan (March 11, 2019 at 6:02 AM) The Washington Post.
- Salon.com - Smoke This!
- Fox News — 'Drug' Made From Human Waste Causing Stink on Web, in Law Enforcement
- Erowid Sinicuichi Experience Vaults
- Research Chemical FAQ - Experimental and Research Chemicals used as Psychoactives by Erowid & Murple v 1.6 - Jun 4, 2010 (Erowid) | https://www.erowid.org/psychoactives/research_chems/research_chems_faq.shtml
- Interview with a Ketamine Chemist By Hamilton Morris (Vice) | https://www.vice.com/read/interview-with-ketamine-chemist-704-v18n2
- Experimental & Research Chemicals (Synthetic Drugs, Novel Psychoactive Substances, New Psychoactive Substances, NPS, Replacement Psychoactives) (Erowid) | https://www.erowid.org/psychoactives/research_chems/
- 25I-NBOMe (2C-I-NBOMe) Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid | https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/2ci_nbome/2ci_nbome_death.shtml
- Identification and analytical characteristics of synthetic cannabinoids with an indazole-3-carboxamide structure bearing a N-1-methoxycarbonylalkyl group. | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25893797
- Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. "Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs warns about acetyl fentanyl: drug caused at least 50 fatalities in 2013 in Pennsylvania.". Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. | http://www.pa.gov/portal/server.pt/document/1345188/department_of_drug_and_alcohol_programs_warns_about_acetyl_fentanyl
- MDPV Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid | https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/mdpv/mdpv_death.shtml
- The Effects of Toluene on the Central Nervous System https://academic.oup.com/jnen/article/63/1/1/2916394/The-Effects-of-Toluene-on-the-Central-Nervous ] (DOI)
- Flippo, T. S., & Holder, W. D. (1993). Neurologic degeneration associated with nitrous oxide anesthesia in patients with vitamin B12 deficiency. Archives of Surgery, 128(12), 1391-1395.
- Sudden Sniffing Death and Fetal Solvent Syndrome| https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51161983_Two_Serious_and_Challenging_Medical_Complications_Associated_with_Volatile_Substance_Misuse_Sudden_Sniffing_Death_and_Fetal_Solvent_Syndrome
- Nicholas Kozel et al. (Ed.) Epidemiology of Inhalant Abuse: An International Perspective, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA Research Monograph 148, 1995
- Oxygen (filtered atmosphere mixture) - Erowid Exp. - 'The Psychoactive They Cannot Deny'
- Duncan, D. F., and Gold, R. S. (1982). Drugs and the Whole Person. New York: John Wiley & Sons
- Grinspoon, Lester and Bakalar, James B. (1997). Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. The Lindesmith Center
- For example, the DPH subreddit
- Kathleen M Beaver, Thomas J Gavin, Treatment of acute anticholinergic poisoning with physostigmine, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Volume 16, Issue 5, September 1998, Pages 505-507, ISSN 0735-6757, 10.1016/S0735-6757(98)90003-1. (ScienceDirect) | http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735675798900031
- Datura Items | http://www.lycaeum.org/mv/mu/datura.html
- Consider, for example, this absolutely wild datura trip report
- Driving on Salvia
- Wesołowska, A.; Nikiforuk, A.; Michalska, K.; Kisiel, W.; Chojnacka-Wójcik, E. (2006). "Analgesic and sedative activities of lactucin and some lactucin-like guaianolides in mice". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 107 (2): 254–8. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2006.03.003. PMID 16621374.
- Wild Lettuce (L. virosa extract) - Erowid Exp. - 'Testing the Homebrew'
- King; Felter; Lloyd, John; Harvey Wickes; John Uri (1898). King's American Dispensatory. Cincinnati: Ohio Valley Co. p. 1114–1117, see Lactuca.—Lettuce and Tinctura Lactucarii (U. S. P.)—Tincture of Lactucarium.
- "Europe Explains Its Stand on Kava from the Pacific". Radio Australia. March 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- C.I.J.M. Ross-van Dorp (2003). "Besluit van 23 April 2003, houdende wijziging van het Warenwetbesluit Kruidenpreparaten (verbod op Kava kava in kruidenpreparaten)"
- [Islanders shocked as Australia moves to ban kava] by Stefan Armbruster (10 Jul 2015 - 4:56pm) SBS (Australia).
- Monkshood, Belladonna, Cannabis, Poppies - Opium, Mandrake & Datura ('Flying Ointment') - Erowid Exp. - 'Interesting with Drawbacks'
- Kratom: Legal High and Lethal Poison Nature's Poisons
- Kratom has 'deadly risks,' FDA warns by Nadia Kounang & Sandee LaMotte (3:42 PM ET, Tue November 14, 2017) CNN.
- Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. on FDA advisory about deadly risks associated with kratom (November 14, 2017) U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3670991/ Boyer,E.W,et al.,2008,Self-treatment of opioid withdrawal using kratom (Mitragynia speciosa korth).Addiction,103(6): 1048–1050.
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673698053562 Ward,J,et al.,1999,Role of maintenance treatment in opioid dependence.The Lancet,369 (9578), 16–22
- Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on the agency’s scientific evidence on the presence of opioid compounds in kratom, underscoring its potential for abuse Via fda.gov, 6th of February 2018.
- [https://www.hri.global/files/2010/05/31/HIVTop50Documents11.pdf A review of the evidence-base for harm reduction approaches to drug use By Neil Hunt.
- Chocolate - Erowid Exp. - 'Preliminary Solvent Retrospective'
- Betel Nut, InteliHealth.
- "IARC Monographs Programme finds betel-quid and areca-nut chewing carcinogenic to humans." World Health Organization. 2003 August 7.
- Yohimbe: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings… WebMD
- Flickers of the Dream Machine: The Definitive Headbook edited by Paul Cecil (2000) Codex Books. ISBN 1899598030.