Getting High With Science


*“This Herbal Blend is a newly discovered mystic smoke here in the West.” -African Sunset* The first time I hung out with my friend Jared, we smoked some medical marijuana and went to a work meeting. A month later I was in his back yard smoking research chemicals off tin foil. It was basically my fault, because all he wanted to do was barbeque in his backyard and maybe drink a couple beers. But I checked the mail right before I left and noticed that a package full of research chemicals I ordered off the internet had arrived. I brought them with me. In the car I opened the package. Along with the druggie-looking zip lock bags filled with off-white powders were papers with a bunch of sort-of scientific crap written on them. “RESEARCH USE ONLY.” “Not Intended or Approved for Human or Veterinary Use.” But what else was I going to do with these “research” chemicals? Everyone else using them was getting super-baked and still passing important drug tests. That was the only kind of research anybody really wanted to do. At Jared’s, I gave him, my girlfriend and Jared’s friend Lewis some half-assed description of what had shown up in my mail and why I was going to smoke it. They kept asking questions like “it’s synthetic?” and endless variations of “wait, so what is it again?” I ended up saying something along the lines of “it’s like THC, but it’s synthetic … and legal.” I was going to smoke it myself, first. They could try it afterwards if they wanted. And they did. After I smoked a few tiny grains of the stuff, they saw how high I was and wanted to smoke some immediately. It’s easy to find descriptions of how insanely high various online people got after smoking a little JWH. Luckily for my friends I spent more of my time looking into things like how likely I was to die after smoking it than how awesome it would be. I found that there was almost no reliable scientific data on these chemicals. Basically all the information out there concluded in big ifs and maybes. What we do know is that thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, have smoked these chemicals and lived to brag about it on the internet. Outside of getting baked, there are still a lot of questions and a lot of work for scientists to do. (So, get to it!) For Lewis, the desire to get high was stronger than his night-long skepticism and fear. Before I knew it, he was smoking lumps of the stuff and grinning into a cell phone camera. I tried to supervise my friends as they measured out what they thought were precise amounts of the powder on a milligram scale I’d bought. But this was a miserable failure. The scale barely worked, the “correct” amounts looked REALLY small, and I couldn’t stop laughing because I was so damn high. When the JWH wasn’t sticking to the bag, it was spilling everywhere. So of course they lumped on about two or three times what they were supposed to smoke when measuring it out. Who were we fooling? None of us were scientists. “I’m high. Mission accomplished.” Lewis said into the camera. As he said that, JWH vapor was still erupting from his mouth. He’d rolled the tin foil into a shape that he thought would prevent any vapors from being lost. And he didn’t stop there. He went on to take a few more gigantic drags from the tin foil. What had any of us really done with tin foil besides cook with it before this night? I’m pretty sure that Jared’s roommates thought we were smoking crack. Lewis probably had a realization along those lines once he got so high that he blasted past the point of how high you can get from smoking medical marijuana and kept going. It was only a matter of seconds after the last puff that he started complaining about feeling extremely sick. Keep in mind that he was drunk. It wasn’t long before he was projectile vomiting his six-pack of Shiner Bock all over the wood floor. From the floor, he told us to “look something up.” So Jared and I took turns fumbling around with the computer and the web browser. We were “royally baked,” as Jared would later say. Eventually my girlfriend grabbed the computer from us and read some inconclusive pseudo-scientific drug webpages that sort of said he’d be OK but maybe not. After five minutes, Lewis wasn’t feeling any better. Everyone panicked and considered bringing Lewis to the emergency room. Luckily I managed to calm them all down, despite being way, way too high myself. As our highs started to calm down a little, my girlfriend said: “Hey Lewis? Are you so happy you curled up the foil so you’d get all the smoke?” He moaned from the floor. Jared’s roommates were knocking on the door and asking if everything was OK. Clearly my plan had backfired. By the time Luis was passed out in a bed, I was sobering up fast. I’d spent my entire high frantically trying to keep the situation from getting completely out of control. A little later we drove home and I had a lot of time to reflect on everything that had happened and the chemicals I’d bought.
![Lewis minutes before total meltdown.][] *Lewis minutes before total meltdown.*

Getting High at Any Price
When presented with the opportunity to get high for free, people will do insane things. But did my friends really think I’d let them smoke a new drug that I knew absolutely nothing about? Was I really some crazy guy who brings dangerous shit to parties?

What I had ordered, exactly, were two drugs: 1 gram of JWH-250 and 100mg of JWH-018. Both of these drugs belong to the same class of synthetic cannabinoid agonists. They were named “JWH” after their inventor, Professor John W. Huffman, who started researching these THC-like substances in the mid-eighties.

In interviews, Huffman has done little but attack the masses of people who’ve made a habit of inhaling his creations. To High Times he said, “it’s like playing Russian roulette. You don’t know what it’s going to do to you. You’re a potential winner of a Darwin award. Do a service to humanity by removing [yourself] from the gene pool.”

It’s not too hard to understand why Huffman is angry. He originally set out with his team in search of some sort of a new medical breakthrough. Instead he became the reluctant father of a drug that ended up being sold in run-down gas stations and on hastily built websites.

Despite all of Huffman’s mean words, does anybody really know if these chemicals are toxic, cancer causing, or dangerous at all? Maybe Huffman was more right than he could have ever thought when he said, “It’s like LSD, the only thing it is good for is getting you high.”

In drug circles scattered across the world there have been many conclusionless discussions about whether or not JWH-018 can cause cancer. A lot of these people are worried about what chemists call a “naphthalene ring” that exists in many of the JWH molecules. Basically the argument is about two things: 1, the naphthalene chemical on its own is known to cause cancer, but 2, the presence of a “naphthalene ring” in a molecule doesn’t automatically mean the molecule is cancer causing. (See: Naproxen, a commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory drug you’ve probably been given instead of a narcotic a few times.)

Almost nothing certain is known about what can happen from smoking these JWH chemicals (except for getting baked) and there is a long road ahead for researchers. Until then, internet people and general odd balls will continue to vaporize this shit on a regular basis. It’s likely that we will learn the health effects of JWH from these people. So unless you want to be one of them, don’t give up smoking old school pot for JWH quite yet. Even if it is just some ridiculously meager Texas weed.

“Spice” and Other Synthetic Drugs
While Huffman is sort of an infamous celebrity within the academic and novelty news worlds, in real life nobody knows or gives a shit who he is. Most people who’ve smoked one of his JWH chemicals have never even heard the word “JWH.” That’s because the most common way of using the stuff is in the form of an “herbal smoke” blend. Of which, the most popular brands are Spice and K2.

There are thousands of these blends online. All with psychedelic sounding names and vague descriptions of their highs. These products all basically boil down to the same thing: random plant matter that’s been sprayed with anonymous research chemicals. Some German researchers found that not even the herbal ingredients were as listed on the package. So who really knows what is in this shit.

Back to Lewis’ JWH crisis: despite Huffman, despite maybe “getting cancer,” and despite looking like a crack head, I’d figured that we were all likely to survive our JWH trips. And we all did. Thank god, because I can see how it woulda gone in the local news: “Roberts was arrested after he distributed a lethal synthetic drug at a party, according to court records. He is currently being held for attempted murder and distribution of a synthetic drug. He was denied bail.”

I wondered if this was the case of all legal highs. JWH was pretty hardcore. It was pretty legal, too, until March when the DEA made JWH-018, and a few other common Spice / K2 ingredients, temporarily illegal. They DEA used their emergency powers to ban the drugs for a year while they assess the possible danger of using them.

The ban wasn’t really a shock. A few months before the ban, the place I bought my research chemicals from started selling their stock at an extreme discounted rate with minimum orders starting at one-hundred GRAMS. That’s way more than a year’s supply for basically anyone.

“We are closing up shop and offering the best pricing to date. Customers are limited to only purchasing our products in 100 gram increments at $400 per 100 grams. Hurry while supplies last!”

![A bag of JWH-250][] *A Bag of JWH-250*

The supplies went fast, the vendor closed down, and the DEA shut down the JWH party. Well, sort of. You can still buy similar synthetic JWH-like chemicals online, just different ones.

Don’t get me wrong, not all legal highs are safe. Especially when you consider the sort of people involved in work-from-home online businesses. At 1:30 in the morning on May 14th I got an e-mail that read “Warning about lethal batch of 2C-E” from one of the drug websites I subscribe to. One research chemical vendor at was linked to the deaths of at least three people and the hospitalization of 19 across the mid-west. The site was known for having incredibly cheap deals on bulk amounts of 2C-E and 2C-I, two psychedelic drugs. The vendor reportedly received the chemicals over the internet from a Chinese wholesaler, which is common in the research chemical world. But somewhere along the line, what was supposed to be 2C-E was mislabeled or poisoned and shipped to customers without pause.

2C-E is active in the range of 5-40mg, and takes several hours for the effects to take hold. The users of the lethal fuck-up reported incredibly strong effects after only an hour. Tests showed that these unlucky users were actually sent a drug known as Bromo-Dragonfly. This drug is notorious for being very unforgiving and toxic in ridiculously tiny amounts. One or two milligrams of this drug can be fatal.

This isn’t the first time that a drug mix-up involving Bromo-Dragonfly has killed people. In 2009 a handful of people died after taking Bromo-Dragonfly, thinking they were taking the less potent 2C-B-FLY. As of the writing of this story, closed up shop (reportedly after selling the remaining supply), and it’s unknown if the dealer is being prosecuted.

A word to anyone considering getting legally high: the government refuses to control or regulate the flow of these drugs. There is no quality control. All of the vendors spout out percentages about purity, included. Clearly this is bullshit. Be safe. Start with very very small amounts when testing a new batch of a drug.

History of Getting High The Legal Way
The grey market of research chemicals (also called “designer drugs” or “legal highs” depending on who’s talking) dates back to at least 1925. “Grey” Market because the vendors sell barely-legal products in a legitimate business-like manner. After the League of Nations made it illegal to use morphine and heroin for fun, businesses started selling closely-related chemicals. These analogues, as they are known, were structurally different enough to not be illegal and still had the effects people demanded. It took about five years for laws to be written that could make illegal the broad chemical variations that could be made from these Opiates. From that point on, this cycle repeated itself with basically every drug from amphetamine, to psychedelics including LSD, and even to alcohol during prohibitions around the world. Obviously it continues today, aided greatly by a streamlined way to sell the drugs (the internet) and a lot of people desperate to get high and not pay the consequences. A glance at the history of research chemicals reveals an obvious pattern, one that is going to continue until drugs are legalized.

Dr. Alexander Shulgin became famous for a career spent synthesizing and personally testing an enormous amount of barely-legal psychedelics starting in the 70s. Over the years, he wrote down notes on his “trips” and eventually published them alongside synthesis instructions in two books: PiHKAL and TiHKAL. (The titles of these books standing for “Phenethylamines/Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved,” respectively.)

Shulgin’s lab was raided shortly after the books were published and his license to work with illegal drugs was revoked. The DEA didn’t think very highly of Shulgin publishing trip reports alongside synthesis directions, even if it requires fortunes to buy the lab equipment needed and all of the drugs in his book are strictly non-addictive psychedelics. A spokesman for the DEA said that “[Shulgin’s books] are pretty much cookbooks on how to make illegal drugs. Agents tell me that in clandestine labs that they have raided, they have found copies of those books.”

Eventually some of Shulgin’s creations gathered more and more users until they began to creep into the hands of law enforcement. The majority of these drugs are still available online in bulk quantities. 2C-E is among them. You can also find many of these drugs sprinkled on herbs and sold online under countless variations of mystic-sounding titles.

By the late-nineties, the online drug market had expanded much faster than the D.E.A. could move. People were buying every class of drug in a legally ambiguous way. Online pharmacies were much more than simple scam sites. It was possible to order basically any prescription narcotic and stimulant without a prescription. In addition to prescription drugs, people were buying and selling all kinds of psychoactive cacti and fungi. In 2004 a legal highs company called JLF Poisonous Non Consumables was raided in the DEA’s “Operation Web Tryp.” Sales were estimated to be in the millions. The Department of Justice realized that there’s a lot of money in this industry. And according to the DOJ website, they weren’t fooled by all the disclaimers, either:

“These website operators attempted to give an appearance of legitimacy to their websites by presumably selling these chemicals to bona fide researchers; however, a review of customer lists revealed purchasers with e-mail addresses such as:


Before the March 2011 ban, the U.S. military and some Midwestern and Southern states had bans on various synthetic cannabis compounds. So many soldiers were smoking Spice that the Army, Navy, and Marines jointly banned anything even similar to it.

Higher Than Ever Before
These JWH drugs are serious. The high you get from them is way, way more intense than you can ever get with pot. It’s extremely powerful and short, and it sort of sticks with you into the next day.

Over the course of that summer, I smoked the rest of the JWH and nothing bad happened to me or anyone else who smoked it. A lot of us would drink and smoke JWH all night with nothing but good results. No wonder so many people are smoking this stuff. It’s cheap, it works, and you can buy it from the comfort of your room.

Finding someone to sell you illegal drugs is a hassle enough. There is nothing worse than having to talk to some burnt out, ex-crack head for an hour before it seems polite enough to ask for the drugs and leave. And when you consider that most drug busts start as “routine traffic stops,” just getting to your dealer and back can be a gamble. It makes sense that people are going to keep buying these research drugs, and take some different kinds of risks to get high.

Thanks to the internet, drug abuse has become easier and more convenient than ever before. With access to the combined knowledge and experience of thousands of other people, users can be more informed and make their drug use as safe (and fun) as possible.

As long as there are people who want to get high behind their parents’ backs or people who need to pass drug tests, there are going to be people who will mail these drugs to you, conveniently and discreetly. But as long as we don’t have any governing bodies keeping the purity and quality of these chemicals in check, people will die and nobody will be held responsible because we weren’t supposed to be taking them in the first place. It’s a sick joke, where anyone is potentially a click away from agreeing “to the terms and conditions,” throwing away the packaging (instructing you to not ingest its contents), and smoking them right there. And trust me, that joke only gets funnier after a hit of JWH.


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