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Buzz Drug Products: Stimulants

Stimulants stimulate higher activity in some aspect of your body's nervous system. They temporarily enhance your performance in one or several areas: alertness, concentration, wakefulness, vigour, stamina, or activity level. As these enhancements are artificial, once their effect wears off, the opposite effect will generally occur - lethargy, confusion, sleepiness, weakness, depression. If someone who has abused a stimulant for an extended period ceases use, this 'comedown' phase can last for weeks or months and be severe. In olden days, the lack of physical symptoms when an addicted user ceased use caused the medical profession to consider the difficulties they experienced to be purely 'psychological'. It is now understood that prolonged heavy stimulant use causes changes in the nervous system. Once usage ceases, the body lacks the resources it needs to stimulate itself, and may require considerable time to rebuild these systems.

Almost all stimulants chemically trigger the 'fight or flight' response to a greater or lesser extent, which prepares you for possible emergency action. Blood flow is diverted to muscles, to enable them to support greater exertion, and away from the skin and vital organs, whose activity is reduced until the emergency is over. The heart is sped up and the lungs are primed to absorb more oxygen. Some sphincters are tightened, others are loosened. The urge to eat disappears. When the reaction is being caused by buzz chemicals, it doesn't proceed normally, it's all a little haywire. At moderate doses this isn't really a problem, but at strong doses it definitely is.

If you are an addicted user, taking stimulants at strong doses twice or more a week, you operate in a whacked-out fight-or-flight mode so often it could cause you cumulative health damage eventually triggering a stroke, heart failure, or a heart attack. Cocaine is the worst offender in this regard, as the vasoconstriction it induces is particularly persistent. That's why addicts who have been snorting it long enough and hard enough end up with a damaged nasal septum - the inadequate blood supply eventually kills the tissue. Cocaine has other effects that increase the damage it does - including its anaesthetic effect on tissues and its direct toxicity to heart tissue. That is why cocaine would not be offered in a legal system. (Coca leaves would be, but their effect is mild compared to the cocaine that is purified from them.) Methamphetamine is also linked to a greatly elevated risk of heart problems, though not as severe as the risk from cocaine. The safest buzz option for a strong stimulant high seems to be methylphenidate (Ritalin), which still can be stressful on the heart, but not so badly. Between 1999 and 2005, there were 51 deaths in the United States where the cause was determined to be methylphenidate. Considering that by the end of that period, prescriptions for methylphenidate were being given out at a rate of 2 million a month for kids, and 1 million a month for adults, that number is pretty low. In 2002, the US had 2000 recorded emergency department visits related to caffeine, and 1250 for methylphenidate. Because recreational use of methylphenidate has taken off only recently, there is a lack of data on the exact nature of the risks involved. Still, it is clearly the best candidate for a legal buzz comparable to cocaine - an option that needs to be on the menu if we are going to put the street drug gangs out of business. So the anchor buzz - the most potent buzz - for stimulants would be methylphenidate.

It, and all the other stimulants except for poppers, would be sold as a drink, thus avoiding the overdose risk of street stimulants and the stress of their formats - smoking and snorting. Individual sensitivity to stimulants is quite variable. The way the drink format reduces overdoses to much milder, briefer events is thus even more useful with stimulants than it is with depressants. Overdose can occur in some people at only double the average dose for a medium buzz. It isn't a dangerous overdose, but it elevates your heart rate and blood pressure enough to be stressful. In people with circulatory problems - and every now and then such a person doesn't know they have a problem - it can be quite stressful. Legal buzz drinks would in general be designed so that an average person gets a medium buzz by drinking 2 to 3 glasses of them per hour, depending on the person's size. A sensitive person would therefore need to drink 4 to 6 glasses within an hour to reach an overdose. That is enough fluid that it would be unusual for a person to drink so fast. More importantly, you would be able to feel you'd had too much well before the high pulse and blood pressure of a genuine overdose had occurred. You would start to feel sweaty, agitated, your mouth would get dry, your jaw would start getting tight. As that is unpleasant, you would naturally slow down there. Of course, some people will not slow down when they feel warning signs. Fortunately, overdoses also cause nausea, so shortly they would be vomiting what they shouldn't have drank in the first place, and then some. Their pulse would race until their liver managed to process enough out of their bloodstream to reduce symptoms. Having jettisoned what was in the belly, it could get right on that. Overdoses would be much briefer than what happens with smoked or snorted buzzes, or even with pills, which are far harder to puke up, and would be no worse than the threshold that causes vomiting, instead of being the full blow of an irreversible street drug hit.

A further safety measure could be to add vasodilators to potent stimulant drinks. Vasodilators are substances that open up the blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. That, in turn, lowers the stress on the heart, as it doesn't have to pump as hard to move blood through your body. It also increases blood flow through your skin, increasing your ability to shed excess heat to avoid hyperthermia, which is a risk for stimulant users dancing their butts off in hot environments, as they often do. A good formula would be sodium nitrite, commonly used to preserve meats, some potassium chloride, and some vitamin C and E. Nitrite is a reliable vasodilator. Sodium and potassium chloride supplement your electrolytes if you are sweating heavily. Heavy sweating, especially when combined with high water intake, depletes blood electrolytes, which is stressful and can even be deadly in extreme cases. (See hyponatremia under MDMA.) Vitamins C and E prevent nitrite from combining with amino acids (which come from proteins) in your digestive tract to form nitrosamines, which are carcinogens.

Stimulant use at a quantity and rate that is high enough, for long enough, can cause stimulant psychosis. This is a temporary psychosis caused by emotional and mental exhaustion due to repeated high doses of stimulants - either at least a week of frequent extreme doses or chronic heavy use over the course of months or years. Severe sleep deprivation is typically a major contributor. This is why buzzes aren't on the list to be legalized if they make you high for longer than 6 hours, like amphetamine and methamphetamine do. Methylphenidate buzzes last only 3 to 5 hours. That doesn't help if you keep re-dosing, though. Buzz staff would emphasize the importance of adequate sleep to people flagged as hard-core bingers or as addicted. That is likely to make an impression, once it's explained that failure to do this could result in a week or two of visual or auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and/or panic. Paranoid fear of persecution sometimes leads sufferers to lash out aggressively. The hallucinations are rarely more than a mild phenomenon, but any kind of (unplanned) hallucination constitutes a crisis for most people. To add to the anxiety, once the problem has resolved, there is still a good chance that if you go back to your stimulant habit, it will happen again.

Amphetamine abusers who smoke crystal meth or snort or inject any type of amphetamine experience intense rushes that are much more draining than orally taken drugs, and then their bodies still have to support six to twelve hours of sustained stimulation before the buzz wears off, frequently overnight when the body ought to be resting. Not only can this provoke stimulant psychosis, there is evidence that the drain on the dopamine system of your brain is so intense, that chronic addicted meth users sustain brain damage that takes many months to heal, and may never heal completely. Methylphenidate has not been linked to neurotoxic damage of dopaminergic neurons, and may in fact be neuroprotective to some degree. Plus it would come as a drink, no snorting, smoking, or injecting. MDMA, (ecstasy) which is also in the amphetamine family of chemicals, is associated with a different kind of neurotoxicity than the common amphetamines. Brain damage from ecstasy very rarely fails to heal completely, but it can be problematic for months or even years for heavy chronic users, and is so common that most users abandon the buzz drug after a certain number of experiences when they find the aftermath has become onerous. MDMA needs to be part of a legal system because there is currently nothing else like it and it is popular, but it will be handled specially because of its potential after-effects.

The amphetamines currently on the street have a couple of other ills for addicted users, of lesser overall harm but still troubling, especially as all these things add up to a burden that much uglier for an addict. Amphetamines at high doses cause you to grind your teeth, and dry out your mouth. Over time this causes damage to your teeth and gums. Methamphetamine does this most. They also cause skin dryness so severe as to be quite itchy. As heavy amphetamine abuse also tends to provoke compulsive behaviour, this can lead to scratching until you bleed and picking at your skin, which of course multiplies the damage done. Addiction on this scale is rare, but nasty when it happens. Still more reason for a legal system to not offer any of these amphetamines. Methylphenidate in drink format should alleviate these symptoms to some degree, because the buzzes would be less extreme, but they may still occur. Buzz staff would do what they could to help severely addicted users protect themselves from these pitfalls, maybe offering a skin cream and recommending lozenges or mouth guards (people sometimes use soothers or toothbrushes). All stimulants suppress your appetite, making poor nutrition and excessive weight loss a more common risk for addicted users. Buzz shops would have products specifically targeted at people who are in this situation - nutrient shakes and bars tweaked for stimulant addicts. If buzz staff have flagged someone as being addicted and see their weight dropping, they would be encouraged to just go ahead and pass that person stuff like that for free on a regular basis. It would just be a little way of saying yes, we really do care what happens to you, and thus hopefully rouse the person's interest in one of the support services the buzz staff can offer. This would be an example of where buzz staff are really more medical staff than shop clerks.

Stimulants are used medically to treat attention deficit disorders and sleep disorders, to decrease appetite, combat fatigue caused by other conditions, and occasionally for depression. They are also used officially, but non-medically, by the military. Amphetamines and modafinil are used by most militaries to keep soldiers alert in battle situations. They have helped countless people focus when they need to, for work or study, and helped athletes train, officially, and compete, unofficially. When taken in moderation, with proper consideration for your rest and diet needs, they are beneficial. All the more reason to find a way to make them legal and safe.

Caffeine

Here it is - the world's most common psychoactive substance, the buzz-based booster for the working masses everywhere. It wouldn't need to be part of legalization, of course. It is here because, like alcohol, looking at this legal buzz reveals a lot about the nature and risks of related illegal buzzes. Caffeine is found naturally in coffee and tea, and it is added artificially to a bunch of other drinks, especially sodas. Energy drinks are based on caffeine. Millions of coffee and tea drinkers the world over experience headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, and irritability if deprived of their daily dose. There is a word for that: addiction. Generally mild, but real. Because caffeine is such an accepted - nay, essential - part of keeping the world moving the way we have come to expect, severe caffeine addictions that can really have major consequences are shockingly under-explored and unappreciated phenomena. Those who knock back a strong coffee several times a day or partake of daily hard-core energy drinks are fraying their own nerves far more than they or most everyone around them acknowledges. As with alcohol, the social acceptance of caffeine use delays the recognition of severe addiction. Unlike alcohol, the detrimental effects of severe caffeine addiction can easily be invisible to the outside viewer, and to the addicted user, serious declines in their psychological health may never be recognized as due to caffeine. A person vulnerable to anxiety - who may have become addicted to caffeine in an effort to better achievement, and thus calm their anxiety - can develop a full-blown anxiety disorder due to their caffeine intake.

Buzz Effect Chronic Heavy Use Effects Lethal Dose

Mental: wakefulness, animation, alertness, improved mood

Physical: improved endurance and maximum physical exertion

At excess dose: trembling, irritability, nervousness (caffeine jitters), restlessness, insomnia

At overdose: anxiety, confusion, headache, twitching, rapid or irregular heartbeat, ringing ears, flushing of the face, nausea, vomitting, panting, seizures, fever, delirium, panic, heart attack. Possibly fatal. The risk of overdose is greatly increased by combining stimulants.

Reversible: Nervousness, irritability, anxiety, tremulousness, chronic sleep disturbances. Anxiety may be sufficient to cause panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and phobia, and require medical treatment.

Permanent: None.

150 - 200 mg/kg within about 1 to 2 hours. For a 165 lb person (70 kg), that is 10 to 14 g.
Withdrawal Symptoms
Headaches, irritability, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, anxiety, nausea, lasting one to five days.

Risk Category: Blue/Yellow (Low Risk / Some Risk)
All drugs cause unusual side-effects or excessive reactions in some people. When first using a buzz drug, take only a small amount, and have someone monitor you.

Brown cup of coffee by DocteurCosmos WikiMedia Commons

Of course, caffeine is a pretty harmless buzz for the vast majority of users. Many occasionally exceed a moderate dose and experience the 'jitters', but normally avoid that. Even addicted caffeine users - those of us who drink coffee or tea daily and feel a real lack if we don't - don't often suffer any notable consequences from our habit. Those with a severe addiction, however, may suffer Caffeine-Induced Anxiety Disorder. That is serious enough that it can be mistaken for Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The very acceptance of heavy caffeine use as no big deal is what causes Caffeine-Induced Anxiety Disorder to easily be misdiagnosed as one of those other disorders, and be medicated for accordingly, when the condition could have been corrected just by ceasing use of caffeine. Think about that. If you have ever taken energy drinks to get through the night and make a deadline, did you ever imagine that taking too much of that could have caused you to have a panic attack? Or a heart attack? Have you ever crammed through the night with plenty of strong coffee for a big exam, only to fall apart during the test? Did you know the caffeine was likely the reason why? So, if you take a benzodiazepine for a mild anxiety problem, and you also drink a lot of coffee or tea... think about cutting way back on your caffeine intake. You may well find you can stop using the tranquilizers.

The fortunate thing about caffeine, which has allowed it to be so accepted, is that we normally consume it in tea or coffee. It naturally comes in a diluted form that doesn't cause much problem unless you drink huge amounts of coffee, or even more tea. This is a natural version of the dilution technique being promoted here for all buzz drugs. Coffee and tea also naturally contain a MAOI, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. These chemicals have a mild mood-lifting and neuroprotective effect that counterbalances the stimulation of caffeine alone - strip them away and caffeine is already more damaging, even if the dose is no higher. Caffeine drinks are today what other buzz drugs could be tomorrow, and caffeine could be every bit the social demon that cocaine or meth is today, if it too was illegal. A look at the energy drink market shows what happens when regulatory bodies fail in their responsibilities; legal caffeine concentrates now exist which are little better than street cocaine. This is why the table shows caffeine as potentially belonging to any risk category. Tea and coffee are blue-risk. Some of the strong caffeine-spiked energy drinks currently sold deserve to be seen as yellow-risk. Pure caffeine powder that can be bought online is a red-risk product, no doubt about it, and the same goes for super-high-caffeine shots and gels. And drinks that mix high caffeine with high alcohol? That should be illegal. Whoever approved such products for sale lacked even a basic understanding of how stimulants and depressants work.

Caffeine is a performance-ehnancing drug used by athletes in training. For that market, pure or high caffeine products have multiplied on online bodybuilding stores. Caffeine is a buzz to which tolerance builds pretty quickly. An addicted user that gets their hands on these products can really go to town. That is how a British man died of caffeine overdose, after taking two spoonfuls of pure powder - more than enough for a lethal dose. Access to concentrated products makes extreme abuse and the medical problems that go with it vastly more likely. People do die every year from caffeine overdose. The reason nobody knows about that is simply that caffeine is socially accepted, so no one makes a fuss. And it hasn't happened very often, because it was usually from caffeine pills, which are properly labelled with warnings about their use, and which aren't considered a party buzz. (Although it should be noted, some fake ecstasy pills are no more and no less than caffeine pills.) Now that pure caffeine powder is easily available, caffeine-related deaths are going to rise.

Foods containing caffeine - NPR, Center for Science in the Public Interest

And not just because of pure caffeine bought by hardcore users. Store shelves are now well stocked with aggressively marketed sweet drinks blatantly sold as artificial energy rushes, as though the kind of caffeine intake they involve has no consequences, and deliberately targeted at the young. They also contain guarana, which is an herb that is high in caffeine - but as it is a seperate ingredient, its caffeine content is not counted towards the product's total. Neat trick, there. And they contain taurine too, which is supposed to heighten the stimulating effect, but nobody knows how, or how much. Oh, and some toss some ephedrine in there for good measure - a whole other stimulant. The stimulant effect of these drinks cannot be judged side by side with coffee. They are a totally different beast. If these drinks continue to be highly popular, we will see what happens when an entire generation is raised to consider normal a daily caffeine intake that is known to be medically risky. Anxiety issues will begin to rise, but that kind of frequent stimulant intake has got to have other health consequences, too. Not only that, a trend among the young of partying with energy drinks mixed with alcohol has taken off. FourLoko, with up to 12% alcohol, and an undisclosed quantity of caffeine, taurine, and guarana, was banned by Washington state after 9 freshmen at Central Washington University were hospitalized after a night of drinking it, one of whom almost died. In 2009 there were 13,000 emergency department visits in America due to energy drink use, 10 times the number in 2005. In half those cases, another buzz was combined with the energy drink, and in the other half, the caffeine and caffeine-boosters in the energy drink did the damage all on their own.

It is a well-established fact that mixing stimulants and depressants becomes dangerous very quickly. This isn't rocket science. There's even a word for it - speedballing. Mixing a stimulant and a depressant causes people to underestimate their level of intoxication. They then consume more than they otherwise would have - sometimes much more - overestimate their capacity to drive or perform other complex tasks, are more likely to become aggressive, and are at risk of a heart attack or respiratory collapse. This was established by looking at poly-drug users who combine cocaine and alcohol, or cocaine and heroin, or methamphetamine and alcohol. It is also something quickly understood by anyone who has ever tried it, which is why Four Loko is nick-named 'blackout in a can'. It stuns me that alcoholic energy drinks were ever approved for sale. The irony, however, is rich indeed. The United States, the country with the strictest buzz drug laws in the whole world, does not require that food and drink makers state on their products that they contain caffeine, much less state how much. Not even when other stimulant ingredients have been added. Not even when alcohol has been added to the mix, even when so much has been added, what looks like a can of beer is basically half a bottle of wine. And they didn't even blink at approving a slew of stimulant/depressant buzz-bombs deliberately marketed to young, inexperienced users. Ahh, irony... bitter, yet strangely satisfying. (To be fair, after the FourLoko scandal, the FDA advised all manufacturers selling caffeinated alcohol drinks in the U.S. that the FDA had never approved that. On the other hand, they had never banned it either, and caffeine was approved for inclusion in other food products, so there was nothing stopping it's sale in alcoholic beverages. Or else, how did it come to be on the shelves, hm?)

More run-of-the-mill energy drinks can be dangerous as well. Many now compete by offering ever higher caffeine content. Some products have been toying with danger. These companies ought to know that individual reactions to caffeine are highly variable, especially among those who have no tolerance to it. Perhaps they will finally be regulated the day a little girl downs a bottle of her mom's Redline Princess grape energy drink and is hospitalized by it. (Update: 14-year-old Anais Fournier died of a heart attack after drinking 2 24 oz cans of Monster energy drink within 24 hours in 2011. 13 deaths are now being investigated by the FDA as being linked to drinking 5 Hour Energy shots.)

If caffeine was illegal, the situation would be even worse. The gangs would have taken note of the fact that a little levofloxacin, an antibiotic, or fluvoxamine, an antidepressant, magnifies the effect of caffeine by a factor of five. They would mix a bit of these chemicals into the caffeine powder they sell to stretch supplies and give users a bigger rush. And they could of course toss in some taurine, too. Users snorting a powder like that could overdose pretty easily. This is the business philosophy behind how cocaine is sold, and this is why cocaine is so dangerous. Let's look at coca products next.

Coca Leaf

The coca bush is indigenous to the equatorial Andes of South America. In that region, the leaves of this bush have been chewed or brewed as a tea for thousands of years. Used thus, coca leaves are a mild stimulant quite similar to coffee. The concentration of cocaine, it's active ingredient, is so low in the leaves that it is essentially impossible to experience the highs of powder cocaine use, much less overdose, by consuming them. In the Andean countries coca leaf is considered a useful aid to work and study, again very much like coffee, and is praised for its health benefits. It is given as a treatment for altitude sickness, and is used by those who must do strenuous physical activity, especially at high altitudes. It is clearly a blue buzz product. It would be sold in teabags and as packages of fresh leaves, as it is widely sold legally across Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru.

Cocaine hydrochloride, the purified coca product sold on the streets, is a whole other story. It has side-effects that make it needlessly risky, as discussed in the intro above. It would not be sold, not even as a diluted drink. Methylphenidate offers a very similar experience with fewer side-effects and lower toxicity, see its section below.

Europeans never sold coca leaf when they introduced cocaine to the Old World, from where it spread to the (new) New World. The leaves didn't ship well. Instead, they began selling cocaine extract in the 1860's. It was extracted by soaking the mashed leaves in wine, to form coca wine. So, they went straight to selling a product that was a mixture of cocaine and alcohol, which they unfortunately didn't know is a very unhealthy combination - a speedball variant. But perhaps they wouldn't have cared, if the behaviour of energy drink companies examined earlier is any indication. It was an instant hit. Vin Mariani was endorsed by the pope himself.

Let's take a minute to look at the legal drug market of the late 1800's, and what went wrong there. Legal prohibition of buzz drugs began in the early 1900's after cocaine and opium products became widely regarded as a public danger. There are plenty of examples floating around of how these products were marketed to an innocent 19th century public. The new science of pharmacy had created purified concentrates of opium and coca for the first time ever. Medical science had also created the novel apparatus of hypodermic needles with which to inject these new chemical marvels, and injection kits were widely sold, to anyone, as if it was of no more consequence than selling cough drops. Cocaine and opiates were said to cure just about everything, were proclaimed tonics for your health, were given to toddlers on doctors orders. People were completely ignorant of the possibility of addiction or even of side-effects.

the product that would become Coca Cola, Pemberton's Coca Wine

In this environment, and at a time when the stresses of everyday life were far higher than today (America had just ended a harrowing civil war, for instance) it is likely that a higher proportion of users became addicted. The popularity and glowing recommendations of the many concoctions on sale containing cocaine or opium - or both - caused many users to consume way too much, thinking it was actually healthy, and to completely fail to understand they were becoming addicted. As people discovered their 'tonics' had a dark side, a backlash emerged that led to the prohibition of narcotics (meaning opiates) and cocaine. The temperance movement took hold towards the end of the 19th century, and part of their message had to do with buzz drugs. The imagery of 'dope fiends' played on public fear and anger and made great fodder for political campaigns. Just as the exuberant marketing of 19th century buzz concoctions was ignorant and exaggerated, so was the backlash.

The late 19th century was a one-time situation where vast ignorance mixed with a fever for 'progress' to cause a spike in addictions, while also making those addictions more severe than ever before. It was a nasty shock, and the perfect thing to use as the scapegoat for social ills that were completely unrelated. For instance, it was widely asserted that cocaine use was turning 'negroes' into evil thugs and rapists. Records from those times are sparse and often unreliable. How big or serious the addiction issue really was cannot be known. But we live still with the clumsy, confused backlash to it.

The data for coca leaf is a little thin, so the chart info on excess dose effects comes from data on cocaine use. Since someone using coca leaf couldn't possibly ingest enough cocaine to experience the symptoms of even mild cocaine overdose, there is no section for overdose symptoms.

Buzz Effect Chronic Heavy Use Effects Lethal Dose

Mental: alertness, wakefulness, sense of vigour, increased confidence, improved mood, restlessness, possible agitation

Physical: reduced appetite, tingling or numbness in mouth (especially if leaves are chewed)

At excess dose: increased heart rate and blood pressure, dilated pupils, tightness in chest, anxiety

Weight loss, possibly excessive. Among leaf chewers, sores on the inside of the mouth. Altered character, mental deterioration and hallucinations have been described in case studies - but are rare. As the stimulation level achieved is comparable to that of coffee, this can be fairly compared to the risk of anxiety disorders among heavy users of caffeine. There are no known cases of lethal overdose on coca leaf. Even an overdose would be extremely rare.
Withdrawal Symptoms
Ceasing the use of coca leaf is not considered to cause any withdrawal symptoms.

Risk Category: Blue (Low Risk)
All drugs cause unusual side-effects or excessive reactions in some people. When first using a buzz drug, take only a small amount, and have someone monitor you.

Coca leaves contain a number of alkaloids besides cocaine (plant substances of pharmaceutical interest are usually alkaloids). All are considered toxic to some degree, as is cocaine itself. In Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela, where defense of coca as an integral part of their cultures has become a popular political cause, companies have incorporated coca leaves as an ingredient in a wide array of products, including honey, cookies, toothpaste, and soap. Coca perhaps has value as a flavouring or an aroma, in small quantities, but most of this explosion in product offerings has to do with the fashion of the day. Capsules of powdered leaves are also being sold. That might not be a good idea. As the leaves contain a range of toxic alkaloids, however mildly so, it is likely that taking capsules long term isn't very good for your health. On that note, in legalizing coca leaf, it would be best to specify that powdered leaf may not be sold, as it would make it easy to take a very large dose, and that the leaves must be of the original bush, not something that has been bred for higher cocaine content.

This fashion for coca leaf has become international, on a small scale. Amazon currently offers 89 different coca products via associated sellers. Though the sellers talk like the leaves are the real thing, they are in fact decocainized. In the United States all coca products are regarded as Schedule II substances, except if all cocaine has been removed. Any and all products containing cocaine are banned by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and that isn't going to change in the forseeable future. Therefore, any export items from these countries containing cocaine would be illegal. In fact, people within the Andean countries who chew leaf are breaking the convention, which specifically states that coca leaf chewing was to be phased out over 25 years following its adoption. That happened in 1964. This sticks in the craw of Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, so deeply that he pushed for an amendment to the convention in early 2011. When American opposition put an end to that idea, he began pushing in Bolivia for the country to officially withdraw from the UN convention - which would be a very big deal, and surely would arouse an aggressive response by the United States.

Coca tea made with 1 gram of dried leaves - which is a typical serving size - contains about 4 mg of cocaine. Orally ingested coca leaf results in absorption of 30% to 40% of the cocaine into the bloodstream, so when you drink a cup of coca tea you absorb less than 2 mg over the course of half an hour to an hour. Those who chew the leaf consume an average of 60 grams of leaves over the course of the day, having a cocaine content of about 0.5% to 1 %. which amounts to roughly 300 to 600 mg of cocaine - which is sort of a lot. Because of the way the cocaine is absorbed when leaves are chewed, however, its concentration in your bloodstream never climbs higher than a third of what the average line of snorted cocaine powder would get you. At most.

coca leaves for chewing, Bolivia. photo by onourownpath.com

The normal practice is to place about 10 to 20 leaves in your cheek, folded around a small amount of an alkaline substance like ash or baking soda which aids absorption. Not much chewing actually occurs, as the leaves are rough and stiff at first, and chewing also numbs the inside of your mouth, because cocaine is a topical anaesthetic. It's more that the wad sits in your cheek, releasing its juices as you suck on it. Over time, the leaves soften, and then you might chew them to release the last of their cocaine before spitting them out. Once the numbness leaves your mouth, you can start a new wad if you like. That will be about an hour after you started the previous wad. The numbness is uncomfortable and that discourages you from repeating the process sooner. Those who snort cocaine, of course, or who smoke freebase or inject, can repeat the process in just a few minutes, which is a big part of the problem. And the rapid spike of coke in the brain you get from smoking crack or injecting is even higher than when you snort. When chewing, some of the cocaine is absorbed through the mucous membranes of the inside of your mouth, and some is absorbed from your intestines from the juices you swallow. Not all of the cocaine in the leaves is released by this chewing and sucking method, not all of what is released is absorbed into your bloodstream, and what does get absorbed trickles in slowly as you work the quid in your cheek.

Now for a bit of bad news. There are no studies indicating that coca leaf has an adverse effect on the long-term health of daily coca chewers. That's bad because there are no studies of any kind related to the health effects of chewing coca leaf. Which is truly startling. The closest there is are studies from the '70s done way out in the field among native tribes of the Andes, that mostly measure rather inane things like differences in foot temperature after coca consumption, and all of which can be easily criticized for failing to use a proper control group for comparison. Is it really the case that the plant source of perhaps the most infamous, most exhaustively studied buzz drug of all has never seemed worthy of study for its health impact, short term or long term? Seems unlikely, doesn't it. So then, there's some serious politics going on here. Cautiously, it can perhaps be said that if coca chewing caused much in the way of health problems, the Andean nations would have studied that by now, despite resentment of American bullying regarding cocaine. On the other hand, can it really be the case that daily use for years of a plant containing a chemical known to cause cardiovascular disease doesn't increase such risks itself, no matter how little of the offending chemical it contains? For the moment, nobody can say. Perhaps worth mentioning - even the remarkably noxious effects of cigarettes on people's health was swept under the carpet for decades by vested interests, and the public was mostly none the wiser. Also, khat, which is also the leaf of a bush containing strong stimulants, in its case chemicals closely related to amphetamine, has been demonstrated to increase the risk of circulatory disease and mental illness in heavy chronic users. If anything, cocaine is more toxic than amphetamines, not less. Do coca leaves contain less of the active ingredient? Are they somehow processed in the body in a way that reduces unhealthy side-effects? Or has the West ignored coca leaf to maintain focus on the perceived evils of cocaine, while the Andean nations have turned a blind eye to the downside of chronic coca use in a desire to assert the validity of their cultures?

The crowd that abuses stimulants would not be satisfied by coca leaf alone. Most stimulant abusers are looking for a bigger rush than that. Their psychological need for a certain kind of boost is more acute, and if a legal system does not provide options for them, they will go to the street looking for something stronger. Therefore, methylphenidate will also be available. It would be preferable to have at least two strong, straight stimulant products in legalization, to provide some variety of experience and help abusive users avoid some of the pitfalls of heavy use. Modafinil is on the list, but it is a milder product that would not satisfy people seeking an extreme trip. MDMA is included, but it has other properties besides stimulation, it's no good if someone is purely looking for energy. Khat and ibogaine, which are both also natural plant parts, both seem to provide a level of stimulation that can be fairly strong, but not as strong as methylphenidate. They could be useful as alternatives that encourage heavy stimulant users to intersperse methylphenidate buzz sessions with these more moderate and safer buzzes. Under 'Stimulants that would not be offered', piperazines and other designer stimulants are discussed. Possibly in future one of these will prove suitable for legalization, but for the moment, they all have one flaw or another that excludes them from consideration.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)

Methylphenidate was already discussed some in the introduction, because it is the buzz that would anchor the legal stimulant offerings. It would be what competes with illegal methamphetamine and cocaine, two of the most dangerous street buzz drugs. We are lucky that methylphenidate feels so similar to cocaine while being much gentler on your heart, and offers a rush that is long-lasting, but not so long as to cause excessive strain, as other amphetamines tend to do, especially methamphetamine. Its buzz lasts for 3 to 5 hours, perfect for recreational enjoyment. All strong stimulants, including methylphenidate, other amphetamines, cocaine, and more exotic things like methcathinone, begin to tax your circulatory system at just 2 to 3 times a recreational dose. With street drugs, frequent repetition of this strain among abusers can eventually lead to a stroke or heart attack. With methylphenidate drinks, accidental overdoses would cease lethal overdoses, but damage due to oft repeated overdoses among addicted users can add up to strokes or heart attacks eventually. These risks, and much about how methylphenidate can reduce them, were examined in the intro, if you haven't looked at that. Now let's get into details.

Molecular structure of methylphenidate. Wikimedia.

Methylphenidate has been prescribed since the '60's for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a diagnosis that exploded in popularity in America in the '90's. For this reason, Ritalin has become such a common prescription drug in the U.S. that many young people have now experimented with it as a work or study aid or for a recreational buzz. In 2003, 1.8% of American adults reported having used methylphenidate at least once in their lives for fun - 4.2 million people. Over the course of 7 years, 1999 to 2005, in all of the United States only 51 people died from methylphenidate use, most of whom were not people taking the higher doses of recreational use, but people who died after having an adverse reaction to their prescription dose (and a number of them were children). All things considered, that is a pretty low number when you compare it to cocaine or classic amphetamines. 41 people died in San Fransisco and 93 in Detroit from cocaine overdose, just in 2007, and just counting deaths that didn't involve combinations with other buzz drugs. Deaths due to all other stimulants in those same reports came to 21 in San Fransisco, not counting cases involving more than one buzz, and 11 in Detroit, all of which involved at least one other buzz. Which stimulants were taken isn't specified, but the vast majority had to have been amphetamines and methamphetamine, with possibly a case or two of ephedrine or a more exotic stimulant. Some of this huge difference can be chalked up to the extra dangers of street buzz drugs being of unknown purity and cut with unknown adulterants, whereas street methylphenidate comes solely from pharmaceuticals. Cocaine and amphetamine buzzes are also better-known stimulants abused more widely than methylphenidate - but not by as much as you might think. In 2009, about 5% of Americans reported ever having used methamphetamine casually, and a bit less than 15% ever having used cocaine. Methylphenidate's buzz popularity isn't nearly as behind as the modest death toll would suggest. Even if other measures weren't taken to make it safer, it seems pretty clear that if methylphenidate replaced the other stimulants snorted and smoked for a rush, resulting deaths would drop sharply.

The permanent consequences of chronic heavy methylphenidate use have not been established, nor have the symptoms of withdrawal from it. As it is a member of the amphetamine family, and has similar effects, these data for amphetamine have been used in the table.

Buzz Effect Chronic Heavy Use Effects Lethal Dose

Mental: increased alertness and concentration, sociability, improved mood, possible euphoria, sense of motivation, wakefulness, increased sense of vigour, possible nervousness.

Physical: loss of appetite, possible hyperactivity, possible abdominal cramps or nausea, small increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, pupil dilation.

At excess dose: big increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, agitation, pale skin, dry mouth, sweating, clenching of jaw.

At overdose: racing heart, palpitations, hypertensive blood pressure, muscular tension, vomitting, dehydration, difficulty urinating, hyperthermia, twitching, panic, hallucinations, convulsions. Possible stroke or heart failure. Potentially fatal. The risk of overdose is greatly increased by combining with other stimulants.

Reversible: Nervousness, irritability, insomnia, weight loss, increased susceptibility to infection. Possible paranoia or stimulant psychosis.

Permanent: Wear on teeth due to grinding, possible cardiac arrhythmia, increased risk of heart problems or stroke.

Lethal dose has not been established and may be more variable than usual. Evidence suggests something like 30 - 60 mg/kg (2.25g to 4.5g for a 75kg/165lb person)
Withdrawal Symptoms
Lethargy, apathy, depression, listlessness, difficulty concentrating. Tapering of dose over time reduces withdrawal effects. In severe cases symptoms may persist for a number of months and be serious enough to require medical management. In cases of addiction resulting in stimulant psychosis, symptoms resolve in 7 to 10 days and may be managed with antipsychotic drugs.

Risk Category: Red (Take Care)
All drugs cause unusual side-effects or excessive reactions in some people. When first using a buzz drug, take only a small amount, and have someone monitor you.

If the stuff in the table about stimulant psychosis jumps out at you, this is a potential issue for abusers of most stimulants, as discussed in the introduction. If you don't abuse stimulants, taking excessive doses repeatedly, stimulant psychosis is very unlikely. It does on rare occasion happen even at moderate recreational doses, if you have a vulnerability to psychosis, but your symptoms will probably be mild. This kind of psychosis involves mild to moderate hallucinations accompanied by paranoia, agitation, confusion, and possible aggression. It isn't fun. So, if you take stimulants, remember that you do need to sleep, and you do need to let your body recover, and that mixing stimulants with depressants isn't a good way to smooth the high, it's a sign of abuse. If the high isn't smooth you took too much or you have been taking it too often. More than anything else, don't go without sleep. That is a great way to induce psychosis, whether you are buzzed or not.

The big issue with methylphenidate, and most stimulants, is that the difference between a moderate recreational dose and an amount that causes the high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat of an overdose is pretty slim. Getting figures on this for methylphenidate has so far proved impossible, other than from a dose chart on drugs-forum.com, a site about the recreational use of buzz drugs. That chart implies that about three to four times a moderate recreational dose is an overdose (for maximum safety, the chart only shows the bottom of the dose range for overdose, so that needs to be compared to the bottom of the moderate range). The symptoms of a low overdose wouldn't be dangerous for healthy people, but it is still a cause for concern. An abusive or addicted user who takes excess doses repeatedly could accumulate cardiovascular damage over time that could eventually cause a serious problem. Plus, methylphenidate, and a few other stimulants, have another issue that when added to this means excess doses are easily ingested by mistake - the recreational dose is more variable than usual, even without considering things like body weight or tolerance.

It is only fair to note that the lethal dose for methylphenidate is probably somewhere in the range of 30 to 60 mg/kg. Lethal doses are established when people die and the drug in question seems to be the direct cause. The lethal dose for adults hasn't been established... but the dose shown in the chart is based on the known lethal dose for children. Yes, i know. That little fact could hardly be creepier. Because of the frequency with which Ritalin is prescribed to children for ADD, there have been enough deaths to establish the lethal dose for them: 32mg/kg. This amount represents the lowest dose measured in the children who died this way. Now you know. Adults are less susceptible to the effects of methylphenidate, so the minimum lethal dose for us should be a fair bit higher. Let's suppose it is 40 mg/kg. That would mean the lethal dose for most people would be about 100 to 200 times a recreational dose, which is pretty good. Just consider - the average lethal dose for cocaine is only 15 times higher than a recreational dose. For alcohol it is only 10 times higher - but lethal overdose from alcohol is rare because of its fluid form, same as the buzz drink concept.

As discussed in the introduction to stimulants, the potential problems of methylphenidate overdose are mostly solved simply by offering it in a dilute drink form. Just as when you drink beer, your buzz would build slowly, and couldn't reach an overdose level unless you were knocking it back at least twice as fast as a typical 2 to 3 drinks an hour rate, even if you were sensitive. If you did sustain a drinking rate at that high a clip, the symptoms of an excess dose, such as sweatiness and a tense jaw, would come on well before your pulse had reached a range that could be truly stressful. All you would have to do is stop there. If you didn't, the nausea that goes with overdose would cause you to barf up what you had been drinking. That means your overdose would be mild and short - the large amount of fluid in your system would allow a thorough purge of your intestines when you puked and would assist in your nausea proceeding to vomiting in shorter order. The stimulants in your bloodstream would then start to decline. You couldn't get into the serious overdoses that happen sometimes with street stimulants because you couldn't keep that strong a dose of the stuff inside you.

Despite methylphenidate being a prescription drug since the 1950s and prescriptions being common in the US since the 1990s, how damaging it is to your circulatory system long-term is still unknown and a matter of significant debate. Which is inexcuseable, really, when over 3% of America's children have been prescribed the drug long-term. (Which in itself is probably inexcuseable.) How much would a casual user who enjoys a moderate legal methylphenidate drink buzz two or three times a weeks for a number of years increase his or her chances of heart attack or stroke? Probably very little, although it should be looked into. Then again, drinking coffee does too.

The point here is that methylphenidate is the safest option for a strong stimulant buzz comparable to coke or meth, and so it needs to be offered legally to get users attracted to that away from the many added dangers of street buzzes. Most users who experience the nasty symptoms of excessive doses of strong stimulants, of whatever variety, moderate their use themselves without needing any further incentive, even in the prohibition environment we currently live in. Legalization would add several layers of safety to that, and proactively help people who use any buzz too much to minimize their risk through the support services.

All other known amphetamine-type buzz drugs cause a high lasting far longer than that of methylphenidate. This creates a lot of complications due to people not sleeping, and eating much less than they should, and generally being buzzed for so long that they are much more likely to do something they shouldn't, like drive. Long-lasting stimulants don't get considered for this legal system. (Dextroamphetamine gives a high that lasts 4 to 6 hours, but the half-life of the substance in your system is 12 hours or more, meaning users who re-dose expose themselves to much higher levels of it than they realize, which creates multiple problems.) Ecstasy is a distant relative of amphetamine, with all of its stimulating effects, but a bunch of other effects too. Its high lasts 3 to 5 hours. It would be a valuable addition to a legal system, but it is a unique buzz with aspects of a stimulant and a hallucinogen. Ideally, at least one other powerful stimulant safe enough to include in legalization can be found, that operates in a matter different enough to methylphenidate for addicted users to rotate their use between the two and thus reduce cumulative damage. There are candidates, and there are many, many chemicals out there awaiting discovery, but so far no known stimulant is safe enough except methylphenidate. Some of the designer stimulant offerings now circulating are examined briefly in the Not Offered section. None made the cut, some are ludicrously dangerous. We await something better. Ibogaine, examined briefly below, may prove to be a good option, but the stimulant action of ibogaine has received almost no study and needs to be analyzed.

Ecstasy - MDMA and MDE

MDMA evokes the entire range of official opinion. On the one hand, it is common for the media to pounce on stories of lethal overdoses, while ignoring lethal overdoses from similar causes, like prescription amphetamines. On the other hand, there are groups of scientists lobbying for it to be a permitted method of enhancing psychotherapy, or who say its risks have been greatly overblown. Some studies show it causes long-term or permanent brain damage, others show it does not.

MDMA molecule, Wikimedia Commons, Author Benjah-bmm27

Ecstasy is normally considered to be MDMA, but in fact a wide variety of chemicals are sold as ecstasy. Many of those buzzes are considerably more dangerous than MDMA, which has caused the usual damage and confusion that goes along with unregulated markets, and also a number of deaths. MDE is a chemical closely related to MDMA which is often sold as ecstasy, but in its case if anything it is safer. Usually it is rather less intense for most users, a property that could be made good use of in a legal system. It can be a better choice if you are out in public, for instance, where a heart that is a bit less open helps you to maintain the boundaries needed in public situations. MDE's role in a legal system would basically be to act as an alternative when MDMA would be too strong. MDE has been studied much less than MDMA so the details of how it affects you are poorly understood. What is known will be discussed a bit more at the end of this section. Its big sister, MDMA, is what everyone talks about and is interested in. Until we come back to MDE at the end, MDMA is our subject.

MDMA has become quite popular in some parts of the world for its unique effect, combining stimulation with heightened self-acceptance and empathy (a 'loved up' feeling). Excluding something so popular from a legal system would guarantee a healthy black market. Compared to other street stimulant buzzes, even street ecstasy is relatively safe. In Britain in 2007/08, there was about 1 death per 10,000 ecstasy users - most of which involved a buzz sold as ecstasy (but which sometimes was not MDMA) in combination with other buzzes. Mixing other buzzes with MDMA is one of the best ways to make it more dangerous. An even better way is to take it while dancing at a sweltering, stuffy rave .

Just by using only real MDMA, diluting in drinks, and adding some ingredients that help with side effects, buzz contol ecstasy would avert almost all overdoses. However, MDMA is a special case for several reasons and requires a special safety regimen. After the table this is explained.

Buzz Effect Chronic Heavy Use Effects Lethal Dose

Mental: alertness, wakefulness, increased sense of energy and endurance, diminished aggression, fear, and anxiety, increased sense of empathy and intimacy with others, euphoria, altered perception

Physical: minor increases in heart rate and blood pressure, possible transitory nausea, increased body temperature, dilated pupils, tension in jaw, loss of appetite, thirst, difficulty getting erection

At excess dose: bigger increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, clenching of jaw, grinding of teeth, blurred vision or jitteryness in eyes, nausea and vomiting, difficulty urinating, sweating, anxiety, confusion.

At overdose: hyperthermia (dangerously elevated body temperature), greatly increased heart rate and blood pressure, dehydration, chest pain, extreme thirst, possible water retention, possible paranoia or panic, loss of consciousness, stroke, heart attack. Possibly fatal. The risk of overdose is greatly increased by combining with other buzz drugs.

Reversible: MDMA is a special case in this regard, see discussion after table. Most of the consequences of use are temporary, but they appear unpredictably, possibly after only a low level of use over a short period. Possible effects: depression, blurred vision, dizziness, vertigo, decreased concentration, decreased short-term memory, irritability.

Permanent: worn teeth from grinding. There is still debate as to whether or not it causes slight declines in some aspects of cognition, and no agreement at all as to which aspects are affected. Possible liver damage.

Unknown. Based on levels found in people who have died from overdose, roughly 16 times receational dose - about 800 to 1900 mg depending on your size and sensitivity. More references are needed. See discussion below of fake ecstasy.
Withdrawal Symptoms
Lethargy, poor concentration, low mood or mild to severe depression. In some cases, depression may persist for a few months. See notes in list following table.

Risk Category: Red (Take Care)
All drugs cause unusual side-effects or excessive reactions in some people. When first using a buzz drug, take only a small amount, and have someone monitor you. In the case of MDMA, this is so important, it determines the whole way it will be served to people. See below.

Here's what makes MDMA red dot in a unique way:

  1. The classic hangover from ecstasy can be severe and persist for a week. It is common for users to feel very drained the next day, and to experience mild to severe depression or irritability starting two days after the experience, which may persist for up to five days.
  2. Some users experience a hangover that is far longer and far worse. In addition to the classic hangover symptoms, any of the following symptoms may occur, and in some instances may persist for up to five weeks after the classic hangover resolves: short-term memory loss, blurred vision, inability to concentrate, persistent muscular tension especially in the jaw, dizziness, or a form of vertigo. Irritability or depression may also persist.
  3. Some people metabolize MDMA more slowly. This group is estimated at between 1% and 10% of the population. These people should take less.
  4. Taking MDMA gives you an immediate short-term tolerance, a phenomenon that greatly reduces your response to it. This slowly disappears over two weeks or so, but other neural changes last a month or more. If you take ecstasy more often than this, you make your hangover worse and longer. Also, heavy users sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because they had to take a very high dose to get an effect in the past when they were repeating doses frequently, they can tolerate the same high dose after several weeks without taking any. They don't realize they have now lost their tolerance, and their previous dose is now highly toxic, possibly deadly. Because tolerance to MDMA is so unusually fast, this mistake is way too easy to make.
  5. MDMA is an empathogen, it makes you more emotionally aware and empathic. This is the very special thing about it that gives some users profoundly positive experiences with a lasting effect on them. On the other hand, if you have buried within you difficult memories or feelings, this effect may cause you to go into crisis in the middle of your high. It is quite possible you won't realize this is going to happen to you until it actually does. There are recorded cases where it resulted in suicide. People with a history of anxiety, depression, or aggression should use ecstasy with extreme caution. Such mental conditions are often associated with a traumatic history the person may not be aware of or properly appreciate.
  6. It is typical for your experience of ecstasy to change the more often you use it. The buzz of it deteriorates in quality, the side-effects increase, and the hangover worsens. These changes appear to be permanent, and are referred to as the 'loss of magic'. There is ongoing debate as to why this happens, and whether or not it can be regarded as brain damage, given that it does not correspond to any other apparent mental changes.
  7. There are scattered, confirmed cases of first-time users dying on doses of MDMA - and only MDMA - within the normal range.
ecstasy pills, Wikimedia Commons, DEA

It is only fair to counter-balance this scary list with a few notes. First, in the great majority of cases - but not all - bad hangovers are due mostly to one or more of the following factors: mixing ecstasy with other buzz drugs, taking high doses, repeating doses at short intervals, fake or adulterated ecstasy, a history of abusing multiple buzzes, and/or a history of mental illness. Second, a legal right to use MDMA as a tool in psychotherapy is being pursued by several individuals and organizations because it can be wonderfully conducive to emotional awareness and healing when used in the right context, at the correct dose. This feature of ecstasy is what motivates many users to continue taking it even when their hangover is bad. At the same time, the increasing intensity and duration of the hangover, and the normal decrease in desired effects, is what motivates people to quit using ecstasy eventually. That is why addiction to it is extremely rare - people reach a point where it is causing stress, not relieving stress. Third, some people experience a better mood, not a worse mood, for several days after taking ecstasy - an 'afterglow'. Such people normally experience only a mild and brief hangover. There are people who have taken ecstasy hundreds of times without its buzz deteriorating or its hangover being troublesome. But most people are not so lucky.

The very tricky nature of MDMA requires special handling. Here's the deal: legalized MDMA would be sold only in buzz bars. The first time you decide to try it, your server would give you a very dilute, very low dose and monitor you until its effect on you is established. If you are one of the tiny minority that would be killed by a normal dose of ecstasy, your toxic reaction would be quickly apparent and the servers would be right there to deal with it. The drink format would allow you to vomit almost all of it, and they would do the rest, ensuring you come to no harm. No more ecstasy for you. Your purchase file would have that noted.

If you pass that test, you would be given a dose somewhat below the average moderate dose for your weight and gender (women respond more to MDMA than men do). If you are in the population that metabolizes ecstasy slowly, this would be apparent to the servers from your reaction to this dose. Based on that, they would determine the best dose for you - high enough for a good experience, and no higher. After that, when ordering MDMA you would never be served more than that amount.

If you belong to the majority of the population, who need a larger dose to get the full effect of MDMA, the servers would still wait and see how that somewhat lower dose plays out for you. For this purpose, during that first buzz they would ask you to stay close so they can monitor you properly. If you are vulnerable to emotional crisis or inappropriate behaviour when on ecstasy, this gives them a decent chance of seeing the signs. If so, the chill lounge would be there so you could rest in a calm, quiet, private area, hopefully with a friend, and the staff could watch over you, give you an activated charcoal shooter to help you come down faster, and provide general comfort. Then they would need to decide how to council you - should you limit yourself to MDE, or ensure you have a trusted friend with you the next few times you use ecstasy until you stabilize, or perhaps consider seeing your doctor for an evaluation? They would need to decide on a case by case basis. If your buzz goes smoothly at this lowered dose, next time they would give you the typical dose for someone your size and gender, and there might be a bit of fine tuning after that, and then that would be the dose that goes on your file. From then on, that would be the maximum amount you could order.

When you want MDMA, you could go take it at a buzz bar, up to a limit of once per week. As always, your order would have to be consumed on-site, but since the server would mix up a dose just for you, this would only be a matter of downing one drink. If you then want to go elsewhere, you could of course do so. Since an ecstasy buzz isn't going to be very good if repeated in less than a week, and is likely to cause a bad hangover, it shouldn't be too hard to convince people the once per week rule isn't a big imposition. Most people are far better off not repeating ecstasy use for at least a month, but because some people are good to go again in a week, this will be set as the minimum standard. Anyhow, you have to give people at least a little space to go overboard, if only so they can find out themselves why it isn't a good idea. For your first few times, you may well be able to redose that often without significant consequences. The temptation to get ecstasy from a street dealer might be too great if people are restricted more than this.

Because people will not be taking excess doses, or trying to extend their buzz by redosing with small amounts like is often done with street buzz drugs, repeating use in only a week would be unlikely to lead to the really bad hangovers people sometimes describe. Your server would not give you more than what your file shows is your ideal dose. Again, this situation should be acceptable to people once they understand that taking more ecstasy than your ideal dose doesn't get you higher anyhow, it only aggravates side effects. Bumping with a small dose can extend the experience, and used to be offered in therapy sessions at about the 1.5 hour mark - once. After that, bumping clearly caused more problems than it was worth, by making the hangover worse. During those heady early days of psychotherapeutic exploration of MDMA, the phenomenon of 'loss of magic' remained unknown. When that is taken into consideration, bumping even once doesn't seem worth it. People who start taking ecstasy weekly would of course be noticed by the purchase log, and servers would begin to ask them about hangovers, and council them regarding spacing ecstasy buzzes further apart for best effect, and possible ways of reducing the strain on their brain, which we will come back to.

Handling MDMA this way would make it a very safe buzz. Let's compare it to how street ecstasy is used. Street MDMA is mostly used at raves, which are huge all-night dance parties on the fringe of legality, or in other dance club venues. Raves are usually held in spaces not properly designed or licensed as dance clubs. They are often poorly ventilated and tend to get hot. Since ecstasy raises your body temperature and makes you want to dance to the music, it's obvious why this is a problem. By far the two most common causes of death by MDMA overdose are hyperthermia (overheating), and hyponatremia, which is low blood sodium caused by sweating and drinking too much water. (You can dilute yourself to death - kinda freaky.) The stifling heat in many a crowded rave contributes directly to death by hyperthermia. The heat contributes indirectly to hyponatremia by increasing sweating and thus thirst. It is possible that MDMA causes some people to retain fluids and/or gives you an exaggerated thirst, also increasing the likelihood of hyponatremia. Responsible rave organizers have responded to past deaths by setting aside 'chill' spaces where you can cool off. They should also sell juices or sports drinks, which contain sodium compounds specifically to alleviate hyponatremia (that's why athletes drink them).

Another big cause of street ecstasy deaths is that the pills contain all sorts of different things in all sorts of different quantities, and sometimes no MDMA at all. If you get actual MDMA, how much of it is in the pill is anybody's guess. It is so common that pills are faked from a long list of other stuff, people in the scene sometimes regard the term 'ecstasy' as referring to any pill sold as ecstasy, no MDMA required. Production of genuine ecstasy depends on access to safrole, the product of a tree that grows in Southeast Asia (where trafficking of it has resulted in many deaths and extensive damage to their forests). It is cheaper to produce a fake version based on such things as mCPP, 2C-B, domperidone, metoclopramide, or a plethora of other poorly studied substances whose risks are unknown. Certain common faking chemicals greatly increase your chances of overdose, such as mCPP, methamphetamine or 4-tma. PMA is a particularly dangerous ecstasy fake. PMA is a hallucinogenic amphetamine, like MDMA, but it causes hyperthermia and a racing heart much more intensely than ecstasy. PMA is also highly neurotoxic. If you think it is MDMA, your chances of overdosing skyrocket.

It is impossible to say how many lethal overdoses are due to fake ecstasy, or ecstasy that is mostly fake. People are taken to the emergency room with overdose symptoms, the doctors are told they took ecstasy, and then if the overdose is fatal, the autopsy looks for MDMA, to find out what the lethal dose was. At least in the past, it was typical that other chemicals commonly passed off as ecstasy were not looked for. This problem is now being corrected. In fact, there are several different kits available so you can check the contents of ecstasy pills before taking them - which is a wise thing to do. Fake or adulterated ecstasy is definitely responsible for some deaths blamed on ecstasy. What you hear in the news will almost never make any distinction between the two. However, MDMA on its own can definitely kill you, especially if you take a lot and help it along by dancing in the heat and drinking liters of water. The issue of fakes and the highly variable doses in pills completely confuses the question of MDMA safety. It is why the lethal dose is still only guessed at, and long-term effects are hard to establish. Almost all chronic users have been consuming adulterated or fake ecstasy some portion of the time, and an unknown amount of MDMA even when that is actually what they took.

As well as selling only pure, simple MDMA, this legal systsem would put the anti-vasoconstriction formula also planned for methylphenidate in all MDMA drinks - sodium nitrite, potassium chloride, and vitamin C and E. This would relieve vasoconstriction to lower blood pressure and heart rate, and protect blood sodium levels too, alleviating both hyperthermia and hyponatremia. The doses given to you under legalization would make either problem extremely unlikely, but these extra ingredients would make the buzz easier on your body and more comfortable. The vitamin C and E prevent sodium nitrate from forming carcinogenic compounds in your gut, and in the case of MDMA extra of both would be added to help with the oxidative stress it causes. Some vitamin A, riboflavin, and alpha lipoic acid could be tossed in for the same reason. That last link you passed goes to an excellent article on Erowid laying out all the science on this, if you take MDMA i highly recommend it.

Loading your body with anti-oxidants is not just a way to protect against side-effects, happily. At the right doses, and especially if you take them not only with your MDMA, but also a few hours before, and continue for a full day afterwards, they will reduce your hangover and also your tolerance. With legal hurdles out of the way, the best combination and correct dosages of anti-oxidants could be researched, but lacking that, the best approach is probably to stay just below the doses at which some anti-oxidants become slightly toxic themselves. Here's what that is - 1600 IU of vitamin E, 3000 micrograms of vitamin A, 2000 mg of vitamin C, and 600 mg alpha lipoic acid per day. Taking that much will definitely do you no harm, and taking more would probably not do you any more good. Actually it's probably not a good idea to take that much vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid every day, but for a few days it's no problem. So, starting at least 4 hours before the MDMA, dose up with all of those things. Dividing the doses into 3 or 4 portions taken over time helps them to be better absorbed, especially in the case of vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid, which your body rapidly metabolizes. Try getting the alpha lipoic acid as a time-release pill, and crushing up the vitamin C and adding it to a fruity drink sipped throughout the day. Get vitamin A, not beta-carotene, its precursor, because beta-carotene and vitamin E are absorbed by the same protein which would create a bottleneck to absorption. Be sure to dose with these vitamins during your MDMA peak, because at that time your body is going 'holy crap!' and rustling up all the antioxidants it can find, so it might make better use of a heap of incoming supplies. Continue for a full day, or two, after the buzz wears off. 5-HTP has been shown by a couple of studies to help your body restore serotonin levels, which MDMA hugely depletes. This could help with the depression and irritability caused by low serotonin levels after ecstasy use. The conversion process is slow, so again, it is better to take two or three doses per day to give your system a constant supply, and keep it up for a good week after the ecstasy. 100 mg/day or so is probably the most your body can make use of, besides which more could make you feel sick. Some people feel that taking 5-HTP before ecstasy helps the buzz, but unless your serotonin levels are low, and you do it for several days before taking MDMA, there is little reason to think this works.

Ecstasy has been accused of decreasing mental performance in users long-term or permanently. In an encouraging display of scientific objectivity, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an American government institution, recognized that previous studies on this question were flawed, and funded a new study with better methodology to check their results. That study found that MDMA does not cause any long-term mental defecits even in chronic users. Hopefully, this is an indication that NIDA will begin to fund other objective studies on illicit buzz drug use, something they have normally not done in the past. There has also been a lot of investigation into whether ecstasy use can contribute to a slight lowering of average mood among users, even long after ecstasy use has ceased. Some of these studies show it does, while others show it does not. In any case, there is nothing demonstrating such changes, if they exist, could be permanent. And again, these changes are associated with chronic heavy use of MDMA. The moderate doses offered by buzz bars would eliminate the possibility of such changes, especially since they would be taken no more frequently than once a week.

It is interesting to note the vast difference in opinion between the Wikipedia page on MDMA, and the Wikipedia page on 'Effects of MDMA on the Human Body' on these questions. The medical impact of ecstasy is controversial enough that it makes a good study of the philosophical wrangling that goes on on Wikipedia between opposing camps. The Wayback Machine has a record of its MDMA page from November 2010 that harshly judges chronic use, mentioning certain reports that showed decreases in memory and other mental tasks, and that associated ecstasy use with increased rates of depression and anxiety. It didn't mention that other reports show the opposite, or that there was criticism of the methodology of the studies on mental functioning. It also misrepresented the nature of the studies related to depression - these studies showed there was a correlation between repeated ecstasy use and higher rates of depression and anxiety. They were not showing that the ecstasy was the cause. In a nearly ever-present mistake in analysis among prohibitionists, the write-up didn't consider that people who use mood-enhancing drugs a lot do so because they are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety than people who do not. The studies that show that MDMA use does not cause depression were not mentioned. The 'Effects of MDMA on the Human Body' Wikipedia page is a lot more neutral, though cautious. It explains in detail what the argument is really about, and in the end declares that nothing can be concluded yet, either regarding mental functioning, or mood. This page is an example of how controversial Wikipedia pages spawn related pages on different aspects of the argument, which get more into details and are generally more reliable than their parent pages. Politics and science - they just shouldn't be mixed.

Now for a brief look at MDE. Very little is really known about it, actually. The information on it available online mostly consists of the data at Erowid, a site dedicated to the examination of recreational buzz use. This site is maintained largely by two pharmacologists, a husband and wife team. Alexander Shulgin, another pharmacologist, and creator of 2C-B, which will be discussed later, also discusses MDE in 'Pihkal', a book available online at Erowid. Normally i strive to find data that is way more formal than this, but in the case of newer or less common substances, sometimes that isn't possible. At any rate, these people know what they are talking about. The consensus is that MDE is like MDMA but milder, especially that it is less stimulating and produces less of a sense of intimacy with those around you. As mentioned above, this would make it useful for people who find MDMA too strong, or who wish a more relaxed, less intimate buzz. Because they are so similar chemically, probably MDE is cross-tolerant with MDMA. Using either one would have to reset the clock for how soon you would be free to use either one again. Still, MDE may be somewhat easier on the body, by virtue of the fact that the experience is milder and also shorter. MDE buzzes last about 2 to 4 hours, whereas MDMA buzzes last 3 to 5 hours. At higher doses, MDE is reported to cause a 'stoned' feeling, making you far more passive than is typical with MDMA, and causing some loss of motor control. Your MDE dose would be determined by buzz bar servers, though, just like with MDMA, so you wouldn't be given a high dose. Unless further research shows MDE causes health issues, which is fairly unlikely considering its close chemical similarity to MDMA, MDE would be useful as a gentler version of MDMA.

Modafinil (Provigil, Alertec, Modiodal, Modalert)

modafinil molecule, Wikimedia Commons

Modafinil is regarded as a 'wakefulness promoting agent', and not a classic stimulant, because the way it works is quite different, and actually no one is sure how exactly it stimulates you. Although it affects some of the same neurotransmitters as other stimulants, it also does other things that none of them do, such as raise histamine levels in the hypothalamus. It does not trigger a fight or flight response, which is the great thing about it in terms of legalization. No matter how much you take, it will not make your heart race, or your blood pressure jump, or make you sweat, or raise your body temperature. There are no known cases of anyone dying from a modafinil overdose. There are records of more than one unsuccessful suicide attempt with modafinil, resulting only in cramping, headache, somewhat elevated heartbeat, and agitation - and the agitation really ought to be largely chalked up to just having tried to kill yourself, poor things. Truth is, modafinil is safer than caffeine.

Buzz Effect Chronic Heavy Use Effects Lethal Dose

Mental: wakefulness, alertness, improved mood, improved memory, possible nervousness or irritability, possible euphoria.

Physical: possible nausea, headache, dizziness.

At excess dose: anxiety, agitation, confusion, nausea, tremor, possible heart palpitation, aggressiveness, diarrhea

Modafinil may reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives.

There are no known long-term negative effects of modafinl use. Hormonal contraceptives may not return to full effectiveness for a month after use ceases. Modafinil may have neuroprotective effects - it may protect your neurons from certain kinds of degeneration. There are no recorded cases of death from modafinil overdose
Withdrawal Symptoms
Modafinil is not considered to cause any withdrawal symptoms

Risk Category: Blue (Low Risk)
All drugs cause unusual side-effects or excessive reactions in some people. When first using a buzz drug, take only a small amount, and have someone monitor you.

Notice the comments in the table about neuroprotective effects, and improved memory. Seriously, could you ask for anything more? Although how this works is unknown, there is solid evidence from several studies that modafinil protects brain cells from glutamate cytotoxicity. Whatever that is, i'm happy to be protected from it. It is also well-established that modafinil improves several kinds of working memory - so much so, that there is an argument going on in the research world about the implications of calling modafinil a cognitive enhancer. The prohibitionist crowd dislikes the idea of any happy pill being legalized so much, they are belittling the well-researched evidence that modafinil helps your brain, lest you demand to be allowed to use it. They know the thin edge of a wedge when they see one.

the main brand of modafinil

After discussions began bubbling up among neuroscientists of modafinil's potential as a cognitive enhancer, a study was done to re-examine modafinil's 'addictiveness'. It sort of amazes me the knots researchers tie themselves in to get evidence for this ephemeral quality of 'addictiveness'. To me it seems simple enough to conclude that if a chemical makes you feel good, some people will depend on it to feel good, because otherwise they feel kind of bad. At what point that becomes a physical addiction, and what exact brain chemistry is involved, seems really beside the point. But, these days, neuroscientists feel that if a chemical affects the neurotransmitters that are known to create feelings of pleasure, then it is possible to become addicted to it, and if it doesn't, then addiction isn't possible. Why the fact that people feel pleasure when they use it isn't sufficient evidence that pleasure-mediating neurotransmitters are involved, i have no idea. Anyhow, for a long time modafinil was considered to be 'non-addictive' because it did little to affect dopamine in a bunch of tests done on it. But lo, if you do the only test that matters, of giving some people a (rather high) dose of modafinil, and then measuring the free dopamine in their system, you see it has gone way up. The first study that did this found dopamine went up as much as it does with methylphenidate. That means those people were feeling gooood. Less formal reporting by people who experiment with buzzes a lot shows modafinil has some feel-good potential, but that comparing it to methylphenidate is just like, wow, such lame-ass posing.

So then why isn't modafinil abused more often? In an informal poll of readers done by Nature magazine in 2008, 44% of respondents admitted to using modafinil. They were after the mental boost it gives, not a high. Well... mostly, anyhow. Considering modafinil has only been commercially available since 1994, and only widely available as a prescription drug since the end of the '90's, that's a rather quick adoption of the buzz, among a population not known for its recreational drug use - Nature is one of the world's premiere science journals, read almost entirely by science professionals. Modafinil is now easily ordered from online pharmacies (as is methylphenidate, for that matter) as a generic version that costs a small fraction of the price of the patented version. But unlike methylphenidate, nobody has been frantically treated to avert death from overdose, nobody has gone into detox to quit their pernicious modafinil habit. The question is, why would you even care if someone is addicted to modafinil? Surely people out there are, but like caffeine addiction, this is so insignificant when compared to addictions like cocaine or heroin, it isn't even noticed. A great deal of the vast prohibition machinery out there is dedicated to the message that all addictions leave empty husks of human beings in their wake, and you are just one indiscretion away from becoming another statistic. When a buzz drug appears, becomes widely available, and this doesn't happen, the prohibition press corp becomes perplexed. It seems to me this shows up an unvoiced belief true prohibitionists share - getting high is a vice, and vices are always punished by the unseen order of things, therefore buzz use has to lead to serious physical harm. I'm sure they often discuss it over coffee.

Of course, taking too much modafinil will make you wired and jittery, you may become anxious or confused or aggressive, and your heart may even skip. That is unpleasant and you would naturally respond by reducing your dose. If you don't, you have a psychological addiction. Modafinil does not appear to cause physical cravings. The issue is probably that you feel some need to push yourself, and so you ignore your body's objections and continue to take excess doses to keep going, the same way people do with caffeine. Maybe it is a career thing, or an academic thing.

At any rate, modafinil will not enable you to go days without sleep, like amphetamine abuse can. It will get you through one sleepless night nicely, might do you for two in a pinch, after that it just isn't enough. Which is a good thing. It does not give that added jolt that other stimulants provide by setting off a huge fight or flight response. It only acts on the brain. Therefore modafinil cannot provide the same rush. Serious stimulant abusers are likely to prefer other stimulants for the sense of physical vigour and stamina they give. However, modafinil could be very useful as a milder, gentler buzz that would allow addicted stimulant users to get a fix sufficient for them to feel alright, and cut down their use of hard stimulants - in this legal model that would be strictly methylphenidate - to once or twice a week. In a buzz drug rotation schedule that is mostly or entirely stimulants, it would be better to use modafinil several days in a row and try throwing in a couple of days on khat or coca leaf, or perhaps kava or psilocin occasionally, than to use methylphenidate more often.

Modafinil is not a controlled substance in many countries - including Canada, Australia, Mexico, Britain, and Germany. In all these countries, it is sold as a prescription medicine only, but as it is not controlled, possession of it in any quantity is not a crime. India and England already permit it to be legally manufactured and sold as a generic drug. In the United States, sale of generic versions will begin in 2012. It will be interesting to see how the politics around modafinil develop, as it becomes ever easier and cheaper to acquire. How do you demonize it? How do you justify all sorts of other drug laws, if you don't?

Incidentally, one of the things modafinil is most often prescribed for is ADD, or ADHD. It was being considered for prescription to children with this disorder in the United States, where the vast majority of ADD diagnoses take place, but that plan was cancelled after a clinical trial of 933 children showed that 8 children developed a skin rash that seemed to be caused by it. One of those cases was very severe, but later resolved. Why couldn't children be monitored for rash and associated symptoms early on, and simply be switched to methylphenidate if that begins to develop? Really, are they saying methylphenidate has fewer side effects on children, even though it is clearly a far more potent buzz drug? Even when a number of children have died from Ritalin overdose? Not to mention children dying from their prescription dose of Ritalin, when it turned out to aggravate an undiagnosed heart condition? Rashes develop slowly, can be arrested in their early stages by stopping drug use, and they heal. Heart attacks strike brutally without warning, and then your kid has heart damage for life, or is dead. The drug approval process in America seems seriously broken.

Alkyl Nitrite (Poppers)

Inhaling alkyl nitrite vapours gives you a head rush and euphoria lasting a few minutes. Nitrites relax smooth muscles, the involuntary muscles throughout your body that regulate such things as blood flow and the passage of food through your gut. Popper fumes quickly cause a wave of blood vessel dilation to pass through you, which your heart compensates for by pumping faster, so your pulse jumps. Your skin flushes, making you feel warm, the muscle relaxation makes you feel more relaxed, and the change in blood flow makes you dizzy and rather euphoric while it lasts. Your body quickly processes the nitrites, and it is all over in less than five minutes. Poppers are typically used during sex, as for many people they enhance arousal.

various brands of poppers, Wikipedia, UK Home Office
Buzz Effect Chronic Heavy Use Effects Lethal Dose

Mental: euphoria, enhances sexual arousal, dizziness, relaxation.

Physical: flushed face, feeling of warmth, faster heart rate.

At excess dose: headache, nausea, vomiting, faintness, paleness, sweating

At overdose: extreme headache, racing heart, incontinence, feelings of suffocation, fainting. Combining high doses with high intake of alcohol or other depressants can cause severe hypotension and cardiovascular collapse - not fatal.

Reversible: possible rash around mouth and nose.

Permanent: none

There are no known cases of lethal overdose from inhalation. Taken orally it is toxic and death is possible.
Withdrawal Symptoms
Poppers are not considered to cause withdrawal symptoms.

Risk Category: Blue (Low Risk)
All drugs cause unusual side-effects or excessive reactions in some people. When first using a buzz drug, take only a small amount, and have someone monitor you.

Between 1960 and 1969, amyl nitrite, the most common form of popper, was available over the counter in the United States. It came as glass ampoules which were popped under the nose and inhaled, as a remedy for angina. The prescription requirement before 1960 was removed because of its excellent safety record. That requirement was reinstated in 1969 after people started using it for fun. Why this was a concern is unclear. Perhaps it had to do with the fact it was most commonly used by gay men.

Multiple reputable scientific sources regard alkyl nitrites as drugs with minimal risks. People who use them very heavily can get rashes around their nose and mouth from the volatile vapors, which heal if use is reduced. Rarely, such heavy use can also lead to methemoglobinemia, which sounds scary but isn't. It means more than 1% of your blood's hemoglobin has been changed to methamoglobin, which is useless for supplying oxygen. At low severity it makes you lethargic and headachy, at high severity, faint and dizzy. Treatment is simple and quick, with a bit of methylene blue, then you are good to go. One doctor in France accused poppers of causing eye damage, but no one else has ever described such a case, and there is no known mechanism for such damage. Because it is illegal, or barely legal, in most places, it is usually sold in small vials labeled as air freshener or polish remover. This format is what causes most of the problems. It makes it possible to spill it on yourself, which will burn you, to inhale an overdose quantity, or to drink it, which is quite toxic. People also apparently like to dip a cigarette in it, and inhale it through the unlit cigarette. If they forget, and light the cigarette, it will ignite in a ball of flame likely to singe their eyebrows off.

Medically, glass ampoules of alkyl nitrite are still used for angina, and occasionally to treat cyanide poisoning. This format is vastly safer than the vials. They come in one dose portions, can't be spilled, even swallowing a few (whole) would do you little harm. Legalization would allow this format to become the standard. It would also allow proper labeling, which would mention that it should not be used in combination with other vasodilators, especially Viagra. Viagra also works by causing vasodilation, so the two in combination can cause a severe drop in blood pressure. The effect feels similar to shock. Since the buzz only lasts for two or 3 minutes, this wouldn't be dangerous for you unless you already had heart disease and you were exerting yourself in some (ahem) way.

Khat (Qat)

Khat (pronounce 'kot'), like coca leaf, is the leaf of a bush which is commonly chewed in the region where it is native and regarded there as an inoffensive custom useful for socializing and for getting through long work days. In the case of khat, this region is the Horn of Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula. The sale of khat is aggressively prosecuted in the United States as a serious drug offense, and many countries in Europe have also specifically banned it. Khat was not treated as a street drug, however, until a series of political events caused escalating suspicion of people from the khat-growing region in the United States.

catha edulis, the khat bush. Wikimedia Commons, Author A. Davey

The United Nations decided in 1986 to place cathinone, the principal psychoactive component of khat, on the list of Schedule I psychoactives, which is the second most restrictive classification the UN has. As is normal procedure, America's Food and Drug Administration then conducted an assessment of khat which it completed in 1992. As it did so, Somalia, a major grower and consumer of khat, was being torn apart by the tribal fighting that followed the expulsion of its dictator Siad Barre. The FDA recommended to the Drug Enforcement Agency that cathinone be placed on Schedule I, the United States' severest criminal category for buzz drugs. Although the recommendation was unrelated to other events occuring at the time, by chance the DEA duly listed cathinone as Schedule I just a month after 25,000 American troops were deployed in Mogadishu to protect famine relief programs from heavily armed tribal gangs. After that, the tensions between America and the traditional khat-using region of the world steadily mounted. For a long time, although all khat imported into the USA was illegal, as anything containing an illegal substance is itself illegal, prosecution of this law was extremely rare. The leaf was only used by expat communities, in their traditional manner. But those expat communities grew by leaps and bounds as Somalis, in particular, fled the nightmare war in their home country. Khat began to be noticed by the authorities. In 2000, the year the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in a Yemeni harbor, killing 17 American sailors, the police began laying charges for khat possession for the first time. After the 9/11 attacks, prosecution for khat possession became seen by American security organizations as an anti-terrorism activity. The entire native khat region is Muslim, and Al-Qaeda is highly active in both Yemen and Somalia.

This political tension makes the comparison of coca leaf and khat even more interesting. Attitudes in the popular press to each of the two leaves is very different. Coca leaf usually makes the news in pieces where South Americans and travellers to the region declare it is a harmless mild buzz and deserves to be legal. Khat makes the news mostly in pieces about the new illegal trade in the leaf, which is now transitioning from ho-hum produce to smuggled illegal drug. The active ingredient in coca leaf is cocaine, a buzz drug that is very damaging to your health when taken at high purity. The active ingredients in khat are two varieties of sympathomimetic amine - cathinone, which is closely related to amphetamine, and cathine, which is more like ephedrine. They too, are very damaging to your health in high purity, and for pretty much the same reasons cocaine is. They raise your blood pressure and heart rate, and over time increase your chances of a heart attack or stroke. If the psychoactive chemicals in khat and coca are so similar, can khat really be so much more dangerous than coca leaf?

Here we have a case where Google Scholar really shines. A search in Google Scholar for 'coca leaf' or 'coca chew' reveals that there are virtually no studies on the health impact of chronic coca chewing, and very few studies of any kind. This actually gives us a stellar bit of information - coca leaf research has been stifled for political reasons, as was mentioned above in its section. A search for 'khat' shows a good number of studies, a review of which shows clearly there is no basis to the accusations of over-zealous DEA and Homeland Security types that khat is dangerous. All the same, the first convictions for khat trafficking are now being handed down. And what do you know - most of the people involved are Somali, the lawless land America now fears. Why? Because khat is now illegal in most of the West, by far the easiest place to set up the shipping is Somalia, where there is essentially no government to restrict it at the behest of allies. The people most willing to get involved are the people who are no stranger to danger, Somalis from a broken land. Smuggling through Yemen is also picking up, as it deteriorates into low-grade civil war. And now that it is illegal, the money to be had is 10 to 15 times what it was before, so there is plenty of motivation. Hopefully, it is a sign of the times that although official rhetoric continues, media reporting on it has been fairly balanced, if still a bit prone to scary drug hype. Good access to facts and willingness to listen to swarthy foreigners has minimized paranoia and scapegoating. 50 years ago, khat would have been demonized just like marijuana was.

Buzz Effect Chronic Heavy Use Effects Lethal Dose

Mental: alertness, sense of energy, improved mood, decreased inhibition, confidence, mild euphoria, wakefulness, contemplation, possible mild hallucinations in some people

Physical: increased heart rate and blood pressure, dry mouth, dilated pupils, constipation, loss of appetite

At excess dose: elevated body temperature, agitation, possible aggressiveness, big increases in heart rate and blood pressure

Reversible: reduced concentration, possible gingivitis, possible weight loss, sleep disturbances, possible stimulant psychosis which will resolve after 10 to 14 days of abstinence.

Permanent: staining and deterioration of teeth, possible increased risk of heart attack or irregular heartbeat, slightly increased risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, or stomach

There are no known cases of lethal overdose from khat
Withdrawal Symptoms
Lethargy, difficulty concentrating, mild depression, nightmares, possible tremor. Symptoms resolve in under 2 weeks.

Risk Category: Blue/Yellow (Low Risk / Some Risk)
All drugs cause unusual side-effects or excessive reactions in some people. When first using a buzz drug, take only a small amount, and have someone monitor you.

The tragic recent history of almost the entire region where the khat bush is native gives us a lesson in buzzes and context. Statistical and case studies of khat over the past 2 decades deal largely with khat as an aggravator of psychosis. In the good ol' days of 1972, when the seminal paper on khat was published by Dr. Halbach of the World Health Organization, the horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula were peaceful places, if poor. That study noted that stimulant psychosis due to khat use was exceedingly rare. In contrast, studies since 1990 have often dwelt on the effect khat has on psychosis. But the good ones put it in context - in societies torn apart by conflict, stimulant use is bound to lead more frequently to full-blown psychosis. Blaming psychotic behaviour on buzz use is silly. Context is everything.

The WHO reviewed khat again in 2006. The new review reflects how bureaucracy and politics have changed the WHO since the '70s. The essay style is gone, replaced by laundry-list summaries assembled by an anonymous staff. Once again, context is lost, creating a narrow story with no name attached, confined to a format that is bound to exaggerate ills and miss the benefits of whatever substance is being examined. The potential for heart attacks among khat users is mentioned, without adding that the only two studies showing this were clearly preliminary - based on statistical analysis of a small number of heart attack patients admitted to one Yemen hospital. They did not correct for the typical presence of hookahs in Yemeni khat-chewing rooms, with their thick tobacco smoke, or the often stuffy air in these rooms, or cola and tea often served with the khat. Together, this amounts to three stimulants at once; caffeine, tobacco, and khat. Cola and tea also contain methylxanthines, which augment the stimulation of khat, so the brew is stronger still. All this in a crowded room with poor air circulation, thus oxygen-poor. A small amount of further study continues to overlook the fact that khat chewers are much more likely to be smokers than those who don't chew khat, or the pronounced way poverty and social stress (like civil war, for instance) tend to increase khat usage while decreasing access to medical help.

man selling qat in Somalia. World66.com

The review goes on to mention a link between khat and oral or upper gastro-intestinal cancer in long-term heavy khat users. The 1972 review also noted a clear link between khat and a number of gastro-intestinal ailments, including cancer, but added a very salient observation - these problems arise from khat's very high tannin content, a family of chemicals known to be highly irritating to human tissue, especially over time. The tannins have nothing to do with khat's stimulating effects, so acknowledging the buzz in the leaf is not to blame would have removed a central argument for banning it. There are ways the tannins could be reduced without affecting khat's buzz. It would then be much healthier, and two of its principle side-effects would also have been resolved - it is the tannins that so commonly cause constipation in users (which can later develop to hemorrhoids), and that stains their teeth (which can later contribute to dental disease). A tea bottled as a commercial product could be mixed to be milder than chewing the leaves, as well. Tea like that would merit blue dot status. Depending on who you believe, khat leaves may also deserve blue dot status. Because the cathinone in fresh khat leaves is an amphetamine, it would take much further study to assure that fresh khat leaves are not a health risk worthy of the yellow dot risk category.

The cathinone in khat leaves completely breaks down into cathine in 2 to 3 days. Cathine is also an amphetamine, but about one-tenth as potent. Therefore expat khat users in Europe and America are not getting nearly as high as their countrymen back in the homeland. Yet some expat community members see khat use as a problem, although it is accepted back in their homeland. Why is that? Answering that question reveals a great deal about how prohibition takes hold.

To be specific, the East African immigrants who see khat as a problem are mostly the women-folk. Women rarely use khat, as that is frowned upon in their cultures. In Britain their ire at their husbands' khat habit became organized enough to generate a government study on the matter. Also, they are mostly Somali. The British study didn't even survey other khat-using communities. Since the Kenyan community in Britain is larger than the Somali community, and the Yemeni khat tradition is so similar to Somalia's, you'd think khat use in all three groups would have been investigated. It is a central part of all three cultures. Yet across Europe media overwhelmingly focus on Somali expats. As in Yemen, Somali culture makes khat-chewing mostly an afternoon social event held in all-male settings. In expat communities struggling with culture shock and limited access to jobs, such a gender divide is bound to lead to problems. The men chew more to soothe their stress, the women grumble about having to shoulder more responsibility, and then discover the novelty of their gripes being listened to by a foreign culture that values their opinions. Why only Somali women? Well, Yemen and Kenya have not been engaged in a shattering civil war since the mid-80s (although Yemen is starting to catch up on that score). Somali expat communities are riddled with PTSD from the word go. That said, the UK's Home Office recommended that khat remain uncontrolled, and did so again in a follow-up study in 2011. They found that it was an important cultural element for recent immigrants and a minor concern in terms of health isssues. The Netherlands found the same thing when their government studied it, but they recently outlawed it anyhow. Listed reasons: noise, litter, and 'the perceived public threat posed by men who chew khat'. The 19th century temperance movement could hardly have said it better.

Khat tea is already one of the ways of taking khat. Considering the high content of corrosive tannins in the leaves, drinking a tea instead of storing a mushy lump of leaves in your cheek for long periods is almost certainly healthier. Going on from there, a legal, commercial khat business could look into breeding a lower-tannin strain of khat, or processing the leaf to remove tannins. A commercial business would also have no trouble providing the cold storage necessary to preserving cathinone content, and a drink formula that preserves it longer. This would be a very good thing, because khat offers a unique variation on the buzz experience, and all indications are that even frequent moderate use doesn't put you at risk of anything. It just gives you a talkative, active high, followed by a dreamy descent, all done in about 3 hours (unless you keep taking more). The one prudent thing when legalizing it would to specify that the leaves used for khat products may not contain more than a certain percentage of the psychoactive ingredients, as would be done for all plant-based buzzes. The amphetamine analogues it contains, cathine and cathinone, can definitely be dangerous at higher doses, so it is important to preserve the dilute intake spread over time that results from taking buzz drugs as natural plant substances, like nature intended.

Ibogaine as a Stimulant

Ibogaine is mostly known as a powerful hallucinogen with some very special properties. It is examined elsewhere on this site for its amazing usefulness as a treatment for addiction, and has its main section under hallucinogens, where it is discussed in much more detail. For extra value, at doses far below how it is used as a hallucinogen, ibogaine acts as a stimulant. It was sold as a stimulant in France for 40 years under the brand name Lambarene. The International Olympic Committee banned it as a potential doping agent in the late '60s - but that no longer seems to be in force, so there's your heads-up, if you are into that sort of thing. In Gabon, where the Bwiti religion has used iboga root ceremonially for centuries, people sometimes use it when they need to be alert or fend off fatigue. Information on ibogaine's effects as a stimulant are very thin online, but its history in France and Gabon indicates it is safe for this kind of use.

I was only able to find one anecdotal account online of ibogaine used for its stimulant effects. That one account says that, yep, it works. It says other things too, but since it is just one person's experience, best to just leave it at that. Since it was legally sold in France until 1970, there must be academic studies in the literature of its stimulant effects, however i have not found any that are publically available on the web. That would be useful to assess the potential for abuse and its chronic effects. Lambarene was pulled from the market because ibogaine was banned for its hallucinogen effects, there wasn't a safety concern.

That is enough to go on to say that ibogaine would be useful as a stimulant drink in legalization. Lambarene was sold as tablets containing 8 mg each, so that would probably be about the right dose per beverage. The way ibogaine acts in the brain is very complex, a slew of different receptors and neurotransmitters are involved. Potentially, heavy stimulant users would not have cross-tolerance problems between ibogaine and other stimulants. If so, it would be useful as a stimulant that could be used to broaden a rotation regimen for stimulant abusers to spread out their use and avoid tolerance. It is actually being studied at the moment as a treatment for methamphetamine addiction through the use of small, daily doses. For casual users, it would be a variation on a theme, a different buzz perhaps preferable under some circumstances or for some people.

Ibogaine increases the effects of opium and other opiates by binding to opiate receptors in the brain. At the low doses sold in stimulant drinks, this effect is unlikely to be significant enough to present dangers. Ibogaine binds to many different kinds of receptor, so only a small proportion of an ibogaine dose ends up on opiate receptors. This matter would need to be studied before putting such a drink on the market to ensure it is safe in this respect. If such study confirms that 8 mg ibogaine drinks are too weak to increase the risk of opiate overdose, they would qualify as yellow or perhaps even blue risk. Ibogaine at the doses used in addiction treatment have on a few occasions proven fatal to people with pre-existing heart, liver, or gastrointestinal conditions. However, doses for such treatment start at 100 times the dose of one of these proposed ibogaine stimulant drinks.

For the table on ibogaine effects and further details, see its section under hallucinogens here.

Tobacco

The number one killer in the whole wide world, yay tobacco. It's true. Put together all the people who die from cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and strokes caused by smoking cigarettes, and it is the biggest cause of death in the world. One half of all smokers die as a direct result of their smoking habit. Sometimes, people who just spend too much time around them die too, from second-hand smoke. Tobacco is a classic examination of the human need for creature comforts to handle stress. Addiction to it is regarded as one of the very hardest to break. Why this is, is a compelling question. The physical withdrawal symptoms when quitting tobacco are not nearly as severe as those from any of the main depressant buzzes, most notably alcohol and heroin, or any of the main stimulants, most notably cocaine and methamphetamine. The difference between tobacco and these other buzz drugs is that tobacco is way more effective as a coping tool. It makes you feel good without making it harder to carry on your life normally. It helps you concentrate, lifts your mood, keeps you going, all without any disruption to your ability to interact normally with others, or any alarming side effects. The toll on your health taken by smoking builds up slowly and is not debilitating... until one day it is, at which point it is likely to kill you. Unless you have a weak ticker that makes you more vulnerable to heart attack, that probably won't happen until you have been smoking steadily for at least 20 years. As those years pass by, smoking helps you get through your days and enjoy social moments more. That is why people find it so hard to stop smoking. It's a matter of human psychology. And not just the psychology of you, the smoker, but also of all the people around you. Even in these days when smokers are banished from many group settings when smoking, smoking is still socially acceptable. If you did a line of coke in public, there would be shock and dismay, and you would receive numerous exhortations to quit. Even alcohol addicts receive a lot more social pressure to quit than tobacco addicts - drunkenness becomes annoying and embarrassing to your social group, they pity you. But tobacco addicts can just coast. It is a sneaky, nasty little buzz.

A warning label on a cigarette pack in Canada.

This is the buzz drug that would be most beneficial to eliminate from use, yet nobody proposes banning it, because it is obvious that just wouldn't work. Governments in rich countries have concentrated on restricting advertising, requiring ads and packaging to make the risks clear, high taxes, public education, and subsidizing programs to assist people in quitting. These approaches would all be used for the buzzes to be legalized, so it is comforting to know the results have been good. Private industry's response to the greatly increased awareness of the risks of tobacco mirrors techniques legalization would use, also. The industry has developed other ways of consuming tobacco that are less harmful in hopes of getting sales among people hooked on tobacco who want to cut down the risks. Tobacco is an excellent test case for most of the claims made here about why legalization would be a huge improvement over prohibition.

Note that this is a discussion of tobacco, not of nicotine. It is a little-known but important fact that nicotine is only one of two chemicals that produce tobacco's buzz. The other is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), which may be produced by the combustion of tobacco or be naturally present in the leaf - the sources are still not clear. Nicotine and the MAOI together have a very different effect to nicotine alone. It is the MAOI that makes tobacco such an effective mood lifter - some MAOIs are prescription anti-depressant drugs. You can also become physically addicted to them. Because of the importance of the MAOI, nicotine gum and patches, which don't contain one, do not fulfill the definition of tobacco here. That goes a long way towards explaining why these products only prove effective as a quitting aid for 10% of the people who try them. It may actually be the case that at least for some smokers, the biggest appeal of smoking is the hit of MAOI. If you are using the patch/gum system to quit, try getting some good coffee - much better it be decaf - and having a hot mug a few times a day - coffee contains a MAOI very similar to the one found in tobacco.

Buzz Effect Chronic Heavy Use Effects Lethal Dose

Mental: improved mood, alertness, pleasure, calmness, improved confidence, improved concentration

Physical: increased energy, increased heart rate, narrowing of blood vessels (vasoconstriction), increased blood pressure, reduced appetite. Dizziness and nausea are experienced by novice smokers.

Note: People often mention relaxation as an effect of tobacco. It does lift your mood, but it is not physically or mentally relaxing. It may be that improved mood and calmness is being referred to, or that relief from emerging symptoms of withdrawal led to some relative relaxation.

Reversible: weight loss, increased susceptibility to infection, staining of teeth and possibly fingers, increased blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reduced blood circulation and oxygen carrying capacity, reduced lung capacity, erectile dysfunction. Extensive lung damage, narrowing and weakening of blood vessels, and buildup of fatty plaques within them, is reversible to a degree highly dependent on the individual involved and the steps taken. Diet and exercise play a crucial role.

Permanent: Increased risk of: heart disease, heart attack, various types of cancer, emphysema, chronic obstructive lung disease, stroke, and tooth loss.

Note: The form in which tobacco is consumed has a big impact on the associated health damage. Cigarettes are more dangerous than cigars or pipes, which are more dangerous than chewing or dipping tobacco, which are more dangerous than snus, which is steam-cured, food-grade dipping tobacco from Sweden. Details below.

0.5 - 1.0 mg/kg of body weight of nicotine can be deadly. Nicotine is probably the most poisonous chemical in tobacco, and the only one you could plausibly consume in quantities sufficient to kill you, such as by combining nicotine gum and patches with smoking. This, of course, only refers to deaths caused by acute exposure to componenets of tobacco, not by chronic use.
Withdrawal Symptoms
Dizziness, headaches, insomnia, chest discomfort, and constipation lasting 1 to 2 weeks. Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, coughing, runny nose, and hunger lasting up to a few weeks. Acute craving subsides over the first week, but traces of craving may persist even permanently.

Risk Category: Yellow (Some Risk)
All drugs cause unusual side-effects or excessive reactions in some people. When first using a buzz drug, take only a small amount, and have someone monitor you.

Tobacco is already legal, so it would be offered in buzz shops and buzz bars largely as directed by local law. Most countries already have laws in place meant to limit the damage done by tobacco, and some nations have gone quite far in this regard. There are ways in which this legal model goes even farther, though. Buzz stores and buzz bars would provide a service focussed on health and safety first. The policy of emphasizing healthier choices for any given buzz or type of buzz would impact how tobacco is offered. You would be encouraged to buy steam-cured dipping tobacco, known in Europe as snus. The most popular format is a sort of mini-teabag you tuck between your upper lip and gums. As it sits there, the juices of the finely ground tobacco leaf in the teabag slowly seep out, giving you a low, continuous buzz. There is no smoke, and no spitting or visible wad in your cheek, unlike with chewing tobacco. The common use of snus in Sweden, where it originated, is the reason Sweden has the lowest rate of tobacco-related death in the industrialized world, less than half that of the European average - and mostly among Swedish smokers, not the snus users.

Current data suggest that snus use eliminates over 90% of the health burden experienced by the smoking population. Snus has been thoroughly investigated, and no link has been found between it and cardiovascular health problems. Because no fumes are involved, there is of course no risk of lung disease. It does increase your chances of pancreatic cancer, but not as much as smoking does, and it doesn't raise your risk of any other form of cancer. The Swedish policy of requiring snus products to comply with the standards applied to food products probably helps here. In buzz shops, Swedish snus products would be the ones most prominently displayed, the ones clearly stated on the display section to be the healthiest tobacco option, and the ones staff would promote to people who use tobacco.

American-style dipping tobacco, chewing tobacco, and so-called 'snus' are not the same thing, and this is very important. Unless it clearly states on the label that the tobacco used was air-cured and steam-pasteurized, these products were made with fermented, flue-cured tobacco, like all other American tobacco products, and most tobacco products in Europe. Because of the new evil scheme being hatched by America's big tobacco companies, who can compete in greed and cruelty with any ghetto school-yard drug pusher, your chances of finding an air-cured, steam-pasteurized American snus product are quickly approaching zero. Both the fermentation and the high-temperature curing used in smokeless tobacco products outside Sweden cause the formation of nitrosamines in the tobacco. Nitrosamines are powerful carcinogens. Really nasty stuff. Then why do they process their tobacco that way, when it is a well-documented fact well known in the industry that it makes tobacco far more dangerous to your health? Because it's cheaper. And why has American tobacco created snus products that release little nicotine compared to cigarettes and Swedish snus? So you can use it 'with' your cigarettes, not instead of your cigarettes. Your total tobacco use will probably go up, not down, and your chances of quitting are sharply reduced because the slow trickle of nicotine in this snus will aggravate your cravings, not reduce them. For extra evil points, American big-name snus products are all very sweet. Who do sweet products appeal to most? Children. And the use of snus is easy to hide from your parents, until you are off on your own and ready to graduate to cigarettes.

If what you really crave is American-style dipping tobacco or chewing tobacco, buzz shops would have those things. They would be in a refrigerator, so their nitrosamine content doesn't increase so much as the product ages, and be marked with best-before dates, even though the companies that produce them don't bother doing that, since maximizing profit is obviously more important to them than your health. The dipping and chewing stuff would be in a corner at the bottom, under the flashy, large Swedish snus section. At the check-out the clerk would mention to you that snus is healthier. This is a health issue of potentially fatal significance, pushing the healthier stuff is a matter of medical professionalism. If you just gotta smoke, vaporizer-style pipes would be the recommended smoking option. The minimum possible temperature for extracting the nicotine and MAOI would be used in these quasi-vaporizers, so that the smoke contains the minimum possible amount of tar and carcinogens. Unfortunately, a pretty high temperature is required to release nicotine, so there would be some nitrosamines in the fumes. It would still be a lot healthier that smoke from cigarette combustion, though. When you checked out with tobacco for such pipes, it would be mentioned to you that smokeless tobacco is healthier. Cigarettes would also be on sale - on the bottom shelf, bordered with little signs saying 'Quitting cigarettes today might save your life'. At the checkout, the clerk would mention that cigarettes are the single deadliest thing in the world. Those of you who lack experience being a pain in the butt might feel that mentioning health risks every single time someone buys a particular item is overkill, but marketing research clearly shows that repetition makes a difference. It does, it does, it does. (Hah.)

You see, this is a great example of how buzz staff being a kind of medical personnel can be so handy. Tobacco companies might be able to object to systematic discrimination on the part of sales staff, even when the staff are pointing out legitimate safety concerns. (At least, they might in the United States...) But they can't complain about medical staff giving you medical counsel. Case closed.

magazine ad  for cigarettes circa 1940s

Tobacco companies have fought government regulation of their products every step of the way. Their disregard for public health is the textbook case demonstrating that when money is involved, business and industry cannot be trusted to behave ethically even at the most basic level. The slowly increasing involvement of governments around the world is also the test case showing how to limit the damage from a buzz drug. Back in the 1950s, when it was first shown that smoking causes cancer, the smoking rate in Western countries was between 40% and 50% of adults - there are few figures because smoking rates weren't monitored by health departments, but by trade organizations that counted units sold. Twenty years later in 1974, when it was common knowledge that smoking leads to serious health damage, the smoking rate in Canada and Britain was 45%, and per capita consumption of cigarettes in America was above 4000, which was worse than the '50s. The only difference was that most cigarettes sold now had filters, which tobacco companies had successfully hoodwinked the public into believing made smoking okay. The chances that big tobacco didn't know that filter cigarettes don't decrease smoking-related disease by 1974, twenty years after the introduction of the product, are nil. But governments were still doing a lousy job of making the public really stop and think about the huge risks of smoking, much less to act like something really needed to be done about it. As restrictions on where you could smoke, public awareness campaigns, tax increases, advertising restrictions, and eventually, warnings on cigarette ads and packages took hold, smoking rates steadily dropped. As of 2011, all three countries now have smoking rates of about 20%, and the rate continues to decline.

The figures still prove that addiction to tobacco is more likely than addiction to any other buzz drug, and there are a number of reasons for that. As mentioned above, tobacco is both useful as a pick-me-up and convenient in that it doesn't impair your faculties in any way. The only other buzz that can make that claim, caffeine, has an addiction rate among users similar to tobacco, but addiction to caffeine is generally milder. Most people who smoke cigarettes become physically addicted, only 15 to 20 percent of smokers don't smoke every day. Anyone who consumes a buzz daily is physically addicted to one degree or another. The addiction rate to caffeine has never been monitored, for the same reason that tobacco use wasn't monitored until the 60s - caffeine use is considered a matter of no great consequence. 80 to 90 percent of American adults use caffeine 'regularly', and 'typical' consumption is three or four caffeine drinks a day. That means most American adults are physically addicted to caffeine, and suffer withdrawal if they don't get their fix - headaches, lethargy, irritability, etc.. The next highest rates of addiction among users of a buzz go to heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. The figures for heroin and cocaine are only approximate, and it is debatable which of the three has the highest rate, but they all have rates that are a fraction of the rate for tobacco and caffeine. The point is that efficacy without (immediate) consequences is the main factor making caffeine and tobacco so addictive. Other factors that contribute to tobacco's addiction rate now follow.

Caffeine isn't as short-acting as tobacco is, meaning that it isn't as 'reinforcing'. To keep the nicotine buzz going, you need to re-dose many times a day, meaning you build up tolerance much more quickly. Of note here, cigarettes give you a quick surge of nicotine that subsides rapidly in your system afterwards. Chewing tobacco and snuff all release nicotine more slowly, and levels of it in your body last much longer. (What happens with the MAOI in each case is unknown.) The rush and quick comedown of cigarettes is precisely the buzz format most likely to lead to addiction, which is absolutely not a coincidence. Cigarette companies made a big effort to speed the rate of nicotine release in their cigarettes when they realized this, as they could see it was the best way to increase sales. It is also the best way to hamper the positive aspects of tobacco and maximize its negative aspects. The quick spike is more likely to jangle your nerves, cause you to experience a 'crash' when the nicotine in your system suddenly drops, and aggravates the circulatory changes nicotine causes. These points somehow weren't given any attention by the tobacco companies.

The act of smoking itself is a factor in tobacco addiction, it should be remembered. No matter what substance is being smoked, preparing a substance for smoking, the inhaling of it, and the feel of it inside you is quite unlike eating or drinking, and has its own appeal. When you quit smoking, you miss that. This ritual aspect of tobacco smoking is perhaps why no other habit broadcasts the message it does - that you are a rebel, a bohemian, a free thinker, someone with a complicated life of pressures and plans. Even now smoking is scripted into shows to get those kinds of messages across about a character. Fortunately, lots of things can be smoked without placing a toxic load on your body - or rather, vaporized, which is essentially the same thing but at a lower temperature that doesn't produce carcinogens. Buzz shops probably ought to provide a couple of options along these lines - herb mixes, perhaps with Syrian Rue for the same MAOI lift. Other than that, tobacco users would simply be enouraged to use the safest possible product, preferably snus, and aided in attempts at quitting with things like nutritional support products.

Stimulants Not Offered

The list here is long, because the designer drug industry has been popping out more and more novel stimulants at an ever quicker clip since the turn of the milennium. We're talking here about mephedrone, methcathinone, BZP, and a slew of less common or newer substances. As the usual suspects - cocaine and methamphetamine - were discussed in the introduction, we'll focus on these designer buzzes here. To some degree, the mission to find ever more is laudable, where dealers have behaved responsibly by clearly stating what their products contain and how to safely use them. Indeed, properly searching through all possible psychoactive substances for the ones that are safest and healthiest is an important mission deserving of support... although these industrious nerdy drug kingpins are clearly in it for the money. However, many sellers and promoters make false claims that their products are safer, milder, and non-addicting, which is hard to see as anything but bare-faced lying.

Any stimulant that makes you high, you can get addicted to. If cases of addiction to these semi-legal drugs have not been documented so far, it is only because they are too new. Examination of anecdotal 'trip reports' on Erowid, a site dedicated to open discussion of buzz use, clearly shows that many in the user community regard addiction to these buzzes as very possible, based on personal experience. It may, possibly, be fair to say that some piperazines, and particularly BZP (benzylpiperazine), cause fewer serious adverse effects in addicted users, so fewer people are forced to admit addiction. But that is not the same thing as not having an addiction, nor is it to say that an addiction you manage well enough that you don't lose your job or end up in hospital isn't still a very serious issue.

Saying these buzzes are milder is a gross misrepresentation. Different drugs give the desired effect at different doses. If amphetamine gives a good buzz at one dose, and another buzz drug at a dose 10 times bigger, 10 times as much will be put in those pills so that they give the buzz sought. If the buzz is the same, the potency is the same.

And safety? People should never brag about the safety of unregulated buzz drugs. All buzz drugs involve risk, and anecdotes from a few friends are no way to assess their dangers. In very qualified terms, in the right context, it is absolutely true that SOME semi-legal designer buzzes are safer than SOME competing street products. Any time that gets said, it should be immediately added that this is just a guess, because no studies have been done and hospitalizations have not been tracked. It doesn't mean that users don't need to be every bit as careful when using them as they are with any other buzz drug. Also, safer ones are safer only in a limited way - they have a track record complete enough to state they have a lower risk of overdose and cause fewer and less serious adverse side-effects than some comparable stimulants sold on the street. What isn't known about them must always be kept in mind. Are they carcinogenic? Do they cause birth defects? Will they cause permanent damage to any of your organs if used too often for too long? Nobody knows. Saying that BZP is safer than methamphetamine is absolutely true and deserves to be said more, because it is a very important point. Simply saying it is safe is naive at best, and a self-serving marketing ploy at worst.

Benzylpiperazine almost qualifies for inclusion in legalization. It was finally cut for a few reasons. First, its high can last a little too long, which greatly increases the risk of overdose, stimulant psychosis, and physical accidents. Buzzes longer than 6 hours may only occur in cases of high doses, but that is not yet clear. Second, there is evidence that reactions to it are highly variable, and also that onset of effects can be very slow. This makes proper advice about dosing impossible, and makes it likely people will decide they didn't take enough when in fact it hasn't really hit them yet. Both things make overdoses much more likely. Third, it causes seizures way too often. It is unclear if this happens when doses that are clearly excessive have been taken, or if it just happens at random to people who have only taken a strong dose. Either way, seizures can be deadly if untreated, not only because of how they affect your body, but because if you are in the wrong place, they put you in harm's way. If you are alone, you could choke to death, if you are in a high place, you could fall. If you are driving, you could kill several people. Lastly, as mentioned above, BZP has not been studied at all for long-term effects. If you are under the impression that BZP is safe, forget about that. Death from BZP overdose is possible for anyone if you take enough. The only reason that nobody has died from it so far (to the best of anyone's knowledge), is because all dangerous overdoses from it have been successfully treated in hospitals. That luck will not hold.

BZP is the first of the new generation of designer drugs to make it big. Development of designer drugs has been accelerating in recent years, helped by wide desemination of the chemistry knowledge required over the internet, global supply markets that make the raw ingredients and equipment much easier to acquire, and global commerce markets that make the shipping and selling of the final products much easier, too. Like MDMA and LSD, BZP is a synthetic drug which was discovered in the lab. Unlike MDMA and LSD, its recreational use did not grow slowly as it filtered through the subculture from pharmacology students to the general population of street drug users. BZP went from being first noted by the DEA as a substance appearing on the streets in California in the early '90s, to being widely sold around the world by the late '90s. Someone, somewhere, went searching through old pharmaceutical studies for likely candidates for a new street drug, found BZP in studies from the '70s (which noted it was not appropriate for development as an antidepressant because of its amphetamine-like effects), realized quickly it would be cheap and simple to manufacture in bulk, and then did exactly that.

Making legal sales for years while the system catches up is the big appeal of designer buzz drugs for street drug traffickers. The reality is that such street drugs can be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, they are usually made with real pharmaceutical equipment and ingredients, meaning you have less to fear from questionable adulterants. If you search around for a reputable seller, you can expect predictable potency, and they may even list all the ingredients and how much of each there is - which they obviously should. Some designer buzz drugs are genuinely much safer than other street buzzes they complete with, like cocaine and meth. BZP is the poster child for this side of the argument. It remains legal in a number of places, such as Canada, and only lightly regulated in many others, such as the U.K., mostly because it hasn't caused any problems. On the other hand, designer drugs can be more dangerous than even coke or meth, as is the case with PMA, and you need to remember that what side-effects the drug might have, and what its long-term effects might be, are unknown. Besides which, many vendors of 'legal highs' are in it purely for the bucks and could care less about health issues or boring things like honesty. But whatever the pros and cons, designer drug consumption is growing in leaps and bounds. Now that rave culture and internet salesmanship have allowed a kaleidoscope of designer drugs to be suddenly launched, the landscape of prohibition is shifting under our feet. Anyone with an internet connection and a credit card has a wealth of legal highs to choose from, and several illegal ones are easily obtained too. Even such humble establishments as convenience stores and gas stations sometimes sell 'incense', 'dietary supplements', or 'bath salts'. Those in the know understand what these products really are - synthetic versions of cannabis chemicals, and several different synthetic stimulants, usually of the piperazine or cathinone family. It's a legal loophole jamboree.

As far as designer stimulants go, i advise looking through Erowid or UK Chemical Research if you want to know more. From what i've read while researching this, i wouldn't recommend using any of them, except maybe moderate amounts of BZP. If you use only in moderation, phamaceuticals that have been properly clinically tested are definitely safer - methylphenidate, or any pharmaceutical amphetamine. If you are a person that tends to take strong doses, meaning you may go too far, it is quite possible that SOME designer buzz stimulants are safer than something like methamphetamine or cocaine. Stay away from those two buzzes for sure. But other than that, i still think the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. Stick to regulated pharmaceuticals (except methamphetamine). You know what you are getting, you know what the dose really is, you know what the long-term risks are (or at least you should...), if you overdose and end up in hospital the staff will know what they are dealing with.

As mentioned earlier, dextroamphetamine also almost qualifies for inclusion in legalization. The buzz it gives lasts about 4 to 6 hours, short enough to be manageable. However, its half-life is usually around 12 hours, and for some it is more than a full day. Therefore, if you have some at 1pm and decide to have some more at 10pm, you are not starting fresh like you might think. At least two-thirds of what you had earlier is still in your system, and what you add to it will quickly bump you back up to a full buzz. Even if you wait until the evening of the next day before having more, you could very well already be half-way to buzzville when the new dose passes your lips. What this means is you might think that you are only having a little more that second time, but actually you are having a lot more. Properly controlling your dosage with drugs that have such a long half-life is complicated. Tolerance also develops very quickly in such situations. The only way of safely selling dextroamphetamine in a legal system would be to sell it only in buzz bars and restrict purchases to, say, once every four days, similar to how ecstasy would be handled. I don't know that it is a desireable enough buzz drug to include it that way. It may be, informal polling on one forum showed that recreational users (many of whom are abusers) prefer dextroamphetamine to methylphenidate. For the moment, i am simply going to hope that a shorter-acting stimulant with good recreational value and a good safety profile will show up by the time buzz drugs are legalized. Such a buzz could be better integrated into legalization. So let's hope more designer drug dealers clean up their act and behave as responsibly as they claim they want to, because they are the people who will find this improved stimulant x.

Next: Hallucinogens