What’s wrong with our heads?
Whatever it is, we humans have a long history of working, often desperately, to escape from them and ordinary consciousness. Sadly, just how desperate we are couldn’t be more apparent than in the rather awful spectrum of intoxicants dreamt up below. All of the below involve chemicals that are dangerous, sick-making, and often permanently damaging; in some cases they can lead to erratic and catastrophic behaviors. Unfortunately, none of these realities have kept many of them from gaining popularity. Some of them are still legal and readily available.
Catnip: It sounds too good to be true: a drug that’s cheap and legal. Why isn’t everyone using this stuff? Maybe they would be if it had a significant effect. No one has figured out why the active chemical in catnip, nepetalactone, doesn’t affect humans. Maybe humans don’t have the necessary brain receptors to accept the drug the way we do for cannabis or opiates. Animals and humans share many of the same brain receptors, but there can be differences too. (About 20 to 30 percent of cats don’t respond to catnip.)
Also, in your attempt to get high, imbibing too much catnip can make you feel awful. Whether it’s smoked or drunk as tea can cause headaches and vomiting.
Mephedrone AKA Meow Meow, Drone, Bubbles, MCAT: The story has all the makings of an urban legend but apparently isn’t: A British teen, high on mephedrone, stabs his mother and then takes to cutting off his own genitals. (Good news: The mother lived and the penis was reattached.) This happened. The cutesy name of “meow meow” may be a gross misrepresentation of what this chemical can do.
Mephedrone is a synthetic amphetamine-like stimulant that produces effects similar to cocaine and MDMA. It causes euphoria while also provoking paranoia and teeth-grinding anxiety – and as noted above, worse. Snorting mephedrone can be painful, grinding up your nasal passages. It has also been reported to cause headaches, diarrhea, impotence, dizziness, vomiting, depression (particularly in the comedown), and considerable other unpleasantries.
Mephedrone is cheap to synthesize and easy to get online. Ravers like it because it lowers inhibitions and has other ecstasy-like effects. Others have called it some “dark s**t.” Its formula is based on artificial cathinones, a chemical more commonly known as “bath salts,” and has an effect similar to that of the stimulant found in the khat plant. It has been sold as bath salts, plant food, jewelry cleaner, and research chemicals. It is addictive with use, both physically and psychologically.
Cheese: While the cheese you buy at the grocery store may share a chemical found in addictive drugs, we’re talking about a different kind of cheese here – cheese heroin. Cheese heroin is a mix of Mexican black tar heroin and an over-the-counter medication that contains the antihistamine diphenhydramine, like Tylenol PM (acetaminophen) or Benadryl. Together they are a dangerous combination of downers. The draw of cheese is that it’s cheap: A single hit can be $2 and a gram can be as little as $10. The drug is usually snorted like cocaine through a rolled up dollar bill, a straw, or the barrel of a ballpoint pen.
As to why it’s called cheese: Theories are because it either looks like a ground-up, tan version of Parmesan cheese, or that it’s shorthand for the Spanish word “chiva,” street slang for heroin. The cheese moniker also makes the product friendlier to a young crowd: It’s being sold to middle schoolers, particularly in Texas.
Due to cheese’s high concentration of non-opiate substances, abuse and overdose of the drug are more dangerous than pure-form opiate overdoses. In an overdose situation, since each component of the drug must be addressed as a separate condition, and batches can vary so widely, emergency personnel must wait first for the toxicology report before treatment can begin. (Tests of batches have shown the heroin components relatively small when compared to the other constituents.)
It has been reported that first time users can experience withdrawal symptoms including mood swings, insomnia, chills, muscle spasms, vomiting, and disorientation.
Nutmeg: In large doses, this otherwise innocuous spice produces mind-altering effects similar to LSD. A buzz can last one to two days. As the experience can be quite gnarly, and the side effects nasty, most people try it only once. After the first hour those effects can include severe gastrointestinal reactions like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; further on users may experience heart and nerve problems as well. Hallucinations don’t onset until hours after ingesting the spice which can also raise the danger of an overdose.
Popularity of the spice as a drug for abuse has spiked recently thanks to the internet. There have been fads for the spice before – in the early 1900s and the 1960s – and most likely this one will also be short lived once people become aware of its negative effects.
Whip-its AKA Hippie Crack: It’s a drug that has been surging in popularity of late. Whip-its are nitrous oxide, so called because of its use as a propellant in canned whip cream. Enthusiasts know that the chemical can easily be sucked out of an unshaken new can. It is also sold as individual canisters – available from Amazon – or by the tank: While it’s perfectly legal to purchase, it is illegal in some states if you plan on using it as a recreational drug.
Is it safe? Nope. With the euphoria can also come hypoxia (a lack of oxygen to the brain). It’s long list of nasty side effects include hearing loss, liver and kidney damage, limb spasms, central nervous system or brain damage, bone marrow damage, heart failure, and suffocation. There’s also a syndrome called “sudden sniffing death.” And if that weren’t enough it can also cause frostbite to your face. You may also know nitrous oxide from your dentist’s office. Although from your dentist, the drug is carefully controlled so that the amount of oxygen mixed with the nitrous is safe. (Dentists and hygienists have been known to get hooked on the stuff.)
Recent national surveys have ranked nitrous as one of the most popular drugs among people aged 17 and older.
Jenkem AKA Waste, Butt Hash: This is only for the most desperate and destitute. It has been reportedly used in prisons and in impoverished areas of Africa. What it is is human feces and urine, bottled and left out in the sun to ferment. Supposedly the resultant grotesque slurry creates a gas that when huffed can cause a high of sorts and hallucinations. The supportive evidence is anecdotal. Scientists are skeptical though it is possible that the aroma could deprive your brain of oxygen and knock you out. While not entirely fake, reports of its widespread use turned out to be a hoax. To say that use of such an “intoxicant” would be unhygienic and sickening seems an understatement. Its side effects are unsurprisingly severe.