It is a darkly poetic indictment of the War on Drugs that LSD, the first synthetic psychedelic, demonized for decades and the target of extremely expensive law enforcement operations, looks to be far safer than its replacements.
It is called 25I-NBOMe, or 2C-I-NBOMe, or SC-B-NBOMe, or, erroneously, 2C-I. It belongs to a group of drugs called the NBOMes, which are derived from phenethylamine-based drug families made infamous by Dr. Alexander Shulgin. The NBOMe part stands for N-Benzyl-Oxy-Methyl. After it was first synthesized in 2003, Purdue University did some research on the chemical structure of NBOMes, but it was not until 2010 that the drugs began to appear in the underground market. 25I-NBOMe, the most common variety, is strongly psychedelic, with vivid visual and sensory effects. It can also cause horrid trips, especially at higher doses, and like LSD, it can cause vasoconstriction in the form of elevated blood pressure.
Earth and Fire Erowid, editors of the well-regarded Erowid drug information site, wrote a special report on the NBOMes for the July Erowid Extracts. It is worth going over in some detail.
The NBOMes were initially freebase powders, either snorted or held in the mouth, but the authors note that there is still confusion and uncertainty about the relative effectiveness of various forms of administration. In one case noted by Erowid, three friends obtained a bottle of 25-I-NBOMe, marked as 500 micrograms per drop. “Those who took one drop enjoyed the experience,” but one of the friends, “after three drops, became incoherent and frantic, then ran from the house and drove off in his car. He crashed into a tree and woke up in the hospital two days later….”
This suggests both high potency and a rapid ramp-up of negative effects with dosage, making the NBOMes generally unreliable as street drugs. As the article in Erowid Extracts notes, “The unusually high potency makes overdoses more likely. Unfortunately, the risks of 25I (and perhaps other NBOMes) at high doses seem to include delirious, dangerous behavior (with some accidents resulting in death), as well as the possibility of death from direct pharmacological effects. Medically dangerous doses may be as low as 3-5 mg.”
Even worse, 25I and 25C, when sold as powders, makes dosing even more precarious. Drugs this strong in powder form should only be handled by someone wearing Walter White-style hand and eye protection. “Many people have prior experience with insufflating small lines or bumps of a psychedelic or stimulant,” says Erowid. “It’s a fairly new phenomenon that a similarly-sized line of a drug could lead to death.”
On another note, the incredible potency of the NBOMes makes them imminently smuggleable. A single 750-mcg dose equals about 6 grains of table salt. You could hide about 100,000 doses of 25I in a soda pop can.
For historical perspective, the authors point to the DEA’s bust-up of global supply chains for LSD in the early 2000s. Figures from the Monitoring the Future survey show that use of LSD by 18 year-olds has gone from about 8% in 1999 to less than 2% by 2009. What to do with all that perforated blotter paper? One time-honored response from dealers is to dump a different chemical on the paper and sell it as LSD. Erowid reminds us that LSD sold as the more expensive and difficult-to-synthesize mescaline in the hippie heydays was an early example of this practice. As one Erowid contributor put it, “Which do you think would sell better, blotter sold as ‘25I-NBOMe’ or blotter sold as the now nearly mythical ‘acid’?”
Erowid found that at the online drug site Silk Road, NBOMes were being offered at prices 5 to 10 times cheaper than LSD. Silk Road sells 25B-NBOMe powder for between $90 and $200 a gram. Hit size is often 1 mg or more, which is definitely a large dose. Vendors at Silk Road also sell perforated blotter paper with classic acid blotter designs from the past, like Albert Hofmann and the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine.
All of this adds up to erroneous reports of death by LSD, amid actual overdoses caused by an incredibly powerful and relatively untested new drug with a murky track record. Acid is not a lethal drug, and no deaths by overdose have ever been clearly and directly attributed to LSD.
The state of Virginia banned the NBOMes last year, and so far this year, several other states and nations have joined in. But Erowid points out that the U.N.’s World Drug Report 2013 concluded that “no sooner is one substance scheduled, than another one replaces it, thus making it difficult to study the long-term impact of a substance on usage and its health effects.” All of which, says Erowid, begs the question of what drugs will pop up to replace 25I-NBOMe once it is banned? Erowid has high hopes for a landmark New Zealand bill calling for a vendor framework in which the drugs are sold legally only if registration, safety testing, and recordkeeping meet certain standards. The bill is expected to become law in New Zealand later this year.
As Erowid notes, other countries will be watching New Zealand closely. A report by the Health Officers Council of British Columbia points out that “Prohibiting a substance does send a message of social disapproval of use… but the value of using prohibition to send a message to dissuade use must be weighed against the harmful consequences of implementing prohibition….”