2C-T-7's Bad Trip 

Sasha Shulgin invented 2C-T-7. Then he published the recipe. It was only a matter of time before his drug turned up on the tongues of non-scientists.

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Certainly the government collects information on new street drugs, but the generation of partygoers who have been instructed since toddlerhood to "Just Say No" often just tune out government education efforts. "Who wants to be the wet blanket at a party?" sighs Kate Malliarakis, branch chief officer of demand reduction for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "If you've got ten people standing there saying, 'Come on, mellow out, take a chill pill,' and you have a couple of old farts like myself standing there saying, 'This is going to do damage to you,' it's like an old cartoon. Who's going to believe me?"

Liu agrees that government drug-awareness programs have overemphasized the negative effects of drug use, so teenagers have lost faith in them. "You don't want to withhold information from people, especially young people," he says. "If you tell them the whole truth, they're going to be more open to you telling them about the risks. If you only tell them the bad things about drugs, they'll know you're not telling them the whole story. Kids are smart enough to know that you're telling them this information about this drug because people are using it. But they're going to think, 'Why are people using it?' Obviously there's some sort of benefit, so you must be lying."

In the absence of information perceived as reliable, curious drug enthusiasts now often get their information through two channels that owe a great deal to the expansion of the Internet -- online bulletin boards and the studies of amateur researchers. The popularity of Web sites such as Erowid and the Lycaeum shows the breadth of public interest in research drugs; the fact that amateurs have bothered to craft their own studies reveals the depth. Erowid, for example, gets 20,000 page views a day. Both Erowid and the Lycaeum have adopted a tell-it-all philosophy toward both the positive and negative effects of drugs such as 2C-T-7. Their disclaimers don't mince words. "When you take a research chemical, you are stepping out into the unknown, and you could be the unfortunate person to discover a new drug's lethal dose," reads the "Research Chemical FAQ" Erowid site. In general, news posted on these sites is acknowledged to be so far ahead of the curve -- and so readily available -- that regulators are learning to check there first for information about new drug trends.

So far, you could count the number of scientific papers devoted to 2C-T-7 on one hand and still have a finger left over. In 1991, Shulgin published the first report on 2C-T-7 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Two years later, another study appeared in the Journal of Ethnomedicine, but it was extremely limited, consisting of only eight test subjects who each took a single dose. The only other studies out there have been conducted by nonscientists who disseminated their results online. One of them, published in the Summer 2000 Bulletin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies by amateur researcher Casey Hardison, simply surveyed the experiences of 48 people who tried differing amounts of 2C-T-7 at a conference for what he calls "entheogen enthusiasts."

The following year, Erowid contributor Murple posted the results of a larger e-mail survey of more than 400 people who had tried 2C-T-7 in a variety of dosage amounts, both by snorting and swallowing. The results of both studies reaffirmed what already had been posted on Erowid and Lycaeum trip reports. In general, 2C-T-7 produced feelings of lucidity and euphoria, as well as the rare panic attack; neither study indicated a pattern that could show users when to expect which result. The vast majority of those surveyed expressed interest in trying the drug again. Murple's much larger and more systematic survey also documented a high incidence of side effects, with about two-thirds of the users reporting nausea, about half reporting muscle tension, with one-third reporting vomiting and another third reporting headaches. His report also included detailed chronicles of the three 2C-T-7-related deaths, as well as further anecdotes collected from around the world of seizures and blackouts apparently prompted by 2C-T-7.

The most interesting conclusion he drew from his research, Murple says, is that 2C-T-7 appears to be both erratic in its effect and highly dose-sensitive, much more so than other phenethylamines. Why is the difference between a good trip and a nasty one just a few milligrams of powder, he asks, and why are some people so floored by the drug and others barely feel it? While he believes the three connected deaths make 2C-T-7 a bad bet for clinical trials on people, Murple points out that 2C-T-7's apparent volatility makes it a worthy subject for mainstream medical researchers who could come to the table with better funding and equipment than any amateur could. "I think if we could figure out what makes 2C-T-7 so unique, we'd learn something very valuable about the way the human brain works and about the way this whole class of drugs works," he writes. "There is something very unusual going on here, and we owe it to ourselves as a society to find out what."

But not everyone thinks the Internet is a safe place for curious pharmacophiles to be exchanging such research. A recent National Drug Intelligence Center report sparked huge outrage by concluding that Web sites and bulletin boards that post information about the production or effects of illicit substances constitute a "threat" to American youth. "I have trouble with the Web sites because they talk about the here and now, but not the consequences," says Malliarakis. "They do talk about what a bad trip is all about, but not about what it's going to be like five years from now." Plus, she points out, you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Web. "You don't know who's writing this," she says. "Is it all fantasy? You don't know dosages, side effects. If you're on an antidepressant, is it going to interfere with that? If you have a family history of depression and your depression switch hasn't turned on yet in your life, will this be the drug that turns it on? There's so much about the brain that we just don't know."

And if the science itself isn't confusing enough, add to that the fact that a cautious user who checks the law books to see if the drug they're interested in sampling is taboo won't find a new analogue like 2C-T-7 listed by name. "If the government makes a list of things and says, 'These are controlled substances,' in law that means that the things that are not on it are not controlled substances," says attorney Richard Glen Boire of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics. "The reasonable conclusion is that you're doing something legal." Like other research drugs turned street drugs, 2C-T-7 is "unscheduled" rather than legal. It's a key distinction. In fact, 2C-T-7 is considered an analogue of a Schedule I club drug known as Nexus or 2C-B, another Shulgin invention described in PIHKAL. From a law-enforcement point of view, it is an excellent example of the type of chemical the Analogue Act was created to regulate. It's so new that individual police officers might not recognize it by name, and yet it's clearly being sold as a drug that will mimic the effects of previously outlawed chemicals.

And while 2C-T-7 may never become more than the flavor of the month, its emergence into the public realm also comes at a time of heightened DEA scrutiny of what are loosely termed "club drugs" -- generally synthetic drugs consumed at nightclubs and raves. The DEA firmly believes that club drug usage is on the rise -- for example, they cite a fifteen-fold increase in the amount of MDMA tablets seized by the agency in the last five years. According to the most recent federal National Household Survey on Drug Use, in 2000 roughly one million Americans over age twelve were current users of what they called a "hallucinogen," a category that includes LSD, mescaline, mushrooms, and MDMA.

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