A pretty pill with an ugly side
Stimulants provide energy, but also possible side effects and risk
One pretty pill and Char Chin felt like she had downed six or seven Red Bull energy drinks.
She wanted to exercise, go clubbing, talk the night away, just do stuff.
Hitting up the Everything to do with Sex Show in Toronto, Chin had spotted a brightly coloured booth hyping products its scantily clad saleswomen called "social tonics."
After asking a slew of questions, she laid down $120 for several packs of "Purepillz," which were described to her as safer legal alternatives to more dangerous street drugs.
"That energy, it's amazing," the 20-year-old University of Toronto student recalled. "Just being able to stay up for the entire night, just doing nothing, even. Just staying up and running around."
The buzz lasted about 14 hours. It wasn't until the next night after going dancing that she slept again.
"I stopped doing drugs a long time ago because I realized I'm really putting myself at risk if I keep doing this," she said. "So that's why (I tried.) They kept telling me it's a safer alternative, it's better than taking ecstasy."
Health Canada, drugs experts and police aren't so sure.
Although the synthetic products can be legally purchased over the counter in several major Canadian cities, they fall in a hazy legal zone of substances like salvia divinorum and jimson weed that are sometimes being used by youth and Generation Y-aged folk.
"The main problem is just so little is known," said Wende Wood, a psychiatric pharmacist at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. "And this stuff certainly isn't tested."
In late November, Health Canada started taking steps toward moving the compounds – or ingredients – found in Purepillz products like "Peaq," "Freq" and "Pure Rush" to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
"It is being presented as a legal alternative, but there is a difference between legal and approved, and not illegal," Wood said.
Benzylpiperazine (or BZP) – one of the main substances in the stimulant-class products – may have initially been developed as an anti-parasitic for livestock.
Health Canada has no statistics on BZP, but spokesperson Philippe Laroche said the substance can increase body temperature, blood pressure, cause dilated pupils and – when taken in higher doses and combined with another ingredient called 3-TFMPP – cause hallucinations, convulsions and respiratory depression.
"They really can't say this stuff is safe," Wood said.
Adam Wookey, a director of the Canadian-based Purepillz, agrees.
"With this substance, as with every other substance, there is a risk," he said, adding the company offers harm reduction, not elimination.
"All it is is the risk is significantly reduced from anything you would be taking in place of it that would be its illicit counterpart."
Following two nightclub incidents in June, Toronto police issued a public safety alert. In the first, they alleged a 55-year-old man died after ingesting the Purepillz product "Pure Rush." Twenty-four hours later, they said a 27-year-old woman who ingested a similar product at the same club also collapsed.
(Wookey, whose products have been seized several times from stores, has never faced police action.)
Still, all the warnings won't dissuade some from using the product until there's either harder evidence or it's officially stamped "illegal."
"If I listened to every single doctor about every single warning, we probably wouldn't be eating, breathing, or drinking or anything," said Ottawa's Paul Desautels, 30.
January 09, 2009
THE CANADIAN PRESS