The new high life
Move over marijuana and Ecstasy, Meow and Bhool-Bhulaiya are here. With these new trips available online, experts say the chemical attraction is growing...
Pckd up Bhool-Bhulaiya and Meow fr da farm prty. "That was the text Karan, an 18 year old just out of a prestigious school in New Delhi, sent to Yamini, his classmate and girlfriend. Karan and Yamini, though, were secure in their code. Even if their parents read the message, it wasn't likely they would decipher it. Translated from teen lingo, the SMS says: "Picked up Yaba and Mephedrone for the pharma party."
For those who still can't figure out the scene, welcome to the new trip. An increasing number of urban Indian youngsters are dabbling with a new class of drugs - euphemistically dubbed 'party highs' - at weekend dos and 'pharma' raves across cities and 'Class B' towns. Yesteryear's trips like ganja, charas and Ecstasy, though still popular, are fast making way for new synthetic 'party drugs'. With code names like Bhool-Bhulaiya, Meow and Moonshine (Salvia), it's no wonder that parents are having a difficult time trying to figure what their children are really up to.
Both Karan and Yamini have just finished their board exams and before they join college, they are making the ''most of their time''. Yamini's friend is hosting a 'pharma party' - each guest has to bring some pills, which will be put together in a bowl to make what they call, quite literally, a 'heady mix'. If a guest doesn't bring something, he/she won't be let in - a major social disaster. "Picking up from the 'heady mix' is an awesome thrill. Unless you're really experienced, you have no idea what you're taking," says Karan, who claims to have "done whatever has come his way", barring anything that needs to be injected.
The quick fix
And a lot has come Karan's way in the three years since he first tried marijuana. The 'party drug' menu is getting bigger and, in the digital age, teenagers don't even have to go out into dark alleys to score their fix. The internet, television and foreign travel have exposed Indian youngsters to the latest crazes in the psychedelic scene and many are using what they can find at home, what they can source from foreign-returned friends and what they can order on the world-wide web.
Dr Yusuf Merchant, chief of the Mumbai-based Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation and Research Centre, says, "A new drug is 'discovered' almost on a monthly basis. Small-time chemical scientists in secret labs in the underbelly of Europe or America are making minor molecular changes to known drugs and marketing them as 'legal highs'. Our regulatory bodies, which have not even heard of these substances, need to keep up with the rapidly changing scenario. They need to log on to internet forums - there are many sites where teens discuss their 'mind-altering' experiences and portals that carry step-by-step instructions on how to improvise with the daily stuff like paint-removers to get a high - and be in sync with what the modern-day, party-hopping youngster is up to."
Gautam Bhatia of Sahyog Detox and Deaddiction Clinic in Delhi agrees that technology, along with easy availability and lax attitude of authorities, is behind the increasing popularity of these new drugs. Marijuana, brown sugar and smack are on their way out - they are basically gateway drugs that lead to newer substances. "These days, thanks to stress at the workplace, an increasing number of office-goers keep antianxiety medication and sleeping pills at home. We have noticed a trend - most of the youngsters who take to abusing pharmaceuticals come from homes where such drugs were available. With overexposure to western trends through the internet and television, kids here know about the latest drugs as soon as they are out in the West."
Over the last two decades, Merchant has seen the profile of the drug abuser change: " You'll be surprised to know how many middle-aged ladies are popping addictive pills. Their children find drugs available at home and fall prey to it. With time, as they seek a stronger high, they discover newer things. "
The youtube drug
One such new fad in the 'psychedelic scene' is Salvia Divinorum. Known among the knowledgeable as 'Divine Sage' and 'the YouTube drug' - do a search and you'll know why - it has been confounding global drug authorities since it came into the mainstream around 2005. Still legal in most countries (though its days may be numbered) - including the US, Britain and Australia - it is among the most popular 'spiritual' drugs in the West. For centuries, Latin American shamans have been using the herb to induce divine visions, and now youngsters are seeking new dimensions of existence in it.
Pranav, a 24-year-old who recently returned to Mumbai after completing a course in filmmaking in San Francisco, first tried Salvia at a music festival on the university campus. "It's the new LSD - very strong and almost religious. Everybody is talking about it. It is perfectly legal there, though there have been some issues since the media jumped on the story."
On his return, Pranav introduced his friends in Mumbai to Salvia, which he ordered online with his credit card. "In California, you can pick it up at most 'head shops' (retail outlets that sells drug-related paraphernalia), but the highest quality is on the web." Most of these web sites offer to ship their 'finest' wares to countries where it is legal - they also promise 'discreet billing, shipping and delivery' to any Indian city or town. Dozens of vendors on [EDIT] also sell Salvia as 'incense sticks'.
Cat out of the bag
Pune-based Sahil, 25, meanwhile, thanks his five years in Paris for "showing me the pleasure of two finer things in life - football and 'Meow'. " Chemically known as Mephedrone (not to be confused with Methadone), Meow (or M-Cat or Bubble) broke out of the shady world of internet 'research chemicals' sometime in 2007. The internet was the real driving force behind its popularity. Drug forums talked about a new substance a bit like cocaine and Ecstasy but legal to buy and sell as long as it was marketed as bath salts. The drug spread by word of mouth and by 2009, hundreds of portals had sprung up selling Meow to party-goers in Europe and the rest of the world.
Sahil first did Meow at a Paris party. When he visited Goa with his French friends to celebrate the arrival of 2010, he was surprised it could be scored pretty easily at the now-infamous beach parties. "It was legal in Britain at that time, and quite a few foreigners had brought it with them," he said. "I think now, with the ban in place, it will be more difficult to find." The architecture student believes that most health-conscious clubbers dabble in designer drugs. "They are not all that bad - smoking or drinking are far worse and addictive," he claims.
Small towns get a taste
Though the use of Salvia and Mepherdrone in India is still confined to the uber-hip, foreign-returned partygoers in the metros, youngsters in smaller towns have developed a taste for 'Bhool-Bhulaiya'. Yaba - which is smuggled into India from Thailand via Bangladesh - has become a talking point in trendy bars of Lucknow, Bhopal, Hyderabad and Chandigarh. Significantly cheaper than Ecstasy (Rs 700 to Rs 1, 000), Yaba, creates hallucinogenic effects, heightens sexual desire and kills sleep for less than half the cost. Also known as the 'Nazi Pill' (it was originally created by German chemists instructed by Adolf Hitler to find a stimulant that would help his soldiers fight round the clock), Yaba is currently the most popular psychoactive substance in south-east Asia. According to Merchant, one of two Yaba users in the country are women. "It is basically a poor man's Ecstasy with a sex drive. I know of people who pop the pill, drink and dance all night and end up having sex eight to nine times during the revelry," he says. Merchant believes Yaba is the "next big thing" in the Indian drug market. "The year 2010 is to Yaba what 1981 was to heroin. It is just waiting to explode."
Legal but lethal
Meanwhile, governments across the world are waking up. Authorities in the US are considering legislation to curb abuse of Salvia, while Britain - where 27 fatalities have been linked to Mephedrone - in March banned the substance as a Schedule B drug.
Sahil, however, says that these measures are futile. "In the '60s we had marijuana, in the '70s it was LSD, in the '80s there was cocaine and in the '90s it was Ecstasy. Now we have these designer drugs and they are just not going to go away. If one is banned, another will be marketed under a new name."
And Sahil is spot on. A new substance is already being produced to replace Mephedrone and Salvia. A new legal high, MDAI, known as Sparkle in the club scene, has already gone on sale in Europe and the US. These substances are very similar to established drugs like Ecstasy, amphetamine or cocaine.
Says Gautam Bhatia: "These kids believe they are taking these new drugs as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, alcohol and ecstasy. Then there are those who really want to enjoy parties and dancing and connect with their friends. Presumably, they think they're safe. They should know they are not. "
Most new drugs are smuggled to India's northeast from Thailand via Bangladesh. Smaller quantities are brought in by western tourists or sourced online
(Some names have been changed)
May 8, 2010, 01.00pm IST
VISHANT V AGARWALA TIMES NEWS NETWORK , TOI Crest