BY EMMA MCINTOSH
A new class of synthetic drugs similar to LSD has arrived on the market, and they’re called NBOMes.
Originally synthesized in 2003, NBOMes were created to aid in the mapping of serotonin receptors in the brain. However, since they started being used recreationally in 2010, they’ve been the cause of a growing number of deaths and hospitalizations.
NBOMes are one range of products in a rapidly expanding designer drug market. In an effort to stay ahead of lawmakers, drug manufacturers are continually making tiny alterations to the chemical structures of their products. In this way, they can rapidly produce new substances that are technically legal until the government clues in.
Specifically, NBOMes are part of a larger group of drugs called phenethylamines that includes mescaline and MDMA. Their chemical structure is closer to that of amphetamines than it is to other hallucinogens.
Having said that, make no mistake. These guys are definitely still psychedelics.
Lindsay, now 18 years old, tried one of the NBOMes when she was 16. On a cold morning in late December, she and her boyfriend at the time went out into the woods. They each took one tab of an unknown dose 25I-NBOMe.
“I first noticed really intricate geometric patterns on the pavement. What I pictured were almost Incan mandalas, super beautiful,” she said. “There was a rainbow haze over my vision, and people’s faces glowed and morphed slightly. Looking up at the dew nestled on pine branches; I saw rainbow hands in a water falling cycle. The hands would circle and hold each other in a beautiful unifying pattern.”
Lindsay used 25I-NBOMe. That’s just one of the growing menu of synthetic psychedelics that users can choose from. Also available are 24-NBOMe, 2C-B-NBOMe, 2CBFly-NBOMe, 2C-G-NBOMe, and at least 16 more.
Because these research chemicals are so new, not much is known about what they do. Few animal studies have been done, and absolutely none have been done with humans.
Most of what scientists know about their effects comes from Internet forums like Erowid, and interviews with users. According to an article published this July by BioMed Research International, NBOMe users usually experience distorted vision, enhanced colours, a euphoric body high, psychedelic visuals, heightened empathy, warped perception of time, and introspection.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. NBOMes can seem a lot like other hallucinogens. Although they can come in liquid, freebase, or crystalline powder form, NBOMes are often sold on blotter paper that can be mistaken for tabs of acid. They’re so alike that inexperienced users frequently think they’re taking one when they’re taking the other.
SEE ALSO: My First Time Tripping on Acid
According to an article published in the December 2013 edition of the Journal of Emergency Medicine, NBOMes are around 10 times more potent than LSD. That has some dire implications. What seems like a ‘safe’ dose of LSD can turn out to be a fatal dose of an NBOMe.
The BioMed Research International article says there is no established LD50 (median lethal dose) for NBOMes. In fact, not much is known about their negative effects in general.
The article notes, “Residual symptoms have been reported even several months after its consumption. Research suggests that the use of psychedelic drugs in unsupervised, unscreened, and unorganized settings (e.g., what is common for recreational drug use) may result in adverse reactions such as anxiety, depression, or psychosis.”
A June 2014 report by the World Health Organization says, “There are no published pre-clinical safety data available concerning the toxicity, reproductive impact and mutagenic/carcinogenic potential of 25I-NBOMe.”
So basically, the consensus is that NBOMes probably aren’t good in the long run, even though there’s no way to tell right now. They haven’t even existed for enough time to do a proper longitudinal study.
Despite the lack of information, NBOMes still present a tempting choice for drug users.
A website called Biochem Distribution, which bills itself as the “leader in Research Chemicals distribution in North America,” currently offers two varieties of NBOMes. Buyers over the age of 18 can order themselves 25mg of 25C-NBOMe for $28.99, or 10mg of 25C-NBOMe for $11.99. According to the BioMed Research International article, NBOMes have a mild effect at a dose of around 250-450μg. Very strong effects come at 800μg.
Much larger amounts can be purchased at discounted prices. The company promises delivery to Canadian addresses through regular mail within a week.
NBOMes are legal, easily available, and cheap. That can make them more appealing than the completely illegal, but thoroughly researched alternatives. People are willing to take the chance.
“I asked this dealer I had at the time if these tabs in his drug box were acid,” Lindsay said. ”He said, ‘No but it’s really similar,’ so being ignorant and 16 I was like ‘Great, cool!’ and bought two tabs.”
In the end, the experience she got wasn’t quite the same. “(It was) not that similar. More intense, made my head heavier, more stomach aches, less friendly emotionally,” Lindsay said.
NBOMes are distinguishable from LSD in two main ways. First, they have a strong chemical taste and leave the mouth numb for quite a while after ingestion. Second, their chemical structure lends them an energetic edge. According to the BioMed Research International article, users reported involuntary teeth grinding a lot like that caused by MDMA or amphetamines.
Still, people mix up NBOMes and LSD. That can have lethal consequences.
This past February, a 21-year-old man in the UK died after ingesting NBOMes that he thought were LSD. He screamed, “I want it to stop,” smashed a wine glass, and stabbed himself in the neck with it repeatedly.
In March 2013, a woman in West Virginia overdosed on an NBOMe that she was told was LSD.
These aren’t even close to isolated incidents. A quick Google search yields dozens more reports of fatalities from all over North America, Australia and Europe.
In Canada, NBOMes are completely untouched by legislation. In November 2013, the United States temporarily placed 25I-, 25B-, and 25C-NBOMe on Schedule I. That makes them illegal to possess, manufacture, and distribute for the next two years. 25C-NBOMe is controlled in much of Europe, Israel, and parts of Australia.
The NBOMe family has so many members that lawmakers haven’t been able to catch them. Most varieties are completely unregulated and unmonitored.
In the attempt to create legal ways to get around the criminalization of more natural hallucinogens, we’ve ended up with a whole bunch of them that might be way more dangerous to human health. Only time will tell to what extent.
*Name changed to protect anonymity.