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Dazed and Confused

Christopher Smith

The first thing that needs to be said about 2C-B, the newest designer drug to find favor in Denver's club scene -- or, rather, the old, obscure designer drug that's newly popular -- is that it needs a street name in a bad way. 2C-B sounds like the working name of the third homeboy in C-3PO and R2-D2's robotic posse, before George Lucas decided three was a crowd.

The Drug Enforcement Administration would have you believe that 2C-B is known among rave kids, DJs, tax preparers who like to party and other nefarious drug fiends as "Bromo-mescaline." But then, according to DEA propaganda, cocaine is still referred to without irony as "nose candy."

The feds probably settled on the "Bromo-mescaline" bit because 2C-B's full chemical name is "2-(4-bromo-2,5-dimethoxy-phenyl)-ethylamine)" and because, like mescaline, it makes you trip balls. A Schedule I narcotic in the United States, which means it's just as illegal as heroin or crystal meth, 2C-B is classified by the DEA as a "Club Drug," unlike coke ("Bolivian marching powder," "road oil," "dandruff of the gods,"), which has never been enjoyed by anyone in a nightclub anywhere.

"Although reports of 2C-B abuse are sporadic, this drug could emerge as a significant drug in the rave culture," the DEA states in a recent Club Drug Bulletin. "Reports indicate that it has become widely popular in Germany and Switzerland, and its effects (enhancement of visual and auditory perception, increased sexual desire, and heightened senses of taste and touch) may appeal to the U.S. rave culture."

Wow, heightened perception, sexuality and sensuality. The DEA is certainly doing a fine job of making 2C-B sound like a real bummer. In fact, hard as it is to believe, the DEA treats 2C-B too lightly. The effects described above are for a light dose of the substance, whereas many users take heavy doses, which produce powerful visual hallucinations -- something the DEA neglected to list. And the threshold between a light dose of 2C-B and a heroic dose is perilously narrow.

"2C-B is very dose sensitive. A few milligrams more can produce a tremendous difference in the effect," according to DanceSafe, which is probably the most balanced and accurate source of widely available information on illegal designer drugs in American and the U.K. "At lower doses (5-15mg), 2C-B produces a more entactogenic effect, with little or no hallucinations. Users report feeling 'in touch' with themselves and their emotions. Erotic sensations and feelings of being 'in one's body' are also commonly reported. With higher doses (15-30mg), 2C-B produces intense visual effects. Moving objects leave 'trails' behind them. Surfaces may appear covered with geometric patterns, and may appear to be moving or 'breathing.' Colors may appear from nowhere."

The reason for 2C-B's rising popularity in Denver is officially unknown. It's been around since the late '70s and was used in tiny doses with great success in psychotherapy until it was criminalized in 1994; it is wildly popular in Japan, where it's known as, concisely, "trip." Drug users, by nature, are always curious to try a new drug, and probably someone in Denver has tapped into a pipeline of 2C-B from Amsterdam, where 90 percent of the world's supply is produced.

Like Ecstasy, 2C-B is sold in Denver mostly in small, five-milligram pressed tablets, and these are easy for dealers to hide and carry. And because "2C-B" clunks off the tongue, especially when whispered in an ear with pounding beats in the background, a lot of 2C-B is being sold in this city as Ecstasy. This is a problem, because 2C-B is a potent hallucinogen, whereas Ecstasy produces only mild visuals at best -- or worst, depending on your perspective. In short, just as 2C-B badly needs a street name, the growing 2C-B culture needs to come up with a slang term for the experience of being on the drug, like "rolling" on ecstasy. "Daylight Savings Timing" could work, because a high dose of 2C-B will set you back.

Simply put, unlike Ecstasy, a major dose of 2C-B will make you see shit that is not there, or at least not there in the astral plane we call shared reality. Also unlike Ecstasy, which in its pure form lasts only three to four hours, 2C-B can be a long, hard ride on the psychonaut merry-go-round. Eight hours, ten hours, fifteen hours -- it depends on how much you take. And some in Denver are taking way too much, because they either believe they're taking Ecstasy, or they believe 2C-B is much the same as Ecstasy, or because they subscribe to the tried-but-not-true philosophy that if one's good, five must be even better.

According to National Drug Intelligence Center data, designer-drug-related emergency-room admissions in the Denver area have increased markedly in recent years, from an average of eleven per year in the late 1990s to 42 per year in 2004. However, those records do not make any distinction between MDMA and other designer drugs such as MDA, 2C-B, or the even more arcane 2-C-T-7.

"All these numbers-and-letters drugs can be a problem," says Dr. Stephen Cantrill, associate director of emergency medicine at Denver Health. "And that problem lies in young people having no idea, really, what they're taking, and then having a bad reaction -- either a body reaction, a mind reaction, or both. And their friends bring them to us, and we ask the friends what they took, and they say, 'Oh, well, they had maybe a couple of Ecstasy pills at a party,' which isn't terribly helpful, since Ecstasy is becoming more and more of a generic term."

Not that Dr. Cantrill prefers to label mystery pills "designer drugs."

"'Designer drugs,' to me, conjures the image of something fancy, something of a higher order than crack or heroin. Same with calling them 'club drugs,' when in fact -- whether you're talking GHB or 2C-B or heroin or crack -- what you have in common is, you're talking about an illegal street drug of unknown composition and purity."

Partly because it's illegal and partly because it's only now becoming widely popular in Denver and other major U.S. cities, there have been no serious clinical studies on 2C-B. And while there have been no reported 2C-B overdose fatalities in the U.S., it's impossible to accurately call the drug safe. The substance induces nausea, chills, irregular heartbeat and tremors in many users. But the strongest word of caution on the drug is that a bad trip on 2C-B can be profoundly terrible.

"We saw dead people," says a 28-year-old Denver food server who wound up along with two friends in the psych ward on New Year's Eve after they each took four 2C-B pills at a party in a Capitol Hill mansion. It was the first time any of them had taken the drug, and they were told it was "more or less just like E."

"We started off with two, and we were feeling really good, really talkative and happy and in tune, like we were on clean E, and then we took the other two, and a little while later, shit started to get hectic."

One phenomenon of 2C-B is that of shared hallucinations, where a group of users in a room together witness the same bizarre sights, sort of like people free-associating with clouds in the sky: One person sees a dog chasing a mailman, and then everyone else sees the cloud the same way, unable to then see it any other way.

"It started to go bad when I saw the ghosts of Indian braves in war paint dancing in the crowd," the server says. "I remember asking my friends if they could see them, too, and they could. And these were not happy ghosts. They were pissed off. And then we all suddenly realized that the mansion must have been built on their ancient burial ground, and these ghosts wanted revenge. We thought we were going to get scalped, at least in some psychic way. We started crying. We were a mess."

Group hysteria took hold, and the trio of unmerry pranksters began shouting warnings about ghosts with tomahawks coming to get us all. They wound up being forcibly removed and transported to a happy place, where they were pumped full of tranquilizers and released the next day with a huge bill for services rendered.

Happy New Year.

"I wouldn't recommend four," he says. "But two's good. I've done two a couple times since then."