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A Look At Legal Highs

By John Clarke

Legal Highs

Recently, there have been a few nasty developments in the world of legal highs. I was contacted by this week by GMTV and Radio 5 Live, asking for an interview about the “new” legal high Ivory Wave causing a stir. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give any interviews for various boring reasons and could only give a bit of advice over the phone/email, so I thought I’d write a post about it now I’ve got the time. Also, The UK’s old friend JWH-018 seems to be causing some trouble over the pond, having been linked a couple of deaths in Indiana. Finally, our government have made some more noise about the “problem” of legal highs which makes no difference for a good year or so and will only make matters worse when they manage to cobble some new legislation together eventually.

Ivory Wave

Ivory WaveIvory Wave has been around for at least a year, and before that, it was called Vanilla Sky. Guess what? It’s always been notoriously dodgy. In a quest to pump out the strongest ever “party powder”, its makers sacrificed safety for a marketing angle.

Earlier this year, the Irish government had a number of legal highs analysed including Ivory Wave and found that it contained MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone), and lidocaine. Lidocaine is a local anaesthetic, added to numb your nose, both to dull the pain of snorting the other stuff and to make it more like cocaine. This isn’t news though – a load of similar products around before the cathinone ban contained it. MDPV on the other hand is worrying.

MDPV appears to be a dopamine and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor, delivering plenty of stimulation but little in the way of euphoria. The vast majority of similar products available before April’s cathinone ban contained either mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) or a fluorinated analogue such as 3-fluoroumethcathinone. While these were also very stimulating, they delivered a much loved euphoria as well, so why would the makers of Ivory Wave depart from the norm and go for a subjectively worse compound instead? Because they just weren’t potent enough enough to earn Ivory Wave its reputation as the strongest legal high available.


A typical dose of mephedrone or similar analogue for a new user would be around 50 – 100mg, while a typical dose of MDPV is around the 5 – 10mg mark. Sure, at that dose, the effects of MDPV don’t seem like much compared to mephedrone et al, but when people are used to cheap cocaine or the majority of similar legal highs, they rack up their usual sized line and hoover up far more than an equivalent dose of MDPV. As a consequence, users were frequently terrified and unable to sleep for days on end. Well done, Ivory Wave, you truly are the strongest!

On April 16th, 2010, the UK passed legislation banning a huge number of compounds, including mephedrone, all common available derivatives including MDPV and a shitload of theoretical compounds that haven’t been made yet. Despite the original incarnation of Ivory Wave falling under the banning stick, on August 10th, there was a lot of fuss about legal highs including Ivory Wave hospitalising about 20 people, so what’s going on?

Charge+Well, firstly, just because MDPV got banned, it doesn’t mean the manufacturers couldn’t stick some new legal chemical in there and call it the same thing. I’m sure you’ve all seen a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar with “New improved recipe!!!!11” plastered all over the packaging – this is the same sort of thing. Of course, it’s not as innocent as that – these are psychoactive substances we’re talking about – but it’s nothing extraordinary. Products like Charge+ or Beanz pills have changed their ingredients before, so that’s what I expected had happened with Ivory Wave.

That doesn’t appear to be the case. Several websites selling the stuff now claim both that Ivory Wave is no longer for sale in the UK, suggesting it still contains MDPV, and that Ivory Wave found in the UK at the moment is fake. This leaves us with several possible scenarios.

  1. Ivory Wave available in the UK is the same stuff it’s always been, and has been illegally imported.
  2. Ivory Wave available in the UK is fake, but still contains MDPV. If this MDPV had to be illegally sourced or manufactured, it’s more likely to be impure, and these impurities are doing some damage.
  3. Ivory Wave available in the UK is fake, but still a new product with new, legal and dangerous chemicals in, trying to capitalise on the original Ivory Wave’s reputation

At first glance, it looks like we can ignore the first one. If it’s been around for ages, why are we only hearing about it now? Well, before the cathinone ban, Ivory Wave was definitely the strongest, but nowhere near the most enjoyable or popular product, so people tended to steer clear of it. However, when the ban came into effect, and somehow Ivory Wave was still around,  lots of people looking to find a “mephedrone replacement” would have stumbled across it. This spike in popularity makes scenario #1 as plausible as the rest, so for now, it’s anyone’s guess.

If you find any new information making one of these scenarios more likely, please let us all know!

For now, I’d advise anyone to steer clear, especially the stuff in red foil packets as that’s the type most frequently mentioned in the myriad forum posts on the topic.


JWH-018 was the main synthetic cannabinoid found in Spice and similar products in the UK last year. Here’s a couple of posts and comment threads here for some background:

A large number of synthetic cannabinoids (along with GBL, BZP and related piperazines) were banned on December 28th, 2009, but remained legal in the US, where the market has exploded just like it did here before the – the only difference is over there, the most popular brand is K2 rather than Spice.

Well, that was the only difference until very recently. In May, the smoking of K2 was “linked” to two deaths in Indiana – a rather odd situation indeed! It seems there’s no conclusive evidence available to say that K2 actually caused these deaths – it could be the same as all those people that apparently died of mephedrone over here who didn’t actually take it (Eg, Gabbi Price). However, just because we’ve been consistently lied to by the British press, it would be unwise to immediately rule out the other possibility – that K2 is somehow killing these people. As it happens, we’ve also got some more evidence right here on this blog that supports that conclusion: this guy reports vomiting blood after oral ingestion of JWH-018.

Here’s what I think. JWH-018 is safe, at least in the short term, so it’s not responsible for what we’re seeing. I reckon we’ve got a harmful contaminant or impurity left over from the synthesis which is causing all the damage. If there was a bad batch going round, it would also help to explain why those two deaths are both in Indiana, although I’m not sure where that commenter hails from.

Unfortunately, once again, this is all speculation, but it’s speculation based on all the evidence we have available. Fortunately, David Kroll, who’s forgotten more pharmacology than I know, has arrived at that same conclusion – contamination. Be sure to check out his post for links to the original stories, more detail and more speculation.

If you come across any more stories or bad batches, let us know!

For now, I’d advise those in the US to avoid any new brands popping up, avoid K2 in Indiana and, if you’re buying pure JWH-018, avoid it like the plague if it doesn’t exactly resemble the previous batches you’ve bought..

13 Responses to A Look At Legal Highs

  1. bomblol says:

    The main thing about jwh-018 (other than the pyrolysis that happens in any smoking blend, although this isnt an issue if its pure jwh 018 by itself obviously) that I’ve heard is the naphthalene ring, which JWH-250 lacks, which may lead to 250 being safer than all the 250 compounds. AFAIK this is mostly speculation though, although i happen to enjoy the 250 high more anyway

  2. Top Cat says:

    What about the Ivory Wave ULTRA??? it appears all the hospitalisations were from the ‘normal’ one….

    Anyone got any comment on the ULTRA variety?
    (qualitatively it felt smoother and shorter than MDPV)

  3. Jules says:

    The ivory wave I purchased came from Hungary (postmark gave that away) Yet to try yet.

  4. jane says:

    i am being taken to court after my daughter took this ivory wave ultra i said it was mine and now am really confused was it legal in august or not i need to know

  5. Mike says:

    Jane, I believe it was legal until december

  6. BigD says:

    I live in Indiana and know all about the topic. First of all K2 is a brand that someone made a knock off off. These “knockoffs” are made in Indianapolis IN. This company is the sole reason that 018 has been banned in the USA. They take straight clippings from the grass and fields of weeds and blend it in the grinder to make there “blend” This has caused many reactions do to pesticides fertilizers and what ever else decided to poop on that patch of grass. I have seen whole dandelion heads in the package before. These “reactions” are from smoking multiple substances and chemicals that were definitely not made for smoking. This company proceeded to the gas stations and sold there product for 1$ a gram which not only flooded the market with dangerous product it also made it into hands of minors due to the damn Gas Station owners selling to anyone for a profit. Next step was naturally media coverage. Next step fear then u guessed it , a ban.

  7. Teri says:

    I smoke spice “Ice”. It was recently banned in Illinois. Any particular reason why?

  8. brian says:

    i’v had leukiamia, bone marrow transplant, fighting H.V.G. that is still in the ballance. sideafect of lot,s of treatments has left me in a pickle, spacy stuff my wifew can,t reconise in the man she married, and suffer anxst’ spatt’s and blur’s… urk’sss & spurts.
    i;need med’s to contain spatt’s ,n, anxztznessness.
    need herbal strain to quell/distance/comfort and smash me in n for just aa while untill my body can feel t,s self again

  9. brian says:

    what strain?

  10. K says:

    wondering if anyone had any information on how to smoke Ivory Wave. I read to harden it up with baking soda. i read in a pipe or on tin foil. i just want to know the best way

  11. norongdoing says:

    i used pumpit and it left my nose with a bloody scab on the inside that will not go away. other than that i loved it.

  12. NotSafe says:

    JWH is not as safe as pot. You CAN overdose on it. Now is it harmful if used properly? Who knows… But it is being sold to people as actual marijuana or in combination with real buds without their knowledge, they try to smoke a blunt and end up in a mini-coma, and wake up with a shitface headache. Plus JWH rapes your weed tolerance.

  13. Chris says:

    the dangerous thing with jwh-18 is that people think about it dosage wise in terms of weed, which can cause alot of trouble. I can smoke a blunt with a friend made of kush, and be fine, but if u try that with spice, ur fucked. Also, to avoid getting dangerous batches, i make sure to buy a local brand, sure it costs a few bucks more, but its worth it 2 avoid inhaling pestacides.

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