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 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?
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.
- Ivory Wave available in the UK is the same stuff it’s always been, and has been illegally imported.
- 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.
- 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:
- JWH-018, Spice & Me
- JWH-018 Toxicology
- Synthetic Cannabinoid Discussion
- Smoking Mix Discussion
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..