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5% Discount on Legal Highs, Salvia Divinorum and Everything Else From The Coffeesh0p

Competition Winner, New Products & The Best Thing On The Internet

Competition Winner

The first of three packs of Hypnotic Pills goes to Paracaine! Although that’s not your real name, you should know who you are. Actually, I emailed you yesterday, but no response. Perhaps the phases “randomly selected“, “winner” and “legal pills” tripped some sort of spam filter? Who knows! Anyway, Paracaine, can you drop me an email or comment on this post when you see this? You’ve got until next Saturday to get in touch…

Here’s some good news. Thanks to the endless badgering of a few Americans, I’ve decided to open the competition up worldwide! 😮 Yes, that’s right, the remaining two packs of pills can be won by anyone! All you need to do is subscribe to this blog by email to be in with a chance to win.

New Products

SnoberryHummer PillsHypnotic Pills

Over the past week, we’ve added a couple of new products to the site:

  • Snoberry – the younger, hotter, strawberry-flavoured sister of Snow Blow herbal snuff
  • Hummer 4 Pills – Turns out we had the old 3 pill pack on the site and the manufacturers changed them to 2 and 4 pill packs. I thought I was going crazy when I couldn’t find a 3 pill pack that someone had ordered, but now both the 4 and 2 pill packs are on the site.
  • Hypnotic Pills – Yes, that’s right, you can now by the 4 pill pack and 2 pill pack if you can’t wait to win them!

The Best Thing On The Internet

I think Sam Harris may have been wrong about religion keeping drugs illegal. These evangelical Christians appear to be totally battered:

(Drum & bass added for emphasis).

Posted in Drugs | Tagged christian drum'n'bass, coffeesh0p, competition, hummer, hypnotic, legal highs, legal pills, snoberry, snow blow |

Matthias Rath’s Bad Science Finally Catches Up With Him

Bad ScienceYesterday, Ben Goldacre of published the “missing chapter” from his awe-inspiring book, Bad Science. This book teaches us to use the most foolproof bullshit detector out there (yes, ourselves!) to sift though the mountains of pseudoscientific horse shit in search for the corny nuggets of truth. Ear candles? Homoeopathy?  Fish oil? Gillian McBitchKeith?  Dangers of the MMR vaccine? All horse shit. Seriously, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and if you don’t already own it, you can buy a copy and get it delivered for little over a fiver!

This new chapter takes on Matthias Rath, a vitamin pill salesman, and reveals him to be one of the biggest bastards out there. You think Big Pharma is the ultimate evil power in the universe? Maybe you should look at the evils of alternative therapy:


The Doctor Will Sue You Now

This chapter did not appear in the original edition of this book, because for fifteen months leading up to September 2008 the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was suing me personally, and the Guardian, for libel. This strategy brought only mixed success. For all that nutritionists may fantasise in public that any critic is somehow a pawn of big pharma, in private they would do well to remember that, like many my age who work in the public sector, I don’t own a flat. The Guardian generously paid for the lawyers, and in September 2008 Rath dropped his case, which had cost in excess of £500,000 to defend. Rath has paid £220,000 already, and the rest will hopefully follow.  Nobody will ever repay me for the endless meetings, the time off work, or the days spent poring over tables filled with endlessly cross-referenced court documents.

On this last point there is, however, one small consolation, and I will spell it out as a cautionary tale: I now know more about Matthias Rath than almost any other person alive. My notes, references and witness statements, boxed up in the room where I am sitting right now, make a pile as tall as the man himself, and what I will write here is only a tiny fraction of the fuller story that is waiting to be told about him. This chapter, I should also mention, is available free online for anyone who wishes to see it.

Matthias Rath takes us rudely outside the contained, almost academic distance of this book. For the most part we’ve been interested in the intellectual and cultural consequences of bad science, the made-up facts in national newspapers, dubious academic practices in universities, some foolish pill-peddling, and so on. But what happens if we take these sleights of hand, these pill-marketing techniques, and transplant them out of our decadent Western context into a situation where things really matter?

In an ideal world this would be only a thought experiment. AIDS is the opposite of anecdote. Twenty-five million people have died from it already, three million in the last year alone, and 500,000 of those deaths were children. In South Africa it kills 300,000 people every year: that’s eight hundred people every day, or one every two minutes. This one country has 6.3 million people who are HIV positive, including 30 per cent of all pregnant women. There are 1.2 million AIDS orphans under the age of seventeen. Most chillingly of all, this disaster has appeared suddenly, and while we were watching: in 1990, just 1 per cent of adults in South Africa were HIV positive. Ten years later, the figure had risen to 25 per cent.

It’s hard to mount an emotional response to raw numbers, but on one thing I think we would agree. If you were to walk into a situation with that much death, misery and disease, you would be very careful to make sure that you knew what you were talking about. For the reasons you are about to read, I suspect that Matthias Rath missed the mark.

This man, we should be clear, is our responsibility. Born and raised in Germany, Rath was the head of Cardiovascular Research at the Linus Pauling Institute in Palo Alto in California, and even then he had a tendency towards grand gestures, publishing a paper in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine in 1992 titled “A Unified Theory of Human Cardiovascular Disease Leading the Way to the Abolition of this Disease as a Cause for Human Mortality”. The unified theory was high-dose vitamins.

He first developed a power base from sales in Europe, selling his pills with tactics that will be very familiar to you from the rest of this book, albeit slightly more aggressive. In the UK, his adverts claimed that “90 per cent of patients receiving chemotherapy for cancer die within months of starting treatment”, and suggested that three million lives could be saved if cancer patients stopped being treated by conventional medicine.  The pharmaceutical industry was deliberately letting people die for financial gain, he explained. Cancer treatments were “poisonous compounds” with “not even one effective treatment”.

The decision to embark on treatment for cancer can be the most difficult that an individual or a family will ever take, representing a close balance between well-documented benefits and equally well-documented side-effects. Adverts like these might play especially strongly on your conscience if your mother has just lost all her hair to chemotherapy, for example, in the hope of staying alive just long enough to see your son speak.

There was some limited regulatory response in Europe, but it was generally as weak as that faced by the other characters in this book. The Advertising Standards Authority criticised one of his adverts in the UK, but that is essentially all they are able to do. Rath was ordered by a Berlin court to stop claiming that his vitamins could cure cancer, or face a €250,000 fine.

But sales were strong, and Matthias Rath still has many supporters in Europe, as you will shortly see. He walked into South Africa with all the acclaim, self-confidence and wealth he had amassed as a successful vitamin-pill entrepreneur in Europe and America, and began to take out full-page adverts in newspapers.

“The answer to the AIDS epidemic is here,” he proclaimed. Anti-retroviral drugs were poisonous, and a conspiracy to kill patients and make money. “Stop AIDS Genocide by the Drugs Cartel” said one headline. “Why should South Africans continue to be poisoned with AZT? There is a natural answer to AIDS.”  The answer came in the form of vitamin pills. “Multivitamin treatment is more effective than any toxic AIDS drug. Multivitamins cut the risk of developing AIDS in half.”

Rath’s company ran clinics reflecting these ideas, and in 2005 he decided to run a trial of his vitamins in a township near Cape Town called Khayelitsha, giving his own formulation, VitaCell, to people with advanced AIDS. In 2008 this trial was declared illegal by the Cape High Court of South Africa. Although Rath says that none of his participants had been on anti-retroviral drugs, some relatives have given statements saying that they were, and were actively told to stop using them.

Tragically, Matthias Rath had taken these ideas to exactly the right place. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa at the time, was well known as an “AIDS dissident”, and to international horror, while people died at the rate of one every two minutes in his country, he gave credence and support to the claims of a small band of campaigners who variously claim that AIDS does not exist, that it is not caused by HIV, that anti-retroviral medication does more harm than good, and so on.

At various times during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa their government argued that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, and that anti-retroviral drugs are not useful for patients. They refused to roll out proper treatment programmes, they refused to accept free donations of drugs, and they refused to accept grant money from the Global Fund to buy drugs. One study estimates that if the South African national government had used anti-retroviral drugs for prevention and treatment at the same rate as the Western Cape province (which defied national policy on the issue), around 171,000 new HIV infections and 343,000 deaths could have been prevented between 1999 and 2007. Another study estimates that between 2000 and 2005 there were 330,000 unnecessary deaths, 2.2 million person years lost, and 35,000 babies unnecessarily born with HIV because of the failure to implement a cheap and simple mother-to-child-transmission prevention program. Between one and three doses of an ARV drug can reduce transmission dramatically. The cost is negligible. It was not available.

Interestingly, Matthias Rath’s colleague and employee, a South African barrister named Anthony Brink, takes the credit for introducing Thabo Mbeki to many of these ideas. Brink stumbled on the “AIDS dissident” material in the mid-1990s, and after much surfing and reading, became convinced that it must be right. In 1999 he wrote an article about AZT in a Johannesburg newspaper titled “a medicine from hell”. This led to a public exchange with a leading virologist. Brink contacted Mbeki, sending him copies of the debate, and was welcomed as an expert.

This is a chilling testament to the danger of elevating cranks by engaging with them. In his initial letter of motivation for employment to Matthias Rath, Brink described himself as “South Africa’s leading AIDS dissident, best known for my whistle-blowing exposé of the toxicity and inefficacy of AIDS drugs, and for my political activism in this regard, which caused President Mbeki and Health Minister Dr Tshabalala-Msimang to repudiate the drugs in 1999?.

In 2000, the now infamous International AIDS Conference took place in Durban. Mbeki’s presidential advisory panel beforehand was packed with “AIDS dissidents”, including Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick. On the first day, Rasnick suggested that all HIV testing should be banned on principle, and that South Africa should stop screening supplies of blood for HIV. “If I had the power to outlaw the HIV antibody test,” he said, “I would do it across the board.” When African physicians gave testimony about the drastic change AIDS had caused in their clinics and hospitals, Rasnick said he had not seen “any evidence” of an AIDS catastrophe. The media were not allowed in, but one reporter from the Village Voice was present. Peter Duesberg, he said, “gave a presentation so removed from African medical reality that it left several local doctors shaking their heads”. It wasn’t AIDS that was killing babies and children, said the dissidents: it was the anti-retroviral medication.

President Mbeki sent a letter to world leaders comparing the struggle of the “AIDS dissidents” to the struggle against apartheid.  The Washington Post described the reaction at the White House: “So stunned were some officials by the letter’s tone and timing during final preparations for July’s conference in Durban that at least two of them, according to diplomatic sources, felt obliged to check whether it was genuine.  Hundreds of delegates walked out of Mbeki’s address to the conference in disgust, but many more described themselves as dazed and confused. Over 5,000 researchers and activists around the world signed up to the Durban Declaration, a document that specifically addressed and repudiated the claims and concerns–at least the more moderate ones–of the “AIDS dissidents”. Specifically, it addressed the charge that people were simply dying of poverty:

The evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV-1 or HIV-2 is clearcut, exhaustive and unambiguous… As with any other chronic infection, various co-factors play a role in determining the risk of disease. Persons who are malnourished, who already suffer other infections or who are older, tend to be more susceptible to the rapid development of AIDS following HIV infection.  However, none of these factors weaken the scientific evidence that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS… Mother-to-child transmission can be reduced by half or more by short courses of antiviral drugs. What works best in one country may not be appropriate in another. But to tackle the disease, everyone must first understand that HIV is the enemy. Research, not myths, will lead to the development of more effective and cheaper treatments.

It did them no good. Until 2003 the South African government refused, as a matter of principle, to roll out proper antiretroviral medication programmes, and even then the process was half-hearted. This madness was only overturned after a massive campaign by grassroots organisations such as the Treatment Action Campaign, but even after the ANC cabinet voted to allow medication to be given, there was still resistance. In mid-2005, at least 85 per cent of HIV-positive people who needed anti-retroviral drugs were still refused them. That’s around a million people.

This resistance, of course, went deeper than just one man; much of it came from Mbeki’s Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. An ardent critic of medical drugs for HIV, she would cheerfully go on television to talk up their dangers, talk down their benefits, and became irritable and evasive when asked how many patients were receiving effective treatment. She declared in 2005 that she would not be “pressured” into meeting the target of three million patients on anti-retroviral medication, that people had ignored the importance of nutrition, and that she would continue to warn patients of the sideeffects of anti-retrovirals, saying: “We have been vindicated in this regard. We are what we eat.”

It’s an eerily familiar catchphrase. Tshabalala-Msimang has also gone on record to praise the work of Matthias Rath, and refused to investigate his activities. Most joyfully of all, she is a staunch advocate of the kind of weekend glossy-magazine-style nutritionism that will by now be very familiar to you. The remedies she advocates for AIDS are beetroot, garlic, lemons and African potatoes. A fairly typical quote, from the Health Minister in a country where eight hundred people die every day from AIDS, is this: “Raw garlic and a skin of the lemon–not only do they give you a beautiful face and skin but they also protect you from disease.”  South Africa’s stand at the 2006 World AIDS Conference in Toronto was described by delegates as the “salad stall”. It consisted of some garlic, some beetroot, the African potato, and assorted other vegetables. Some boxes of anti-retroviral drugs were added later, but they were reportedly borrowed at the last minute from other conference delegates.

Alternative therapists like to suggest that their treatments and ideas have not been sufficiently researched. As you now know, this is often untrue, and in the case of the Health Minister’s favoured vegetables, research had indeed been done, with results that were far from promising. Interviewed on SABC about this, Tshabalala-Msimang gave the kind of responses you’d expect to hear at any North London dinner-party discussion of alternative therapies.

First she was asked about work from the University of Stellenbosch which suggested that her chosen plant, the African potato, might be actively dangerous for people on AIDS drugs. One study on African potato in HIV had to be terminated prematurely, because the patients who received the plant extract developed severe bone-marrow suppression and a drop in their CD4 cell count–which is a bad thing–after eight weeks. On top of this, when extract from the same vegetable was given to cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, they succumbed to full-blown Feline AIDS faster than their non-treated controls. African potato does not look like a good bet.

Tshabalala-Msimang disagreed: the researchers should go back to the drawing board, and “investigate properly”. Why?  Because HIV-positive people who used African potato had shown improvement, and they had said so themselves. If a person says he or she is feeling better, should this be disputed, she demanded to know, merely because it had not been proved scientifically? “When a person says she or he is feeling better, I must say ‘No, I don’t think you are feeling better? I must rather go and do science on you’?” Asked whether there should be a scientific basis to her views, she replied: “Whose science?”

And there, perhaps, is a clue, if not exoneration. This is a continent that has been brutally exploited by the developed world, first by empire, and then by globalised capital. Conspiracy theories about AIDS and Western medicine are not entirely absurd in this context. The pharmaceutical industry has indeed been caught performing drug trials in Africa which would be impossible anywhere in the developed world. Many find it suspicious that black Africans seem to be the biggest victims of AIDS, and point to the biological warfare programmes set up by the apartheid governments; there have also been suspicions that the scientific discourse of HIV/AIDS might be a device, a Trojan horse for spreading even more exploitative Western political and economic agendas around a problem that is simply one of poverty.

And these are new countries, for which independence and self-rule are recent developments, which are struggling to find their commercial feet and true cultural identity after centuries of colonisation. Traditional medicine represents an important link with an autonomous past; besides which, anti-retroviral medications have been unnecessarily – offensively, absurdly – expensive, and until moves to challenge this became partially successful, many Africans were effectively denied access to medical treatment as a result.

It’s very easy for us to feel smug, and to forget that we all have our own strange cultural idiosyncrasies which prevent us from taking up sensible public-health programmes. For examples, we don’t even have to look as far as MMR. There is a good evidence base, for example, to show that needle-exchange programmes reduce the spread of HIV, but this strategy has been rejected time and again in favour of “Just say no.” Development charities funded by US Christian groups refuse to engage with birth control, and any suggestion of abortion, even in countries where being in control of your own fertility could mean the difference between success and failure in life, is met with a cold, pious stare. These impractical moral principles are so deeply entrenched that Pepfar, the US Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has insisted that every recipient of international aid money must sign a declaration expressly promising not to have any involvement with sex workers.

We mustn’t appear insensitive to the Christian value system, but it seems to me that engaging sex workers is almost the cornerstone of any effective AIDS policy: commercial sex is frequently the “vector of transmission”, and sex workers a very high-risk population; but there are also more subtle issues at stake. If you secure the legal rights of prostitutes to be free from violence and discrimination, you empower them to demand universal condom use, and that way you can prevent HIV from being spread into the whole community. This is where science meets culture. But perhaps even to your own friends and neighbours, in whatever suburban idyll has become your home, the moral principle of abstinence from sex and drugs is more important than people dying of AIDS; and perhaps, then, they are no less irrational than Thabo Mbeki.

So this was the situation into which the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath inserted himself, prominently and expensively, with the wealth he had amassed from Europe and America, exploiting anti-colonial anxieties with no sense of irony, although he was a white man offering pills made in a factory abroad. His adverts and clinics were a tremendous success. He began to tout individual patients as evidence of the benefits that could come from vitamin pills – although in reality some of his most famous success stories have died of AIDS. When asked about the deaths of Rath’s star patients, Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang replied: “It doesn’t necessarily mean that if I am taking antibiotics and I die, that I died of antibiotics.”

She is not alone: South Africa’s politicians have consistently refused to step in, Rath claims the support of the government, and its most senior figures have refused to distance themselves from his operations or to criticise his activities. Tshabalala-Msimang has gone on the record to state that the Rath Foundation “are not undermining the government’s position. If anything, they are supporting it.”

In 2005, exasperated by government inaction, a group of 199 leading medical practitioners in South Africa signed an open letter to the health authorities of the Western Cape, pleading for action on the Rath Foundation. “Our patients are being inundated with propaganda encouraging them to stop life-saving medicine,” it said. “Many of us have had experiences with HIV infected patients who have had their health compromised by stopping their anti-retrovirals due to the activities of this Foundation.”  Rath’s adverts continue unabated. He even claimed that his activities were endorsed by huge lists of sponsors and affiliates including the World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNAIDS. All have issued statements flatly denouncing his claims and activities. The man certainly has chutzpah.

His adverts are also rich with detailed scientific claims. It would be wrong of us to neglect the science in this story, so we should follow some through, specifically those which focused on a Harvard study in Tanzania. He described this research in full-page advertisements, some of which have appeared in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune. He refers to these paid adverts, I should mention, as if he had received flattering news coverage in the same papers. Anyway, this research showed that multivitamin supplements can be beneficial in a developing world population with AIDS: there’s no problem with that result, and there are plenty of reasons to think that vitamins might have some benefit for a sick and frequently malnourished population.

The researchers enrolled 1,078 HIV-positive pregnant women and randomly assigned them to have either a vitamin supplement or placebo. Notice once again, if you will, that this is another large, well-conducted, publicly funded trial of vitamins, conducted by mainstream scientists, contrary to the claims of nutritionists that such studies do not exist. The women were followed up for several years, and at the end of the study, 25 per cent of those on vitamins were severely ill or dead, compared with 31 per cent of those on placebo. There was also a statistically significant benefit in CD4 cell count (a measure of HIV activity) and viral loads. These results were in no sense dramatic – and they cannot be compared to the demonstrable life-saving benefits of anti-retrovirals – but they did show that improved diet, or cheap generic vitamin pills, could represent a simple and relatively inexpensive way to marginally delay the need to start HIV medication in some patients.

In the hands of Rath, this study became evidence that vitamin pills are superior to medication in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, that  anti-retroviral therapies “severely damage all cells in the body–including white blood cells”, and worse, that they were “thereby not improving but rather worsening immune deficiencies and expanding the AIDS epidemic”. The researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health were so horrified that they put together a press release setting out their support for medication, and stating starkly, with unambiguous clarity, that Matthias Rath had misrepresented their findings.

To outsiders the story is baffling and terrifying. The United Nations has condemned Rath’s adverts as “wrong and misleading”. “This guy is killing people by luring them with unrecognised treatment without any scientific evidence,” said Eric Goemaere, head of Médecins sans Frontières SA, a man who pioneered anti-retroviral therapy in South Africa. Rath sued him.

It’s not just MSF who Rath has gone after: he has also brought time-consuming, expensive, stalled or failed cases against a professor of AIDS research, critics in the media and others.

But his most heinous campaign has been against the Treatment Action Campaign. For many years this has been the key organisation campaigning for access to anti-retroviral medication in South Africa, and it has been fighting a war on four fronts.  Firstly, TAC campaigns against its own government, trying to compel it to roll out treatment programmes for the population. Secondly, it fights against the pharmaceutical industry, which claims that it needs to charge full price for its products in developing countries in order to pay for research and development of new drugs – although, as we shall see, out of its $550 billion global annual revenue, the pharmaceutical industry spends twice as much on promotion and admin as it does on research and development. Thirdly, it is a grassroots organisation, made up largely of black women from townships who do important prevention and treatment-literacy work on the ground, ensuring that people know what is available, and how to protect themselves. Lastly, it fights against people who promote the type of information peddled by Matthias Rath and his ilk.

Rath has taken it upon himself to launch a massive campaign against this group. He distributes advertising material against them, saying “Treatment Action Campaign medicines are killing you” and “Stop AIDS genocide by the drug cartel”, claiming–as you will guess by now–that there is an international conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies intent on prolonging the AIDS crisis in the interests of their own profits by giving medication that makes people worse. TAC must be a part of this, goes the reasoning, because it criticises Matthias Rath. Just like me writing on Patrick Holford or Gillian McKeith, TAC is perfectly in favour of good diet and nutrition. But in Rath’s  promotional literature it is a front for the pharmaceutical industry, a “Trojan horse” and a “running dog”. TAC has made a full disclosure of its funding and activities, showing no such connection: Rath presented no evidence to the contrary, and has even lost a court case over the issue, but will not let it lie. In fact he presents the loss of this court case as if it was a victory.

The founder of TAC is a man called Zackie Achmat, and he is the closest thing I have to a hero. He is South African, and coloured, by the nomenclature of the apartheid system in which he grew up. At the age of fourteen he tried to burn down his school, and you might have done the same in similar circumstances. He has been arrested and imprisoned under South Africa’s violent, brutal white regime, with all that entailed. He is also gay, and HIV-positive, and he refused to take anti-retroviral medication until it was widely available to all on the public health system, even when he was dying of AIDS, even when he was personally implored to save himself by Nelson Mandela, a public supporter of anti-retroviral medication and Achmat’s work.

And now, at last, we come to the lowest point of this whole story, not merely for Matthias Rath’s movement, but for the alternative therapy movement around the world as a whole. In 2007, with a huge public flourish, to great media coverage, Rath’s former employee Anthony Brink filed a formal complaint against Zackie Achmat, the head of the TAC. Bizarrely, he filed this complaint with the International Criminal Court at The Hague, accusing Achmat of genocide for successfully campaigning to get access to HIV drugs for the people of South Africa.

It’s hard to explain just how influential the “AIDS dissidents” are in South Africa. Brink is a barrister, a man with important friends, and his accusations were reported in the national news media –and in some corners of the Western gay press–as a serious news story. I do not believe that any one of those journalists who reported on it can possibly have read Brink’s indictment to the end.

I have.

The first fifty-seven pages present familiar anti-medication and “AIDS-dissident” material. But then, on page fifty-eight, this “indictment” document suddenly deteriorates into something altogether more vicious and unhinged, as Brink sets out what he believes would be an appropriate punishment for Zackie. Because I do not wish to be accused of selective editing, I will now reproduce for you that entire section, unedited, so you can see and feel it for yourself.

The document was described by the Rath Foundation as “entirely valid and long overdue”.

This story isn’t about Matthias Rath, or Anthony Brink, or Zackie Achmat, or even South Africa. It is about the culture of how ideas work, and how that can break down. Doctors criticise other doctors, academics criticise academics, politicians criticise politicians: that’s normal and healthy, it’s how ideas improve. Matthias Rath is an alternative therapist, made in Europe. He is every bit the same as the British operators that we have seen in this book. He is from their world.

Despite the extremes of this case, not one single alternative therapist or nutritionist, anywhere in the world, has stood up to criticise any single aspect of the activities of Matthias Rath and his colleagues. In fact, far from it: he continues to be fêted to this day. I have sat in true astonishment and watched leading figures of the UK’s alternative therapy movement applaud  Matthias Rath at a public lecture (I have it on video, just in case there’s any doubt). Natural health organisations continue to defend Rath. Homeopaths’ mailouts continue to promote his work. The British Association of Nutritional Therapists has been invited to comment by bloggers, but declined. Most, when challenged, will dissemble.”Oh,” they say, “I don’t really know much about it.”  Not one person will step forward and dissent.

The alternative therapy movement as a whole has demonstrated itself to be so dangerously, systemically incapable of critical self-appraisal that it cannot step up even in a case like that of Rath: in that count I include tens of thousands of practitioners, writers, administrators and more. This is how ideas go badly wrong. In the conclusion to this book, written before I was able to include this chapter, I will argue that the biggest dangers posed by the material we have covered are cultural and intellectual.

I may be mistaken.


If you liked that, buy the book! I swear you won’t be able to put it down. You can find more for free at, including Ben’s column in The Guardian of the same name..

Posted in Essays | Tagged bad science, ben goldacre, books, mathias rath |

Hypnotic Legal Pills

Hypnotic Pills

Luckily for you guys, I’ve happened across a few sample packs of these new legal pills. They’re called Hypnotic and are made by LightYears, the same people that brought you Diablo, Hummer, MeO, Activate, Elevate, etc. Here’s what they say on the back:

Ingredients: Guarana, Geranium extract, Poppy seed, Calcium, Magnesium and tableting aids.
Dosage: Take 2 tablets with water or fruit juice. If under 60kg take only 1 tablet.
Warning: Do not take more than 2 tablets within 24 hours. Effects may last for up to 12 hours. Do not take if pregnant, lactating, suffer from mental illness or high blood pressure. Don’t mix with other drugs or medicines, keep hydrated and party responsibly.

And here’s what they say on the inside:

Where relaxation and exhilaration meet.
Sit back and let yourself be taken away by the warm buzz that is Hypnotic. Whether you’re planning down time or party time it’ll give you that extra spark that’ll truly enhance your mood. Experience relaxation you can melt into, mixed with excitement that’ll lift you.
Hypnotic will take you to a place you won’t want to leave.

So why is it lucky for you guys? Well, I thought I’d spread the wealth a bit and give some away.

How can you win some?

Hypnotic PillsAre you:

  • From the UK planet Earth?
  • Not pregnant, lactating, suffering from mental illness or high blood pressure?
  • Computer literate enough to use email?

Then you just might be in with a chance of winning! All you need to do is subscribe to this blog via email. Couldn’t be simpler! For three weeks, I’ll give away one pack a week to someone randomly selected from my list of email subscribers.  So, subscribe sooner rather than later and be in with a bigger chance of winning. Winners each week will be announced at some point over each weekend, starting with the first winner on Sat 19th April.

It would also be super nice if those winners would report back here and write a little review.

Just for you, Sharon:

Here’s a few nice plant pictures taken from Inverewe Gardens on our recent holiday.  🙂
Click on each for a high res version.


Posted in Drugs | Tagged activate, competition, diablo, elevate, holiday, hummer, hypnotic, legal highs, legal pills, lightyears, meo |

We’re Never Going On Holiday Again

Mellon Udrigle Beach

Mellon Udrigle Beach

Last week me and my now ex-girlfriend (read on…) went on holiday to the west coast of Scotland. With the last few weeks of university looming over us like some kind of big, looming, stressful metaphor, what better way to unwind than abandoning all work and revision for a bit and going on holiday?



We started the week wandering round the grounds of Blair Castle and then headed up to Landmark Forest Adventure Park, where we learned that ducks will jump for chips, among other things. There’s no way I can list everything we did there and not sound completely lame, so have a look at their website instead. Day two we spent chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool on Mellon Udrigle beach, one of the best beaches ever, where me and my girlfriend got engaged! 😮

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one week, day three was spent checking out a river that appears from nowhere, another awesome beach in Durness, Smoo cave, the best fish et chips in the country according to Rick Stein and Corrieshalloch gorge, a gaping hole in the ground, spanned by the flimsiest of bridges.

Durness Beach

Durness Beach

Day four was a slow day – everyone was knackered. A quick run round the shops in the morning followed by another trip to Mellon Udrigle was about all we could handle.  The last day was a little more action packed. We went to Gairloch, Red Point, yet another beach, Slattadale, a nice little woodland walk,  and finally Inverewe Gardens, home to some pretty amazing plants, considering it’s in Scotland (apparently, it has something to do with the weird currents around there…) For those of you still thinking “Who the hell would want to go to Scotland? All it does is piss down“, let me just mention one more thing… On our last day, where we were was as hot as Bermuda, hotter than all of the UK and the majority of Europe. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

A big thanks to everyone who obviously thought we did deserve a holiday and placed an order anyway! If it makes you feel any better about the delay, me and the soon-to-be misses were up all Sunday night packaging stuff – at one point we could barely move for envelopes. Suffice to say, the Post Office shat their pants!

So, it’s back to the grindstone for another few weeks then hopefully we can get some interesting stuff happening with Coffeesh0p and this blog.

The view from Inverewe Gardens

The view from Inverewe Gardens

Thanks again!

Woop! 😀.

Posted in Personal | Tagged coffeesh0p, engaged, holiday, scotland |

Sam Harris, Religion & Drugs

What with my recent computer troubles (I’ve had to format at least once more since writing that post, by the way), I’ve not been able to post anything with much substance in the past few weeks. To make that up to you, this post will a long one, albeit not my own words, so put the kettle on and dig out your reading glasses.

The End Of FaithThe following passage is taken from Sam Harris‘s book, The End Of Faith, and talks about religion’s role in keeping drugs illegal:


The War on Sin

In the United States, and in much of the rest of the world, it is currently illegal to seek certain experiences of pleasure. Seek pleasure by a forbidden means, even in the privacy of your own home, and men with guns may kick in the door and carry you away to prison for it. One of the most surprising things about this situation is how unsurprising most of us find it. As in most dreams, the very faculty of reason that would otherwise notice the strangeness of these events seems to have succumbed to sleep.

Behaviors like drug use, prostitution, sodomy, and the viewing of obscene materials have been categorized as “victimless crimes.” Of course, society is the tangible victim of almost everything human beings do—from making noise to manufacturing chemical waste— but we have not made it a crime to do such things within certain limits. Setting these limits is invariably a matter of assessing risk. One could argue that it is, at the very least, conceivable that certain activities engaged in private, like the viewing of sexually violent pornography, might incline some people to commit genuine crimes against others. There is a tension, therefore, between private freedom and public risk. If there were a drug, or a book, or a film, or a sexual position that led 90 percent of its users to rush into the street and begin killing people at random, concerns over private pleasure would surely yield to those of public safety. We can also stipulate that no one is eager to see generations of children raised on a steady diet of methamphetamine and Marquis de Sade. Society as a whole has an interest in how its children develop, and the private behavior of parents, along with the contents of our media, clearly play a role in this. But we must ask ourselves, why would anyone want to punish people for engaging in behavior that brings no significant risk of harm to anyone? Indeed, what is startling about the notion of a victimless crime is that even when the behavior in question is genuinely victimless, its criminality is still affirmed by those who are eager to punish it. It is in such cases that the true genius lurking behind many of our laws stands revealed. The idea of a victimless crime is nothing more than a judicial reprise of the Christian notion of sin.

It is no accident that people of faith often want to curtail the private freedoms of others. This impulse has less to do with the history of religion and more to do with its logic, because the very idea of privacy is incompatible with the existence of God. If God sees and knows all things, and remains so provincial a creature as to be scandalized by certain sexual behaviors or states of the brain, then what people do in the privacy of their own homes, though it may not have the slightest implication for their behavior in public, will still be a matter of public concern for people of faith.

A variety of religious notions of wrongdoing can be seen converging here—concerns over nonprocreative sexuality and idolatry especially—and these seem to have given many of us the sense that it is ethical to punish people, often severely, for engaging in private behavior that harms no one. Like most costly examples of irrationality, in which human happiness has been blindly subverted for generations, the role of religion here is both explicit and foundational. To see that our laws against “vice” have actually nothing to do with keeping people from coming to physical or psychological harm, and everything to do with not angering God, we need only consider that oral or anal sex between consenting adults remains a criminal offence in thirteen states. Four of the states (Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri) prohibit these acts between same-sex couples and, therefore, effectively prohibit homosexuality. The other nine ban consensual sodomy for everyone (these places of equity are Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia). One does not have to be a demographer to grasp that the impulse to prosecute consenting adults for nonprocreative sexual behavior will correlate rather strongly with religious faith.

Jesus once got 5000 people totally baked with only an eighth of weed

Jesus once got 5000 people totally baked with only an eighth of weed

The influence of faith on our criminal laws comes at a remarkable price. Consider the case of drugs. As it happens, there are many substances—many of them naturally occurring—the consumption of which leads to transient states of inordinate pleasure. Occasionally, it is true, they lead to transient states of misery as well, but there is no doubt that pleasure is the norm, otherwise human beings would not have felt the continual desire to take such substances for millennia. Of course, pleasure is precisely the problem with these substances, since pleasure and piety have always had an uneasy relationship.

When one looks at our drug laws—indeed, at our vice laws altogether—the only organizing principle that appears to make sense of them is that anything which might radically eclipse prayer or procreative sexuality as a source of pleasure has been outlawed. In particular, any drug (LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, DMT, MDMA, marijuana, etc.) to which spiritual or religious significance has been ascribed by its users has been prohibited. Concerns about the health of our citizens, or about their productivity, are red herrings in this debate, as the legality of alcohol and cigarettes attests.

The fact that people are being prosecuted and imprisoned for using marijuana, while alcohol remains a staple commodity, is surely the reductio ad absurdum of any notion that our drug laws are designed to keep people from harming themselves or others. Alcohol is by any measure the more dangerous substance. It has no approved medical use, and its lethal dose is rather easily achieved. Its role in causing automobile accidents is beyond dispute. The manner in which alcohol relieves people of their inhibitions contributes to human violence, personal injury, unplanned pregnancy, and the spread of sexual disease. Alcohol is also well known to be addictive. When consumed in large quantities over many years, it can lead to devastating neurological impairments, to cirrhosis of the liver, and to death. In the United States alone, more than 100,000 people annually die from its use. It is also more toxic to a developing fetus than any other drug of abuse. (Indeed, “crack babies” appear to have been really suffering from fetal-alcohol syndrome.) None of these charges can be leveled at marijuana. As a drug, marijuana is nearly unique in having several medical applications and no known lethal dosage. While adverse reactions to drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen account for an estimated 7,600 deaths (and 76,000 hospitalizations) each year in the United States alone, marijuana kills no one. Its role as a “gateway drug” now seems less plausible than ever (and it was never plausible). In fact, nearly everything human beings do—driving cars, flying planes, hitting golf balls—is more dangerous than smoking marijuana in the privacy of one’s own home. Anyone who would seriously attempt to argue that marijuana is worthy of prohibition because of the risk it poses to human beings will find that the powers of the human brain are simply insufficient for the job.

And yet, we are so far from the shady groves of reason now that people are still receiving life sentences without the possibility of parole for growing, selling, possessing, or buying what is, in fact, a naturally occurring plant. Cancer patients and paraplegics have been sentenced to decades in prison for marijuana possession. Owners of garden-supply stores have received similar sentences because some of their customers were caught growing marijuana. What explains this astonishing wastage of human life and material resources? The only explanation is that our discourse on this subject has never been obliged to function within the bounds of rationality. Under our current laws, it is safe to say, if a drug were invented that posed no risk of physical harm or addiction to its users but produced a brief feeling of spiritual bliss and epiphany in 100 percent of those who tried it, this drug would be illegal, and people would be punished mercilessly for its use. Only anxiety about the biblical crime of idolatry would appear to make sense of this retributive impulse. Because we are a people of faith, taught to concern ourselves with the sinfulness of our neighbors, we have grown tolerant of irrational uses of state power.

Our prohibition of certain substances has led thousands of otherwise productive and law-abiding men and women to be locked away for decades at a stretch, sometimes for life. Their children have become wards of the state. As if such cascading horror were not disturbing enough, violent criminals—murders, rapists, and child molesters—are regularly paroled to make room for them. Here we appear to have overstepped the banality of evil and plunged to the absurdity at its depths.

The consequences of our irrationality on this front are so egregious that they bear closer examination. Each year, over 1.5 million men and women are arrested in the United States because of our drug laws. At this moment, somewhere on the order of 400,000 men and women languish in U.S. prisons for nonviolent drug offences. One million others are currently on probation. More people are imprisoned for nonviolent drug offences in the United States than are incarcerated, for any reason, in all of Western Europe (which has a larger population). The cost of these efforts, at the federal level alone, is nearly $20 billion dollars annually. The total cost of our drug laws—when one factors in the expense to state and local governments and the tax revenue lost by our failure to regulate the sale of drugs—could easily be in excess of $100 billion dollars each year. Our war on drugs consumes an estimated 50 percent of the trial time of our courts and the full-time energies of over 400,000 police officers. These are resources that might otherwise be used to fight violent crime and terrorism.

In historical terms, there was every reason to expect that such a policy of prohibition would fail. It is well known, for instance, that the experiment with the prohibition of alcohol in the United States did little more than precipitate a terrible comedy of increased drinking, organized crime, and police corruption. What is not generally remembered is that Prohibition was an explicitly religious exercise, being the joint product of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the pious lobbying of certain Protestant missionary societies. The problem with the prohibition of any desirable commodity is money. The United Nations values the drug trade at $400 billion a year. This exceeds the annual budget for the U.S. Department of Defense. If this figure is correct, the trade in illegal drugs constitutes 8 percent of all international commerce (while the sale of textiles makes up 7.5 percent and motor vehicles just 5.3 percent). And yet, prohibition itself is what makes the manufacture and sale of drugs so extraordinarily profitable. Those who earn their living in this way enjoy a 5,000 to 20,000 percent return on their investment, tax-free. Every relevant indicator of the drug trade—rates of drug use and interdiction, estimates of production, the purity of drugs on the street, etc.—shows that the government can do nothing to stop it as long as such profits exist (indeed, these profits are highly corrupting of law enforcement in any case). The crimes of the addict, to finance the stratospheric cost of his lifestyle, and the crimes of the dealer, to protect both his territory and his goods, are likewise the results of prohibition. A final irony, which seems good enough to be the work of Satan himself, is that the market we have created by our drug laws has become a steady source of revenue for terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Shining Path, and others.

Even if we acknowledge that stopping drug use is a justifiable social goal, how does the financial cost of our war on drugs appear in light of the other challenges we face? Consider that it would require only a onetime expenditure of $2 billion to secure our commercial seaports against smuggled nuclear weapons. At present we have allocated a mere $93 million for this purpose. How will our prohibition of marijuana use look (this comes at a cost of $4 billion annually) if a new sun ever dawns over the port of Los Angeles? Or consider that the U.S. government can afford to spend only $2.3 billion each year on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are now regrouping. Warlords rule the countryside beyond the city limits of Kabul. Which is more important to us, reclaiming this part of the world for the forces of civilization or keeping cancer patients in Berkeley from relieving their nausea with marijuana? Our present use of government funds suggests an uncanny skewing—we might even say derangement—of our national priorities. Such a bizarre allocation of resources is sure to keep Afghanistan in ruins for many years to come. It will also leave Afghan farmers with no alternative but to grow opium. Happily for them, our drug laws still render this a highly profitable enterprise.

Anyone who believes that God is watching us from beyond the stars will feel that punishing peaceful men and women for their private pleasure is perfectly reasonable. We are now in the twenty-first century. Perhaps we should have better reasons for depriving our neighbors of their liberty at gunpoint. Given the magnitude of the real problems that confront us-—terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the spread of infectious disease, failing infrastructure, lack of adequate funds for education and health care, etc.—our war on sin is so outrageously unwise as to almost defy rational comment. How have we grown so blind to our deeper interests? And how have we managed to enact such policies with so little substantive debate?


Letter To A Christian Nation Wise words indeed. Sam Harris is a philosopher, neuroscientist and the kind of atheist who takes no shit from anyone. The rest of his book tackles the irrationality of belief, the damage it can do to society and highlights the reasons why religious tolerance is certainly a bad thing. This book should be on everyone’s reading list, but if you’re looking for a more concise attack on irrational belief, I’d also recommend Sam Harris’s other book, Letter To A Christian Nation. Weighing in at just over 100 pages, this is more of an essay than a book, so you’ll finish it in one afternoon.

If you’re one of those rare kinds of people with an attention span longer than 10 minutes, you might also like to watch The Four Horsemen – a discussion between Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet & Christopher Hitchens. It’s two hours long, so you might want to preroll beforehand. 😉.

Posted in Essays, Legislation | Tagged athiesm, books, faith, Legislation, prohibition, religion, sam harris, sin |

Computer Problems

It’s been one hell of a week.

My computer has decided that now would be a great time to die, with only a few weeks to go before my final university deadlines. Error message after error message came thundering onto the screen faster than I could tell the computer “Ok”, as though my acknowledgement of the situation would make the slightest bit of difference. After failing to run a system restore, I decided to reinstall Windows. I was 100% confident that this would fix all of my problems in one fell swoop. If only…

Practice safe surfing

Practice safe surfing

My first mistake was trying to reinstall Windows XP Professional instead of Home edition, putting two different installations of Windows on the same machine and solving nothing. Stupid mistake, but I had to move on – there’d be time to deal with a rogue Windows installation when everything else was back up and running. Time to reinstall XP Home Edition! Easy enough, should you have a working XP Home Edition CD at your disposal. Unfortunately, mine was scratched in such a manner than each time I tried to reinstall it, random, but different, files refused to copy across on each of the several occasions I attempted it. Some time later, I bit the bullet and made the always painful decision to format the bastard. But first, I needed to back up all my shit, including Coffeesh0p code and plenty of stuff for this blog, which is no easy task if you can’t boot up your computer in the first place. Luckily, I decided against smashing that XP Professional CD into the wall earlier and cutting myself with the shards, so I thought I’d try and install that again. 39 minutes later, my computer was back up from its death bed, but still not fit for duty. Before I could operate format, I needed to get all my stuff backed up onto another PC on the network, but then the next hurdle cropped up – apparently, I wasn’t authorised to access the files on my own pissing computer! Just in case any of you encounter a situation as shitty as this, you have to log onto your other Windows installation in safe mode, log into the administrator account and set yourself as the owner of the files in question, which is far from a simple task.

Eventually, everything was rescued and the computer formatted, but it’s still not working properly. I suspect it may have some virus or other, but I’ll have to live with it until my exams are over.

As a result, my customer service went down the pan, so I apologise to anyone that sent me an email last week.

In other news, you’ve all been very kind with the new rating system I installed. So far, there’s 14 ratings, only two of which are not five stars. Thanks! 🙂 Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a bit more once this damn project is over….

Posted in Personal | Tagged computer, customer service, virus, windows |

Herbal Photography

It’s been a busy week here at Coffeesh0p Studios (my bedroom). First off, we’ve been battling with hosting issues since the weekend. Turns out we’d exceeded our bandwidth limit for February, taking both Coffeesh0p and this blog down until I forked over more money. It’s kind of like the internet equivalent of being kidnapped and held to ransom.

I’ve also been taking pictures for some of the new products I mentioned a while ago, so I thought I’d share some here. At the moment, the product images on Coffeesh0p are pretty small, most of them being around 200 px wide, so I’ve picked a few of my favourite full size pics and displayed them below. Click on each for the full resolution version.

Amanita MuscariaWe’ll finally be stocking plain ol’ Fly Agaric caps in the next few days. Up until now, the only Amanita muscaria we’ve sold has been prepackaged, so it’s hard to display them in their full glory. This single cap will be turned into a thumbnail image only 50 x 50 px. Seems such a shame. 🙁
This picture of Salvia divinorum leaf has been desperately needed for quite some time. Although we’ve always sold salvia leaf, the picture was terrible.Salvia Leaf
Damiana ExtractSince most extracts look pretty unappealing, this chunky Damiana 4x extract really stood out.
This is one of our new smoking mixtures, Blaze. Looks as delicious as it smells!Blaze


Posted in Drugs | Tagged amanita muscaria, blaze, coffeesh0p, damiana, hosting, new products, photography, Photoshop, salvia divinorum |

JWH-018 Toxicology

ToxicSince my last post about the spice behind Spice (and other smoking mixtures such as Smoke, Serenity Now, K2, Sence, etc), it has been brought to my attention that some initial toxicology testing has been done on the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018. Before we get down to the details however, here’s some pretty weird background information – the sponsor and provider of these studies wishes to remain anonymous! Unfortunately, this makes the whole thing a lot less credible, but since this is the only information we have right now, let’s hope someone else can verify these things at a later date. So far, one professor (who also wishes to remain anonymous) thinks these are real, but as of yet, no one is willing to put their name down on any kind of formal statement. If you, or anyone you know, has the relevant expertise to look over these studies, please drop me a line!

(Quick Update – A lot of people have been discussing and linking to this post, but there remains some suspicion that I have something to gain by saying the JWH-018 isn’t that harmful. Firstly, JWH-018 is now illegal in the UK. Secondly, as I mentioned just above this, if I have got anything wrong, please pick me up on it! If it turns out my analysis of the data is incorrect, I will correct it!)

Feel free to invent your own conspiracy theories, but for now, let’s take a look at the data. You can download the PDF documents in this Zip file [2.04 MB]

CYP450 Inhibition Assay

This first assay looks at the effect of a drug on specific enzymes in your liver. These Cytochrome P450 enzymes are responsible for metabolising the vast majority of drugs you might put in your body, so if you’ve got too much of one drug in your system (ie paracetamol/acetaminophen), then other drugs that are also metabolised by these enzymes (ie alcohol) may compete for these enzymes and so hang around in your system for longer. As you can imagine, it’s important to understand how one drug may affect the metabolism of another, in case of any disasterous drug-drug interactions.

Results: JWH-018 will probably interact with the metabolism of other drugs, so more in vivo work is necessary.

hERG Binding Assay

hERG stands for human Ether-à-go-go Related Gene. This gene codes for a particular type of potassium channel found on heart tissue. This channel pumps potassium ions out of the heart muscle cells and are critical in coordinating the heart’s electrical activity. Unfortunately, these channels are a prime target for drugs to bind to, disrupting their function. This can lead to “Long QT Syndrome”, associated with fainting and can lead to sudden death, so you can see why these kinds of tests are important. Here’s a typical ECG recording showing what’s called the “QT interval” shown in blue, which lasts for longer than it should do if these channels are disrupted.

QT Interval

Results: JWH-018 does not interfere with these channels. That’s a good thing.

Cytotoxicity Assay

This simple test essentially looks at how many cells die when you perfuse them with a drug. The more cells that die, the more toxic the drug.

Results: JWH-018 is not cytotoxic at low concentrations.

GreenScreen HC Genotoxicity Assay

This assay looks at how much a drug will interfere with our DNA. Typically, anything that damages DNA is bad news, being potentially carcinogenic, making the rationale behind this test glaringly obvious. This test was also performed in the presence of a fraction taken from liver cells, which will break down the drug. This not only checks if the drug will damage DNA, but also its breakdown products.

Results: JWH-018 does not damage DNA, so shouldn’t give you cancer.

Rat Repeat Toxicity Assay

Guess what happens in this experiment. A number of renagade lab rats looking for a bad time are rounded up and promised free drugs (kind of like Pleasure Island from Pinocchio; that shit was scary!). The rats are then dosed up and observed. Initially, they appear lethargic (read: totally baked) but a few of them died at higher doses. This appears to be down to problems breathing rather than organ toxicity, but only affected the male rats, who appeared more sensitive to the compound. The drug didn’t appear to accumulate in their systems either, but they did lose some weight, probably because they couldn’t be arsed to eat. JWH-018 showed a huge potency and was found to be tachyphylactic (my new favourite word – it means that more of a drug is required to reach the same state following an initial dosage).

Results: According to FDA guidelines, the human equivalent dose is 0.016 mg/kg but it should be tested in other species before this can be seen as reliable!

Rat Pharmacokinetics

Data is collected on a number of different “pharmacokinetic” aspects of the drug, such as how it is absorbed, distributed throughout the body, metabolised and excreted, which can help with the design of future clinical trials.

Results: JWH-018 is distributed well throughout the rat’s tissues. Metabolism and excretion are normal, with a plasma half-life of approximately 2 hours


Well, from the looks of these tests, JWH-018 seems to be pretty safe, but unless you want to piss off Ben Goldacre, it would be wise not to rely on this “test tube data” entirely. Also, like I said before, we don’t know where this data has come from, clouding the issue even further.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

Big thanks to Alfa @ for letting me know about these studies. You can read all about JWH-018 on their Drugs Wiki.


Posted in Drugs, Pharmacology | Tagged CyP450, cytotoxicity, genotoxicity, hERG, JWH-018, safety, spice |

JWH-018, Spice & Me

The Spice smoking mixture range has been one of the most popular “herbal” smokes ever, and now it’s no suprise why.

To get an idea of just how popular these mixtures are, just take a look at this data from Google’s keyword tool:

That’s over 37,000 searches a month for these three search terms alone – Spice is definitely a customer favourite. I also get no less than 500 emails a day from Russia asking if I can ship it there by the kilo. So what’s behind it all?

This paper [PDF; 246 kB] has some interesting things to say. It turns out that the Spice blends all contain JWH-018 as well as two compounds based on CP 47497 – all of them synthetic cannabinoids. These are man made chemicals designed to tickle the same receptors as THC, the active compound in cannabis, so it’s no wonder these smoking mixtures are so powerful. The difference in potency between the Spice blends appears to be accounted for by increasing levels of these CP 47497 homologues.


Since this discovery, Spice has been banned in several countries, including Austria and Germany. The BBC also reported on it and had the following to say:

The UK drugs regulator, the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is understood to have identified JWH018 in products available in the UK. It is currently in order to determine whether or not it should be classified as a medicinal product – which would mean it should only be available from a doctor.

The UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which advises the government on whether a drug should be made illegal, is also aware of the substance, and is investigating it.

The Spice manufacturers make no mention of these synthetics on their packaging, so a lot of herb-enthusiasts feel somewhat betrayed. Rightly so, I suppose – not being told just what you’re smoking exactly. People have the choice to put things in their body and some Spice smokers might make a different decision if they had all the facts in hand.

But, why?

The typical reaction to this news seems to be the disgust about putting any of these “unsafe” man-made compounds into their body, as though mother nature was some kind of safety net. “These plants have thousands of years of safe use”, they say! But let’s take a closer look…

Take Kratom, for instance. Kratom contains a powerful compound called mitragynine, which acts upon the opioid receptors; the same targets for opium and its derivatives. One alkaloid in kratom, although present in much smaller quantities, is 7-hydroxymitragynine, which is apparently 17x more potent than morphine! While I wouldn’t call this plant harmful, compared to other drugs like cocaine and heroin, it wouldn’t say it was harmless either. The opioid receptors are a dangerous set of receptors to be messing with – the mu subtype responsible for the classic euphoria that accompanies opiate use also stops you breathing if you tickle them too much. Opiates are also addictive, just like kratom can be if you take too much. While this plant may have seen thousands of years of responsible, moderate use, this is no reassurance at all towards its safety.

Now days, people generally don’t toil in the field every day that Newton sends – we have more free time and money to spend than ever before. We can now afford to use large quantities of kratom every day, as well as other entheogens from around the world, but we don’t have any information about this level of exposure to kratom itself or in combination with other stuff. For all we know, taking a mixture of kratom and Salvia divinorum daily could make your eyeballs explode after day 300, or chronic kratom use might give you some kind of evil superpower. Looking at paracetamol as a rather boring example, if you take the odd one every now and then, you’ll be fine, but if you take 8 pills a day every day for a year, you’ll likely end up with some serious condition. There’s also the fact that modern chemistry can create powerful extracts of these entheogens. Who’s to say they’re safe, just because they come from a plant? And what about any other drugs we might be on? Being on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac for depression isn’t uncommon in today’s society – combine them with the “perfectly safe” Banisteriopsis caapi vine, itself a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, and you have a potentially fatal combination of drugs in your system. I bet there are many more contraindications we haven’t even considered.

What about plants like cannabis and tobacco? They’ve also been used responsibly for thousands of years, but it’s only when so many people start to take these things that we realised “Actually, smoking is bad for us”. Besides, our current medical knowledge means we’ve only recently been able to diagnose these kind of things. I’m not sure I want to trust any data from a period when epilepsy might have been down to a demonic possession. How many adverse health effects could we identify in these ancient entheogen users based on what we know today?

So, while we can be uncertain of the long term effects on health of JWH-018 and friends, it seems we can’t actually be certain about the safety of most of the things we happily consume. Yes, they may turn out to be super toxic (although probably not, if they’re given to lab rats), but at least they only act on your cannabinoid receptors. Kratom tends to be prepared as a tea – once you’ve drunk it, you’ve drunk it. If you’ve taken too much, you’ll realise when its already in your blood. It would be much harder to overdose on these synthetics due to the speed at which they get in your system – if you’re too stoned, you won’t want to smoke any more, never mind being physically able to. The cannabinoid receptors they target are also much safter than the opioid targets of kratom. Cannabinoid receptors seem play a modulatory role, rather than being majorly important, so messing with them doesn’t have as drastic an effect. Smoking too much might make you feel a bit sick and dizzy for a while, but you certainly won’t stop breathing.

In all, I think Spice is in the wrong for not making this clear in the first place, but then I’m not suprised they didn’t want to list these compounds in the current political climate. Maybe when the government realises that it is our right to put things into our own bodies, listing these ingredients wouldn’t be an issue.

Even with this new information however, I’ll still be using the stuff. It’s great!.

Posted in Drugs | Tagged banisteriopsis caapi, cannabinoids, contraindications, JWH-018, kratom, safety, spice, spice diamond, spice gold, spice silver, synthetics |

Synthesis of Salvinorin-A

Salvinorin-A Synthesis

Any hardcore chemists out there might be interested in this paper, published in Organic Letters by a team of researchers from Niigata University. It details the synthesis of one of nature’s craziest compounds, Salvinorin-A, found in Salvia divinorum.

For a bit more background and pharmacology, you might want to check out my Salvia presentation.

Interesting stuff!.

Posted in Drugs | Tagged chemistry, salvia diviorum, salvinorin-a, synthesis |