Authorities in Southeast Asia are raising the alarm over a literal cocktail of drugs growing in popularity in Thailand and Myanmar in recent months. The powdered mixture of synthetic substances—including MDMA, methamphetamine, diazepam, and ketamine—is being dissolved in liquid to produce a psychoactive beverage known as “happy water.”
Last week, Myanmar’s Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) revealed that local authorities had seized 497 grams of packeted “happy water” powder with a street value of 5,680,000 kyat ($3,055). Each packet sold for the equivalent of $43, the CCDAC claimed, and were typically distributed at entertainment venues, bars, and clubs throughout Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
“Subsequent investigations are underway to unearth those distributing such hazardous drugs to the youth,” the Committee declared in a Facebook post on Saturday. But this wasn’t the first drug authorities in the region had seen of the illicit concoction.
On March 18, Thai police raided a villa in the heart of the beach resort town Pattaya, arresting over 20 people and seizing a number of illicit substances including Happy Water powder.
A month later, authorities publicly warned that the drug was being sold illegally on social media and at entertainment venues in the area. Police lieutenant general Sarayut Sanguanpokhai, chief of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB), similarly claimed the substance was popular among Thai and foreign visitors at local nightspots, and highlighted efforts by police to crack down on drug gangs involved in its distribution.
Back then, reports of Happy Water appeared to be localised to a handful of seizures in Chonburi province, as authorities stepped up their campaign against the drug cocktail and arrested those suspected of trafficking it.
Inshik Sim, illicit drugs researcher at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told VICE World News at the time that the somewhat sporadic emergence of the substance ought to be understood as just one part of a “wider challenge of synthetic drugs,” which have flooded the region in historic quantities over the past 18 months.
Now that Happy Water has turned up in Myanmar, he’s warning that other countries throughout Southeast Asia need to be paying more attention to this novel, potentially dangerous substance.
“It is difficult to pinpoint when exactly the product emerged in Thailand, but it appears to be relatively new,” Sim told VICE World News. While there is currently no known fatality resulting from its use there, he added, “what is concerning is that often we have observed fatalities due to consumption of drug products [containing] a mixture of synthetics.”
As an example, Sim cited a product known as “K-powder,” reported in Thailand in 2021, that contained a similar blend of meth, ketamine, and diazepam, as well as liquid MDMA products that have started popping up in Cambodian club scenes. The UNODC similarly reported as early as 2009 that a bottled beverage, also being sold under the name “happy water” and containing a mixture of various substances such as methamphetamine, ketamine, and MDMA, had started appearing in China. Another product, marketed as “fairy water” and containing a blend of MDMA, codeine, and nimetazepam, a powerful hypnotic, appeared around the same time.
In cases such as these, Sim suggested that unpredictable potencies and the consequent risk of a drug overdose are serious causes for concern. Even if a person consumes a batch of happy water without any adverse effects, there’s no way of knowing for sure that the next packet will contain the same dose—or even the same drugs.
“It is important to note that different ‘happy water’ products contain different substances, showing flexibility of organised crime in creating synthetic drug products,” said Sim. “The key issue here is that some batches of ‘happy water’ may contain significant quantities of these substances compared to other batches, as there is no ‘quality control.’”
“When users consume those batches with high doses of these substances, a risk for overdose, and potentially fatality, increase significantly.”
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