Photo by the author
I’d always thought that legal drug alternatives were reserved for underage backpackers with dreadlocks travelling through Amsterdam. Then I moved to New Zealand and realised I was entirely mistaken. Since being introduced five years ago, there has been an enormous explosion of these ‘legal’ or ‘herbal highs’ around the country and you can choose your poison from a frightening array of gaudy containers, available over the counter in dedicated stores, dairies (that’s what kiwis call milk bars), and bottle shops everywhere, 24 hours a day. The term ‘herbal’, as it turns out, is a crock. The peddlers prefer ‘social tonics’, but even that suggests some healthy component. The active ingredient in these pills—the same that makes them illegal in Australia and the U.S. is purely synthetic. Benzylpiperazine (BZP), originally a cattle de-worming supplement, is similar to dexamphetamine (a form of speed) although with only about a tenth of the potency. When combined with triflourophenylmethyl-piperazine (TFMP) the effect is an ecstasy-like euphoria. So essentially you have a speed option (with names like “Charge” and “Frenzy”) and an ecstasy option (namely “Bliss” and “Rapture”) and in many cases they’re handily colour-coded red and blue, for those who think The Matrix is this century’s Fear and Loathing. The altruistic ex-methamphetamine addict who started the craze arguably had the best intentions—his motivation being to provide a safer alternative to the E and P that was flooring kids around the country. That’s nice. But in its own special way, this doppelganger is way scarier. I knew it was going to take some great times to convince me that the real thing was worth replacing, so I gave it a shot. As a general rule, two pills constitute a single recommended dose, so at around $40 for six pills, they’re cheaper than the real deal. They taste like shit too, so no real change there. There’s definitely a genuine come-up. It’s not as sudden or intense as speed, but the familiar rise in temperature and mild nausea are all present. It says on the packet not to mix with alcohol but I figure that since you can buy them from the local bottle shop, this can’t be too serious. Although they don’t take you as far up as a decent E they still make you pleasantly jittery and ensure that you’re talking crap at full speed for hours. The come down isn’t great but you can normally blame that on the 30 or so gins you mixed them with. The verdict? The pills are pretty rough and probably not worth the effort. Since they’ve hit the streets though, New Zealand hasn’t had a single Ecstasy or GBH related death—there have been scores of energy pill overdoses, but no deaths—which kind of makes you wonder why the rest of the world hasn’t caught on.