Through interviews with people who deal in psychoactive substances in Serbia, as well as with many users, you might get the impression that new psychoactive substances (NPS) in Serbia don’t exist, or that they are only present on a very small scale. Most have heard of synthetic cannabinoids and mephedrone, and that's about it. Here and there, we may occasionally hear about some other substance, but it is very rare. Where other NPS are concerned, it seems as if Belgrade is in complete darkness. But is that really so?
Thinking about possible interviewees on the subject of NPS, I remembered two friends whom I hadn't seen for a while, and realised that they could be perfect subjects for this article. We met in the apartment of one of them. The atmosphere was just the same as if several years had not passed since the last gathering.
They were introduced to NPS (or designer drugs, as they prefer to refer to them) four or five years ago, on different forums related to psychedelics. After a short survey, they realised that there was a whole range of substances which were completely unknown to them, available for a certain amount of Bitcoins (or part of a bitcoin – 1BTC is about 550E), and that these substances were just two or three clicks away. The first substance that they ordered was 25I-NBOM.
“The most similar to LSD but... visually, not ‘deep’ enough.” They decided on 25I-NBOM because they had not that many Bitcoins in their account.
“It was the cheapest, and it costed as many bitcoins as I had at the time,” he laughed. “Interesting enough, and cheap.”
It's been four years, and during that time their experience has been enriched by dozens of different substances – hallucinogens, dissociatives, stimulants, synthetic cannabinoids. They named just a few of them: 2C-B; 2C-E; 2C-P; 25I-NBOM; 25C-NBOM; MXE; DMT; 5-MeO-DMT; 3-MeO-PCP; 5-MeO-MALT; DOM; DOC; α-PVP; MDPV; Pentedrone; 3-MMC; JWH-240, 5-MeO-mipt.
As an essential criterion in the selection of substances, they cited the Shulgin Rating Scale, and the ‘breadth’ of the effects. The legal / illegal status of the substance doesn't matter to them.
“Legality is beside the point on the Darknet,” one of them laughed, “As soon as you're on it, you're going to be breaking the law.” Another important criterion in the selection and consumption of substances is limitation of health risks, by consuming the dose recommended on the relevant websites and forums. They generally adhere to those recommendations, although they do experiment with higher doses.
Precise scales are essential, since the recommended dose of certain substances is extremely small. They laugh, talking about the case when they first ordered Methoxetamine (MXE), and 5-Meo-DMT, and on the website of the seller accidentally swapped the images of the two substances, where the maximum dosage of 5-Meo-DMT, 15mg, is the minimum dose of MXE. And so, guided by photographs from the website, instead of the minimum dose of one substance, they took the maximum dose of the other. Nevertheless, they say that after a series of comic scenes, they finally went home happier.
The motive for purchasing NPS online is, they say, relative safety.
“With a bit of experience and information, you find a seller who is reliable and you know you're getting something of proven quality, the same stuff you ordered, and it doesn’t pose a risk, because you don't have to physically go to a dealer, you can just get it done with the keyboard and mouse.”
You know what substance you ordered and for how much, but it sometimes happens that the order doesn't arrive. As the worst drawback – which they also treat as a challenge – they mention the lack of reliable information on certain substances.
“The only source of information is reviews – sometimes you don't know what you're buying. So sometimes the effects aren't what you expected.”
As we are speaking, they are browsing, and showing me different vendors, and we’re talking about prices. The contrast between the wholesale price here, and the price of a single dose in the Belgrade market is often unbelievable. Supply is scarce, so these substances are considered to have a sort of rarity value, and many people don't complain about the price, when all they want is to be able to try something new.
“But you can't make a living that way,” they say. In Belgrade, the level of interest in NPS is low; lots of people are wary, but there is a ‘colourful group’, dedicated ‘researchers’, characterised by curiosity and a love of psychedelics, according to my interviewees.
“Drug abuse is common to us,” one laughed, when I asked if they ever took a substance not knowing what it was. Of course there is also a considerable number of people who have tried a substance, having no idea of what they have taken:
“Basically they haven't got a clue, and some don’t care, which means that there are a number of ones who did it… therefore some will forever think that speed should work... hallucinogenic.”
In terms of risky behaviours related to NPS, they mention those generally associated with highly addictive substances - frequent consumption of ever-increasing doses, which can, with some substances, lead to paranoid episodes.
“We've all engaged in some risky behaviour, and I'm talking about everything from schizophrenic to hallucinogenic hell.” Speaking of α-PVP, the main constituent of the substance known by the street name of Flakka, they say:
“You want to take it too much, and the more you take, the more you want to take. We bought a large amount quite cheaply; the dose is 20mg-50mg, and after a day or two you're starting to become paranoid. I found myself at home, searching for ‘hidden microphones’. I threw away a bunch of illegal substances, thinking that someone was going to break into my place. It's terribly addictive when vaporised, I was on it not long ago, and it made such a ‘big hole’ in the brain that I have dreamed it a dozen times, and I still dream of it sometimes... Not a surprise, considering that substance is described as something between crystal meth and crack.”
They consume in a circle of close friends or alone, most often at home, although there are sometimes forays into the countryside, depending on the substance involved.
“As orders arrive, Mr. Abuser is trying them out, we wait, and look at him. When we are sure that he is ok, we decide whether to consume it or not.” Mr. Abuser is of course one of my two interlocutors.
Consumption of various substances is often linked to risky sexual behaviour. The experiences of my two interlocutors are different. While one argues that he doesn’t really like to combine sex and NPS, adding that he only enjoyed sex with small quantities of GHB, Mr. Abuser has a different opinion, comparing sex on a combination of MDMA and 2-CB with sex in candyfloss, while he refers to sex on i25I NBOM as an astral experience.
And while Mr. Abuser put two new substances, 2C-T-7 and DiPT, on his wish-list, my other interviewee is weary of new substances and claims to only be interested in new varieties of synthetic cannabis:
“Yes, in principle, I love this excursion into the unknown, but this is just too unknown, so I tend to stick to the traditional, still beautiful, but less hazardous things – it’s just not worth it, even if there is a high degree of substance purity. It all started with the chemicals that bothered me, though I am okay with things from nature and extracts of natural things, such as DMT.”
Slowly, we end the conversation, the night has already passed and I am getting in the car feeling overwhelmed by impressions. Thinking about things that they have told me, a lot of new information, new challenges. I'm thinking about the adventures and risk-taking of Mr. Abuser and the cautious approach of his best friend, I'm thinking and I am grateful to them for opening the door of ignorance about NPS in a dark room and letting the light shine in.
Bojan Arsenijevic, NGO Re Generation
Shulgin Rating Scale
PLUS / MINUS (+/-) The level of effectiveness of a drug that indicates a threshold action. If a higher dosage produces a greater response, then the plus/minus (+/-) was valid. If a higher dosage produces nothing, then this was a false positive.
PLUS ONE (+) The drug is quite certainly active. The chronology can be determined with some accuracy, but the nature of the drug's effects are not yet apparent.
PLUS TWO (++) Both the chronology and the nature of the action of a drug are unmistakably apparent. But you still have some choice as to whether you will accept the adventure, or rather just continue with your ordinary plans for the day (if you are an experienced researcher, that is). The effects can be allowed a dominant role, or they may be repressed and made secondary to other chosen activities.
PLUS THREE (+++) Not only are the chronology and the nature of a drug's action quite clear, but ignoring its action is no longer an option. The subject is totally engaged in the experience, for better or worse.
PLUS FOUR (++++) A rare and precious transcendental state, which has been called a 'peak experience', a 'religious experience,' 'divine transformation,' a 'state of Samadhi' and many other names in other cultures. It is not connected to the +1, +2, and +3 of the measuring of a drug's intensity. It is a state of bliss, a connectedness with both the interior and exterior universes, which has come about after the ingestion of a psychedelic drug, but which is not necessarily repeatable with a subsequent ingestion of that same drug. If a drug (or technique or process) were ever to be discovered which would consistently produce a plus four experience in all human beings, it is conceivable that it would signal the ultimate evolution, and perhaps the end of the human experiment.