I spend my days ignoring You, and my nights disobeying You. But still, you never forget me; not even for a second. Oh Allah, change me
— Ammar M. Ali
Inni Mneeh - Mashrou' Leila from El Hal Romancy
To find out how effective the laws banning these new drugs have been, and how easy it is to buy them, I phone a lab in north-eastern China that supplies websites specialising in legal highs, and ask for bulk prices on synthetic cannabis products. A well-spoken man apologises immediately on hearing my English accent: “Sorry, I totally forgot it. I’ll send it tomorrow – UK, yes?” I’ve never spoken to him before. Business is clearly brisk.
He offers me 1kg of a legal, synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist (ie, a marijuana substitute) for just over £1,000. It is active at 1mg, meaning I would have a million doses that I could sell, legally, for around £25,000. He will send it to me via international courier and there will be no danger with customs in the UK, he says breezily. In any case, he can put a false label on the package. If it’s seized, he will resend the drugs for free. “UK, no problem.”
But synthetic cannabis is just the beginning. Another Chinese lab offers to sell me 10g of 25I-NBOMe, a hallucinogenic compound that is part of the -NBOMe series. These new drugs don’t work if taken orally, so users dilute and spray them using nasal sprays or inhalers; or they drip the liquid on to patterned and perforated blotter paper, passing it off as LSD. Each gram contains a minimum of 2,000 doses, making it very easy to take too much. By way of comparison, 1g of MDMA has eight to 10 doses. And whereas LSD will not kill, even when taken in excess, these drugs are disturbing many expert observers, not least because most tabs sold as LSD in the UK right now contain an -NBOMe substance.