Designer Psychedelics: New Class of Designer Drugs in Harris County
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (HCIFS) has recently confirmed the presence of a new class of designer drugs in Harris County – ‘designer psychedelics’ or ‘2C-series of Phenethyl Amines.’ Structurally, the new drug compounds feature two carbons between a phenyl and an amine group, similar to that of amphetamine resulting in a psychedelic hallucinogenic effect.
The ‘designer psychedelics’ imply that the drugs are created by modifying chemical structures of illegal drugs to avoid existing legislation and regulation. The modifications of chemical structures vary drug potency and present a challenge for testing and detection. However, HCIFS has developed and continues to expand its methodology for testing and identifying these modified chemical structures as new designer drug formulations are encountered in Harris County. Presently the HCIFS Toxicology Laboratory tests for more than 50 designer drug compounds including bath salts, spice and designer psychedelics.
The HCIFS Toxicology Laboratory uses technologically advanced testing methods to identify designer drugs as they emerge. The Toxicology Lab performs Liquid Chromatography Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (LC-TOF/MS) testing for drug screening and a Liquid Chromatography Triple Quad Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) test for confirmation. This analysis technology provides a sensitive, specific and comprehensive detection capability that can confirm the presence of designer psychedelics in a concentration less than 1.0 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter) in either blood or urine specimens.
25I-NBOMe is an extremely potent designer psychedelic involved in two recent deaths in Harris County. It is a hallucinogenic drug that is a derivative of the hallucinogen 2C-I. 25I-NBOMe is characterized as a more potent version of 2C-I and is considered to be active at a very low sub-milligram dose. It was first developed in 2003 to be used as a tool to aid neuro scientists in identifying and mapping serotonin receptors in the brain.
Appearance and Availability
Colloquially referred to as 25I or ‘new LSD,’ 25I-NBOMe is commonly encountered in powder form or as a drug-infused ‘stamp.’ These perforated stamps are approximately a quarter of an inch square, may be decorated with artwork and may be sold as or mistaken for LSD. HCIFS has also encountered the substance in a pale yellow or clear liquid form. 25I-NBOMe is often obtained from ‘grey market’ websites, being sold as an alleged ‘research chemical.’ Locally, it has been sold by individual dealers.
Method of Use
25I-NBOMe is generally introduced to the system sublingually with a ‘stamp’ placed under the tongue to absorb the drug into the blood system or buccally with the ‘stamp’ placed between the upper lip and the gum. In some reports, the powder form has been insufflated (snorted).
The effects of 25I-NBOMe have been compared to LSD with some reports stating that effects can be very unpredictable, even with the same person taking the same dose at different times.
Presence in Harris County
The HCIFS Drug Chemistry Laboratory, which analyses drugs seized by law enforcement officers, received its first case of 25I-NBOMe in January 2012. Since then, the laboratory has analyzed 11 cases related to 25I and one case of 25C seized by local law enforcement officials and submitted to HCIFS for analysis. There has not been a noted trend in the location of where these drugs have been seized.
Role in Death Investigations
Two Harris County deaths have been linked to 25I-NBOMe in the past three months. The two cases were tested for the presence of 25I-NBOMe based on the circumstances surrounding their deaths. The first was a 21-year-old man who reportedly purchased and ingested two ‘hits of acid’ at a rave party and had been smoking marihuana. While driving home with a friend after the party, the man (driver of the vehicle) began to hallucinate and become violent. The man hit his friend (a passenger in the vehicle) then began ripping the interior of his vehicle and flailing around. The friend assisted the man in pulling off the road and stopping the vehicle. The friend exited the vehicle and called 911. Upon the friend’s return to the vehicle, the man was unresponsive. The friend initiated bystander CPR. The man was pronounced by the Houston Fire Department upon their arrival. The man died approximately six hours after taking what he believed to be two hits of acid. The toxicology analysis identified the presence of marihuana and 25I-NBOMe.
The second case involved a 15-year-old female who drank an unknown substance at a party. She was witnessed to be flailing her arms and legs and stated she did not feel well. She soon thereafter became unresponsive. She arrived at the emergency room asystolic (no cardiac activity) with an elevated temperature of 102 degrees. The teen died less than two hours after ingesting the unknown substance. The toxicology analysis identified 25I-NBOMe as well as a very small amount of marihuana.
2C-I, along with other related hallucinogens, was recently included in The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, which was signed into law on July 9, 2012. This action adds 2C-I and other listed substances to the Federal Controlled Substance Act (CSA) as a Schedule I controlled substance making these substances illegal at the federal level. As a derivative of 2C-I, 25I-NBOMe may be prosecutable under the Federal Analog Act, which is a section of the CSA that allows any substance that is chemically similar to those listed in the CSA to be treated and prosecuted as a controlled substance.
About the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences
The mission of the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences is to determine the cause and manner of death, to document and preserve evidence relating to the decedent in accordance with Article 49.25 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures, and to provide unbiased expert witness testimony in a court of law. The Institute’s Crime Laboratory provides the justice system with the highest quality services in the disciplines of drug chemistry, forensic biology, toxicology and trace evidence in an unbiased and timely manner with uncompromised integrity. The Drug Chemistry Lab identifies substances seized by law enforcement agencies in Harris County and in the surrounding areas, while the Toxicology Lab offers analytical services in postmortem toxicology, driving while impaired (DWI), driving under the influence (DUI) and drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) cases.
Tricia A. Bentley, Public Outreach Manager/PIO Office: 713/796-6761 | Cell: 713/309-3868 | Email: PIO@ifs.hctx.net