This summer, a 17-year-old young man in East Grand Forks, North Dakota went to McDonald's. When he arrived, he began hyperventilating and slamming his head against the ground. His friends took him home, but hours later he stopped breathing. His 18-year-old companion was charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Blamed for the tragedy was a drug called 2C-I, which had also killed another teenager the night before. Both teenagers had apparently suffered from overdoses, prompting the police to put out a warning proclaiming that there was a tainted batch of 2C-I circulating.
2C-I, nicknamed "Smiles," is the latest designer drug that is responsible for teen deaths, following in a long line of other synthetic drugs, including ecstasy, synthetic marijuana, "bath salts", and methamphetamine. Other drugs have similarly wreaked havoc before becoming illegal.
The drug is a hallucinogen. 2C-I is part of the 2-C class of synthetic drugs, which were all discovered by Alexander Shulgin, a designer drug guru. He published the formulas for the drugs in a 1991 book called PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story. As of this year, 2C-I became a Schedule I controlled substance - illegal to buy, sell, possess, or manufacture.
But, as many can attest, its illegality does not make it impossible to get. It's normally sold as a powder, and is often mixed with another substance, like chocolate or candy. Users describe the experience as full of honesty and insightful conversations.
Many scientists worry that people are lulled into a false sense of security with 2C-I because it is a hallucinogenic. For example, LSD and psilocybin, or mushrooms, do not typically cause bodily harm, unless the user already has psychotic tendencies or walks into oncoming traffic or off a roof. But, while 2C-I interferes with serotonin in the brain like LSD and mushrooms do, 2C drugs have stimulant effects like meth and other uppers. That can put users at risk for strokes and other deaths, in addition to regular negative side effects and "bad trips" that include terrifying hallucinations, fear, and panic.
There are no statistics on 2-C use in the United States, but officials warn that it, and other synthetic drugs, should be taken seriously.