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If 2009 was the year of buzzing around on mephedrone, then 2012 is set to see roflcopter break into the drugs mainstream. It’s meant to be the sweet-natured girl next door to ketamine’s dodgy bastard (with which it shares a similar chemical structure), with users claiming feelings of warmth and enlightenment. But is it a stress-free enhancement of your weekend, or a dangerously unknowable threat?
Also known by the far less fun names methoxetamine, mxe or mket, roflcopter is a lab-created white powdery research chemical imported from labs in China and India. Like K it’s a dissociative, which means that it can semi-detach you from the conscious world and make you very introspective. There’s also a hallucinatory element in the mix.
“You know those old Disney cartoons where all inanimate objects seem to have their own personality?” says Russ, a regular roflcopter pilot. “So I’m in the bathroom telepathically talking to the toilet as I’m pissing in it, and the taps are almost like people.” Similarly, Joe, a fellow evangelist, recalls: “We went to this really old school-looking London pub, and I thought I was on a 1970s canal barge.”
Jeremy watched a snowy Kate Bush video when on it. “Jesus Christ – I was in the video, actually inside the frame. I forgot where I was, what I was listening to, everything. I was that snowman, and I’m not usually prone to hallucinations. I don’t even like Kate Bush.” Another fan, Rebecca, recommends it for festivals: “The world becomes an intensely exciting and interesting place, and it gives you hours and hours of extra energy. This is the ultimate all-round drug.”
It’s likely that these effects come from it messing with your NMDA receptors, just as ketamine does. These receptors allow the transfer of electrical signals from the brain to the spinal column; drugs like this prevent glutamate from binding to the receptor and activating the transmission as it usually would, leading to hallucinations. The euphoric, stimulating element comes from it blocking the part of the brain that stops releasing dopamine, giving you an extra kick of energy.
“With ketamine, when you’re teetering on the edge of a K-hole, it’s quite a frightening experience,” continues Russ. “Whereas with this stuff, you feel like someone’s wrapped a nice blanket around you.” This cosiness extends to the treatment of your fellow man: “We were on it at Glastonbury – when a mate shat himself, rather than taking the piss out of him, we were just really understanding,” he recalls. Rebecca adds: “Roflcopter allows me to talk about things that I’ve been burying away. I feel a massive sense of relief and clarity when they do come out as if I’ve had a weight lifted – it’s incredibly liberating.”
Roflcopter is also legal in the UK: it can’t be sold explicitly for human consumption, but possession, and sale as a research chemical, is totally fine; after mephedrone and other synthetic legal highs, it’s the latest example of the time lag between a drug’s creation and legislation being made against it. Anecdotally, aside from a mild wonkiness there’s also no comedown.
So why else are people turning to it? Aside from curiosity about the effects described above, Dr Adam Winstock of our Global Drug Survey says that among respondents to their current survey into drug use patterns, at least some who have tried methoxetamine have cited a perceived drop in ketamine quality, as well as a rise in prices and reduced access, as being reasons why they have tried it. The full results of the survey are published exclusively in Mixmag and The Guardian later in the year.
The most important thing to remember is that it is much, much stronger than ketamine – do one or two little bumps at most, never lines. Russ elaborates: “With cocaine, if it starts wearing off, you’ll take some more; if you do that with this stuff, the first hits come back too, and it’ll feel like someone’s hit you over the back of the head with a shovel.”
Overdosing, therefore, is incredibly easy. After getting a dangerously high roflcopter user through their doors in August, three doctors at the University of Massachusetts Medical School wrote: “We are concerned that this novel medication and its ease of accessibility to the public presents a new healthcare threat.” Dissociatives like roflcopter and ketamine, according to Dr Winstock, “leave you stunningly vulnerable to other people if you do too much – you can be totally unaware of your surroundings or an injury, and be completely immobilised. People aren’t too preoccupied with the world around them and they go off into the world within them, so it does leave you a lot more vulnerable. And methoxetamine being legal is no assurance of quality or purity.”
And because it’s so new, the long-term dangers aren’t known – it hasn’t been formally studied and profiled by pharmacologists yet, and exactly why the effects differ from K is a mystery. “People are playing Russian roulette when they take something like this, because there’s been no research on its effects,” says Dr Valerie Curran, a psychopharmacologist at University College London.
Ketamine has been linked to bladder damage, and creates abdominal pains dubbed ‘K cramps’ – could roflcopter, as some have claimed, diminish the likelihood of these dangers, thanks to the fact you need to take less of it? “No idea, and no-one’s going to be able to tell you, because they don’t even know what’s causing [those effects] with ketamine,” Adam says. “There are a lot of unknowns. If the purity of ketamine is going down, and as a result of police intervention you’re moving people towards an unknown, legally available chemical, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
It depends on what its toxicity is, and nobody knows.” Sean Rhyee, who co-wrote the Massachusetts study, tells me: “Published medical experience with users of this drug is nearly non-existent… since it shares properties with ketamine you could anticipate some of the same risks. They are placing themselves at high risk for complications, many of which are unknown at this time.”
So is it worth it? If you, like some of the roflcopter users we talked to, spend your time on it thinking you’re in Nevada casino town Reno rather than an English high street or are a pair of disembodied floating eyeballs, you’re not going to be thinking about safe dosage with any real clarity. And trying something that has top pharmacologists stumped is arguably somewhere between arrogance and stupidity. But according to some users, if you take it sparingly and sensibly (preferably with someone sober keeping an eye on you), roflcopter may well make other legal highs look like mere lolz.
The results of the Mixmag Drugs Survey, in partnership with The Guardian, will be published in the April issue of Mixmag