”Social Tonics”

If it isn’t illegal, it must be legal. That’s why benzylpiperazine pills, under names such as Purepillz, Peaq, The Good Stuff, Frenzy and Pure Rush can be sold in Canada. And what are these pills? “Social tonics” they’re called and are meant to provide energy, produce euphoria and invigorate sexual experiences. Basically they’re stimulants. The human penchant for stimulants is nothing new. Since time immemorial people have been trying to dope up hum-drum lives with chemicals. Alcohol is perhaps the best example, but there are numerous others. Natural mood-boosters such as cocaine, opium, cannabis and mescaline all have long histories of use, but today their non-medical use is illegal. Ditto for the synthetic stimulants such as the amphetamines and ecstasy which came along later. These substances are illegal not because governments want to deprive the population of pleasure, but because scientists have examined the side effects of these drugs, their potential for addiction, and their links to criminal behaviour and have concluded that society is better off with strict controls of these mind-altering chemicals. But what if someone discovers a novel compound that has pleasure-inducing properties? Perhaps some substance in a plant that has never been isolated before. Or a synthetic compound that is totally new? Can they just put it in a bottle and sell it? The simple answer is yes, as long as no health claims are made on the product. But if the label declared that it had mood enhancing properties, that would be a different story. That is a drug claim and then the substance would have to go through stringent drug efficacy and safety trials. But no claim, no hassle.

Benzylpiperazine is a synthetic compound that first appeared in the scientific literature back in the 1970s. It had been developed as a possible anti-parasitic drug but never made it to market as such. Testing in animals did, however, reveal that it had amphetamine like properties. There was short-lived interest in testing it as an antidepressant, after which benzylpiperazine faded into the chemical background. But it didn’t stay there. In the early 1990s it reappeared in California as a recreational drug, being legal, because it had never been made illegal. Because it was similar to amphetamines which had a nasty track record as drugs of abuse the U.S. government moved to ban benzylpiperazine, which happened by 2002. Many other countries have taken similar action citing possible side effects such as agitation, abnormal heart rhythms, abdominal pain and even seizures. Canada has not taken any steps to control the use of this drug, which consequently is legal. The company that markets it even claims that it is beneficial because it can replace harder more dangerous drugs. Humbug. There are loads of recorded cases of adverse reactions to benzylpiperazine, including deaths. Curiously people who shop in health food stores, wary of pesticides and preservatives, freely swallow these stimulant pills. If amphetamines are illegal, so should benzylpiperazine be. And don’t swallow any of the Internet advertising that it is a natural substance that occurs in black pepper. It isn’t true and it wouldn’t matter if it did. Natural does not equal safe.

Joe Schwarcz

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