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Debunking the "Red Rock Opium" Myth
"Red Rock Opium" Contains No Opium
By Erowid, Nov 1 2000
v 1.1 July 2003

INDEX
Summary
General Information
Analysis
Open Questions
Erowid Red Rock Documents
References


SUMMARY
A substance called "Red Rock Opium" is sold throughout the United States as a form of opium. Chemical analysis of a sample of reported Red Rock Opium using a Mass Spectrometer showed no opiates in the material. Material sold as Red Rock Opium appears identical in every way to a variety of "Dragon's Blood Incense" sold in shops around the US for 1/100 the price of the RR Opium. Red Rock Opium is not opium nor does it contain any opiates.


GENERAL INFORMATION
For at least 7 years, perhaps much longer, a material called "Red Rock Opium" has been sold in the United States as a form of opium. Erowid has received several experience reports, comments, and images of product purchased as 'Red Rock Opium' over the past few years although we hadn't really looked into the issue deeply until recently (Oct, 2000).

It is not uncommon to encounter Red Rock for sale and many people have tried smoking it. The material is consistently described as a reddish, hard, easily shattering & crumbling substance that forms a slightly sticky light red powder when crushed. When heated, the material melts easily and bubbles. After being melted, the material turns very dark to black. When the smoke from the substance is inhaled, the taste is reminscent of flowers, very mildly 'perfumey', and is not particularly harsh on the throat and lungs (unlike many smokes).

The effects described from smoking this material are generally very mild, although there are persistent reports of strong reactions. Those who get effects describe them as "floaty", "codeine like", and relaxing. Other users experience nothing at all from smoking even large amounts of Red Rock. One confounding factor in sorting out the effects of Red Rock is that it is quite often used in combination with cannabis, sprinkled onto a packed bowl before smoking. Those who combine Red Rock with Cannabis report a noticeable difference from the experience of Cannabis alone (see an Experience with Red Rock Opium, by Cid). Most users find the effects, if present at all, to be very "subtle" and frequenly say they "would try more, next time".

When heated, the Several police organizations have analyzed substances sold as Red Rock Opium (see below), fitting the description of the Red Rock Opium reported commonly by users. The DEA tests, as reported in the internal DEA Publication Microgram, found Red Rock Opium to contain no opiates and instead was consistent with Dragon's Blood Incense made from the Daemonorops draco plant.


ANALYSIS
At burningman this year, we had occasion to examine some of this whiteish-red finely ground powder represented as "opium". The smoke had a distinct, but mild, flowery or rosey taste and the effects were subtle to the point of being not present. In September an online colleague said we should take down the images we had labelled "red rock opium" because he was convinced it was a myth, so we decided to investigate.

We attained a 20 mg sample of the reddish powder which was sold as ground "Red Rock Opium" from a trusted individual who had been smoking the material regularly for approximately a year, had previously had opportunities to smoke black tar opium, and believed the material to be a weaker form of opium.

We tested the material with an Ecstasy Testing Kit (marquis field test) and found no reaction beyond a dispersion of red and yellowish-orange color bleeding into the liquid (it did not appear to be a chemical reaction). We gave small samples of the material to two separate labs to analyze in early October, 2000 and received the results from one of the labs on October 31, 2000. The first lab found the material to be fully soluble in ethanol, which was then used as the medium for Mass Spectrometry (MS). The MS for the material contained no peaks for either codeine or morphine (the two main active constituents in raw opium). We received the results from the more detailed analysis from the second lab, which also clearly showed no opiates. The detailed results from the Mass Spectrum analysis can be found here.

Erowid also ordered a package of "Dragon's Blood Incense" from an online retailer for 3$ per ounce (~30 grams). This incense is reportedly made from resin of the plant Daemonorops draco (see Botanical.com's Dragon's Blood page). When the incense arrived, we crushed a piece of it to compare to the sample powder. The two powders were nearly indistinguishable by sight, and appeared to be identical in every way. We scanned a larger chunk of the Dragon's Blood Incense (DBI) and made a side-by-side image with DBI and Red Rock. The two appear extremely similar with most of the visible differences the result of the shape of the comparison pieces and the use of different scanners.


We ran a marquis test on the D.B. Incense and got identical result to those of the Red Rock sample we had tested earlier (red color dispersion in the drops, but no chemical reaction).

We also burned a small piece of the D.B. Incense to compare the taste and smell. The flavor and mouth-feel of the smoke was the same as the "opium" we had encountered at Burningman. The smell and flavor is noticeable, even if they are not terribly strong. Immediately upon burning it, there was no question it was the same material.


OPEN QUESTIONS
Verifying that some or even most of the material sold as Red Rock Opium is, in fact, Dragon's Blood Incense, does not eliminate the possibility that there is some material sold under the name "Red Rock Opium" that actually contains raw opium.

  1. How likely is it that some other Red Rock actually contains Opium?

    Not Very. Raw Opium Latex when fresh is a whittish or pinkish milky fluid that quickly oxidizes to a black / dark brown color. Despite persistent reports that people get high from Red Rock, this does not necessitate that it contains opium (or the constituents morphine, codeine, & papaverine).

  2. If its not opium, why do some people get high from smoking it?

    This is hard to answer, but it could be a very good example of the power of the placebo effect. The human mind and brain are extremely flexible and humans are capable of profound changes in states of consciousness without taking any chemicals or drugs. The suggestion of opium, the power of the imagination, and the effect of physically taking smoke into the lungs could be enough for many people to experience noticeable effects. Many people underestimate the quasi-magical powers of the mind to alter itself and discount the 'placebo effect'. Saying the effects are attributable to the Placebo Effect is not in any way to say people don't experience effects, but merely to say that the effects are shaped primarily by expectation and endogenous processes triggered by the smoke rather than directly caused by a chemical in the smoke itself.

    Another part of the answer is almost certainly that most people smoke Red Rock either mixed with cannabis itself or while smoking cannabis. While already stoned, it is easy to project differences which may or may not be present.

    Yet another explanation is that there is a chemical in Dragon's Blood Incense which is, itself, psychoactive. It may be that some people are particularly sensitive to the DBI chemicals and get high from smoking them. Many plants contain an array of odd chemicals and some of them left in the incense could be psychoactive.


EROWID DOCUMENTS ON RED ROCK OPIUM

Comments from users:
"I've had Red Rock shit a bunch, its shit." - Y. from Seattle, WA
"I tried [Red Rock Opium] and it wasn't opium." - D. from Austin, TX
"It tastes like roses.. and a hint of incense. Its great with a bowl and its effects are like codeine.. really floaty. Awesome dreams afterwards too." - G. from Dallas, TX

Experiences:
Experience with Red Rock Opium, by Cid

Images:
Red Rock Opium Chunk 1
Red Rock Opium Chunk 2
Side by Side Dragon's Blood Incense and "Red Rock Opium"
Close-up Scan of Dragon's Blood Incense
Dragon's Blood Incense Bag and assorted pieces
Side by Side Dragon's Blood Incense powder and "Red Rock Opium" Powder


REFERENCES (online)
Botanical.com - Dragon's Blood
HealthLink - Sanguis Draconis
A Mass Spectrum Analysis of "Red Rock" Local File
Drug Early Warning System - Report on Red Rock Opium Local File
Virginia Forensic Sciences Division on Red Rock Opium, published in the DEA's Microgram Local File
Other Miscellaneous Comments Local File


REFERENCES (offline)
Gould Publications, "Drugs and the Law", 1992.

Maryland State Police Crime Laboratory Division, personal communication, 5/21/99.

Steiner, Robert R, Virginia Division of Forensic Science, "Dragon's Blood Incense, paper presented at the Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists, April 1997.