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The Name Game
Mislabeling of Unscheduled Compounds
by Jon Hanna
Jun 2010
Citation:   Hanna J. "The Name Game: Mislabeling of Unscheduled Compounds". Erowid Extracts. Jun 2010;18:3.
The recreational psychoactives market is ever-changing, with new compounds and products constantly entering the limelight. Last year, a member of the Erowid Expert Network contacted us with a question: "I've been hearing about a new drug craze in certain sexy circles in LA, but I can't find any info on the Internet. Do you know what pherenol is? People say it's even better than E. I've been told that it is a liquid. It lasts about 90 minutes. Taking too much leads to passing out and vomiting. For some, it's a powerful aphrodisiac..."

There is very little information available about "pherenol". However, its effect profile, combined with some street knowledge, allow for reasonable speculation that it is likely gamma-butyrlactone, or GBL (a precursor chemical of GHB that, when consumed, metabolizes into GHB).1

Mislabeling an existing substance under a different name and passing it off as a "new drug" is, alas, commonplace. In 1996, when FDA furor and anti-drug media hype related to GHB was building to a fever pitch, a "new" product hit the streets. Called "Borametz", it had effects very similar to GHB and was marketed as a natural substitute. The producer claimed it was extracted from an obscure Russian evergreen tree. Testing showed that it was actually synthetically produced 1,4-butanediol,2 a prodrug that is converted in the body into GHB. Around the same time, another product called "fX" was marketed as a kava kava extract; it too contained 1,4-butanediol. Before long, GBL also hit the market in assorted products, with the active ingredient often obfuscated; this process continues, over a decade later. In the United States, GHB was federally scheduled in 1999, GBL became a List 1 chemical in 2000, and 1,4-butanediol is not currently scheduled (although it has been treated as a controlled substance analog in criminal cases).3

Misbranding and/or claiming that synthetic products come from natural sources is far from uncommon on the grey market.
Misbranding and/or claiming that synthetic products come from natural sources is far from uncommon on the grey market. In the early 1990s, Isis Health Foods of South Africa marketed their product "Nexus" by claiming it contained 10 mg of either "cathinine" [sic] or "brominated cathinine" [sic]. (Later sold under the name "Erox", the description was changed to "brominated phenethylamine".) The packaging waxed rhapsodic about the "energizing and empathogenic properties" of the African khat bush (Catha edulis). Independent lab analysis showed Nexus to be pure 2C-B, which had not yet been scheduled.

"Herbal Ecstacy" was one of the more widely distributed "legal highs" marketed in the mid-1990s. Although the product listed the plant Ephedra as an ingredient, laboratory testing suggested that it had also been spiked with pharmaceutical ephedrine. The FDA and FTC cracked down on Herbal Ecstacy in 1996 and 1997 because it was illegally being marketed as a drug without FDA approval.

In the 2000s, Ergopharm's product "AMP" listed their trademarked "Geranamine" as one of its ingredients. Supposedly coming from geranium oil, Geranamine turned out to be methyl-hexaneamine (aka dimethylpentylamine). Despite being very unlikely that this chemical--available in assorted bodybuilding products--comes from natural sources, to date the FDA has not banned it.

In more recent years, the grey market has seen a plethora of "herbal" smoking blends such as "Spice" and "K2", which contain one or more unscheduled cannabinoid agonists. Although some arrests have been made, the laws are still largely cloudy; many countries and nearly all U.S. states have not yet specifically prohibited these novel compounds.4, 5, 6

The current trend of selling unscheduled cathinone analogs as "plant food/fertilizer" is a new variation on this model. As with most such cases, the obfuscation tactic is not convincing for long, but can serve to divert law enforcement attention from an unscheduled compound or breathe new life into an older chemical.

In a prohibitionist environment, without regulatory oversight, profits from unscheduled drug sales eclipse truth in advertising. Misbranding and mislabeling of these sorts are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Caveat emptor!

References #
  1. Various. "Pherenol? High similar to GHB...." Bluelight.ru. Thread started Jan 28, 2002. Accessed May 16, 2010 at: http://bluelight.ru/vb/showthread.php?t=37693.
  2. Hanna J. "The Borametz Scam: Psychoactive Snake Oil". The Resonance Project. Winter 1997/98;2:34-9.
  3. U.S. v. Mark R. Niemoeller, No. IP 02-0009-CR 1 H/F. (S.D. Ind., Indianapolis Div.) May 17, 2004, Decided. (Related cases cited within this decision.)
  4. Erowid E, Erowid F. "Spice & Spin-offs: Prohibition's High-Tech Cannabis Substitutes". Erowid Extracts. Jun 2009;16:12-6.
  5. Hanna J. "Not in Kansas Anymore... Arresting Vendors of Grey Market Psychoactives". Erowid.org. Mar 11, 2010. Accessed May 16, 2010. Erowid.org/psychoactives/research_chems/research_chems_article1.shtml.
  6. Erowid. Spice Product Legal Status. Erowid.org. Accessed May 16, 2010 at: Erowid.org/chemicals/spice_product/spice_product_law.shtml.
Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Jun 2010 - Published in Erowid Extracts.
  • v1.1 - Nov 9, 2010 - Published on Erowid.org.