Are “legal drugs” actually as safe as some students may think? Kutloano Kunutu and Chantelle Malan investigate.
There’s a “trendy” new drug on the market for South Africans. The substance is referred to as “A-Class” and claims to have the very same effects as Ecstasy.
It has been declared legal by the New Zealand government and has been sold in South Africa since November 2006 under a variety of names: Red Hearts, Ice Diamonds, Charge and Push. With the promise of boosting energy levels exponentially, the effects of the drug last for a period of five to eight hours.
However, “A-Class” is believed to contain a substance, Benzylpiperazine (BZP), which has already been banned in other countries such as the USA. Other ingredients include Phenylalanine and tableting aids. BZP is the problem ingredient as, apart from a variety of adverse effects, it is in the same category as Heroin. BZP comes from a pepper plant and therefore those allergic to pepper would suffer severe effects.
“A-Class” is supposed to be available only at bottle stores, but is being sold in Grahamstown by anonymous Rhodes University students and other private distributors.
Shaun Ebelthite, a student who has experimented with the drug said that once the pills have been taken, the “the night takes on a special quality”. He said the drug was very effective and that he felt highly energised. Ebelthite added that, when using the drug, any insecurities or worries that a user may have simply fade away.
Samuel Hunter, another student who has used “A-Class” said he felt a high for a short period of time but that it wasn’t very effective for him, however he soon became quite emotional after using it.
These drugs function as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant which cause an increase in behavioural activity, thought processes and alertness. They can also elevate the mood of an individual. Examples of other such CNS stimulants are caffeine, nicotine and cocaine. Red Bull, for example, a popular drink for students, is a CNS stimulant that helps to keep you going.
According to pharmacists John Frielinghaus and Jane Bladen of RET Butler’s Pharmacy in Grahamstown, the Piperazine component of BZP is used in “Rid”, a de-worming drug not frequently used on the South African market at present. Experts are not, however, sure how the drug would react to the addition of the “benzyl”.
A fourth year BPharm student, Imi Mvere has said that Piperazine can also be used to treat mood and anxiety disorders as well as being used as an anti-psychotic. She explained that the drug is a “neuroleptic”, a drug containing chemicals which interfere with other chemicals found in the brain, and can therefore have dangerous cardiovascular effects – for example, they may decrease blood pressure and result in an rregular heart rate.
The pharmacists added that Phenylalanine is used as a dietary supplement and can be found in most foods, including bread and other energy releasing foodstuffs. Mvere also revealed that many people are allergic to Phenylalanine. Tableting aids, made up of a variety of ingredients, are usually added to a drug to bulk it up. Not knowing what goes into these aids also creates a problem.
The Medicine Control Council (MCC) of South Africa have put all orders of the drug on hold, pending an investigation on the potentially harmful effects of BZP. It is not yet clear whether they will declare the drug illegal or safe for continued use.
arycki, owner of Cow Moon Theory employee, feels that the drug is a safe alternative to the use of hard drugs. “If you put a chemical into somebody, that changes the way they act and the government is going to have a problem with it,” he said.