Drug Policy

A Whiff of Grape


The January issue of Microgram, a bulletin published by the Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of Forensic Sciences, includes a brief report on what may be the first official smelling of "candy-flavored meth" (emphasis added):

The DEA Western Laboratory (San Francisco, California) recently received a ziplock plastic bag containing a mixture of translucent crystals and tiny purple specks that had a distinct grape candy-like odor, purported to be "flavored methamphetamine" (see Photo 1). The exhibit was acquired by DEA Special Agents in Everett, Washington. Analysis of the exhibit (total net mass 26.7 grams) by FTIR, GC/MS, GC/IRD, and HPLC confirmed 1.1% methamphetamine (salt form undetermined), diluted with dimethylsulfone and sucrose; the sample appeared to be mostly dimethylsulfone, based on the FTIR spectrum. It is possible that the tiny purple specks in the exhibit were bits of a grape flavored candy or lollipop, but this was not formally determined. This is the first such submission to the Western Laboratory.

[Editor's Notes: "Flavored methamphetamine" (most notably "strawberry meth") has received extensive and often alarmist coverage in the mass media over the past two years. However, this is the first confirmed sample of "flavored methamphetamine" submitted to a DEA laboratory, and is also the first such report by any laboratory to Microgram. A small number of exhibits with unusual colors have been submitted to the South Central Laboratory (Dallas, Texas) over the past two years; however, none of the latter samples had any noticeable fruit or candy-like odors.]

How over the top does coverage of a drug story have to be for the DEA to call it "alarmist"? Very. Note that the coverage of "candy-colored meth" preceded any confirmation that it actually existed, and that the brightly colored, strawberry-flavored crystals featured in the scare stories bear little resemblance to this sample. Microgram's editor tactfully refrained from noting that the alarmism has been shared and passed on by two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), whose "candy-flavored meth bill" would automatically double the sentence of anyone who "manufactures, creates, distributes, or possesses with intent to distribute a controlled substance that is flavored, colored, packaged or otherwise altered in a way that is designed to make it more appealing to a person under 21 years of age, or who attempts or conspires to do so." The upshot is that someone who sells meth sprinkled with bits of grape candy to an adult would be treated as if he had sold it to a child. Purveyors of hash brownies, MDMA tablets stamped with cartoons, or any other drug whose form, packaging, or marketing is deemed child-friendly likewise could see their sentences arbitrarily increased. All because Feinstein and Grassley are under the impression that people smoke meth because they like the way it tastes.

My previous post on the Feinstein/Grassley bill is here. Michael Erard told the story of how Microgram became available online in the October 2004 issue of Reason.

[via To the People]

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  1. So what happens to a parent who gives their ADHD kid their Adderall* pill with some grape juice?

    * Adderall is composed of four amphetamine salts

  2. I want candy-flavored Oxy Contin.


    IIRC doesn’t fruit juice inhibit the uptake of Amphetamine in the stomach?

  3. I prefer vanilla (fresh beans only)

  4. Check out the fake MDA tabs shaped like the “Decepticons”. I love reading Microgram.

  5. I want hydrocodone-laced Sno-Cones. The cause of and cure of ice cream headaches in one handy package.

  6. More Micogram news, those clever Filipinos invented Heroin tablets!

  7. I remember (twenty some odd years ago, when I did such things) seeing Donald Duck blotter acid. Nancy Reagan would have been appalled…

  8. BDB, are you thinking of grapefruit enzyme inhibition? Amphetamines are not among the drugs affected by that.

    I want hydrocodone-laced Sno-Cones. The cause of and cure of ice cream headaches in one handy package.

    Not fast acting enough. Maybe some oxy in powder form on top that you snort before eating?

  9. What this country needs is a Dylan’s Candy Bar –but for drugz! Cocaine pixie dust! Valium candy necklaces!

    Think if I stocked enough stimulants, I could qualify for some stimulus assistance?

  10. “Episiarch | February 6, 2009, 1:07pm | #
    BDB, are you thinking of grapefruit enzyme inhibition? Amphetamines are not among the drugs affected by that.”

    That was what I was thinking of. Hmm, must have gotten confused.

  11. The best talk I ever saw to get kids not to do crack was that Dave Chapelle skit where he tells them a story that ends with “and that, children, was the first time I ever sucked **** for crack.”

  12. I’m selling Meth cut with Pop Rocks. The kids love it!

  13. Because there is no such thing as grape cold medicine, and cold medicine is never used to make meth.

  14. Once you turn 21, you immediately prefer the taste of regular meth to that fruity shit.

  15. We must protect The Children? from being targeted with harmful substances.

  16. All because Feinstein and Grassley are under the impression that people smoke meth because they like the way it tastes.

    To be fair, I think many many people refrain from taking (snorting in particular) meth because of the horrific taste that lingers and lingers, so taste enhancement might increase use on the margins.

  17. I’m selling Meth cut with Pop Rocks. The kids love it!

    Good thing you aren’t selling coke cut with pop-rocks…that will kill you, I hear.

  18. The fruity flavor or aroma of the meth is most likely an accidental byproduct of the bathtub chemistry that produces it.

    Our taste and smell receptors react to chemicals based on their shape. Chemicals that have similarly shaped areas will taste and smell the same even if they have no other relationship to one another. This is why sugar, saccharine and aspartame all taste similar even though chemically they are all radically different substances. Fruity smells are not uncommon in chemistry because of the similarity of many chemicals the volatile compounds in fruits.

    This “strawberry meth” is probably just a chemical accident. After all, inexpensive fruit flavoring agents don’t actually smell strongly of fruit. If you put a few sprinkles of strawberry kool-aid into some crystalize meth, you wouldn’t get enough emission to smell much of anything.

    This tells us that neither the DEA nor Congress knows anybody who took organic chemistry in college. It also tells us their completely out of touch with the realities of drug use if they think that the SCENT OF A GRAMS WORTH OF METH REALLY HAS ANY EFFECT ON WHETHER SOMEONE WILL WRECK THEIR MIND WITH IT! I MEAN JUMPEN JESUS CHRIST ON STICK DO THEY HAVE ANY INTELLECT LEFT NOT DEVOTED TO POLITICAL SCHEMING?

    Sorry, lost control their for a moment.

  19. Ok someone help me out. I’ve even done meth twice and I still don’t get it.

    Most people (is this an inaccurate assumption?) smoke meth. You can snort it or hot rail it, yeah, but I still think smoking is the way people go.

    Would the smoke even taste like grape/strawberry? Wouldn’t a flame kinda…kill it? And yes, your nose has a whole lot to do with taste, but can you really taste something you snort? You can taste/feel the chemicals but I doubt you’re gonna get the nasal strawberry shake you were hoping for.

  20. I once smoked some weed that had a distinct cotton candy smell both before and while being smoked. It was awesome.

  21. Is this just for meth, or will it also ban strawberry cough?

  22. If this actually is a real instance of someone deliberately adding “flavoring” to meth (and that’s a big if), raise your hand if you think the most likely explanation is that this meth manufacturer/dealer saw some of those alarmist news reports, and thought to him/herself, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea!”

  23. The thing that’s really stupid is that meth kills your appetite dead. Why the fuck would you care about fruit flavors? Pussy flavored would probably be much better.

  24. Episiarch,

    Forget the grape juice. One of the binder’s used in Adderall is lactitol, a sweetener. It already tastes like sweet, sweet candy.

    Prescription speed is candy… You can’t make this shit up.

  25. That wasn’t weed, Gregory. It was the funnies page.

  26. Voyeur, I went looking for a kid’s version of the Adderall, but I guess the regular is the kid’s version. Beautiful.

  27. Like I always say, let Senators score as many electoral brownie points as they want banning nonexistent things. If Dianne Feinstein wants to propose a bill banning abortion by pregnant men, knock yourself out.

  28. i spent a fair amount of time working drug investigations in wealthy (and non-wealthy) areas.

    there are interesting demographics at work here.

    for example, it’s not just a cliche. blacks are rarely associated with crystal meth, especially meth labs. i’ve been in a few dozen labs. never seen a black dood. it’s all white (trash).

    on another front, rich kids (mostly white but a fair %age of asians, blacks, etc.) shy away from what they perceive as “dirty” or low class drugs.

    the hoi polloi at our local high schools and colleges were big into ecstacy (and stacking ecstacy with viagra), oxycontin, opioids in general AS LONG AS THEY CAME IN NEAT PHARMACEUTICAL GRADE PILLS *not* icky brown tarry powder that you have to inject.

    i had numerous dealers/users reinforce this distinction telling me straight out that “those kinds of drugs” don’t sell in that area, but drugs that look like candy (ecstacy especially and also many pharma pills) do.

    then there’s the whole “candy raver” subculture, pacifiers and all.

    oh, as for adderall and other ADHD drugs. those were huge sellers. the kids who were prescribed them would sell (or if the chick was super hawt – give it away in hopes of some nookie) their adderall’s, dexedrine sulphate’s etc.

    i also find the thought of the ecstacy/viagra stack to be hilarious.

    imagine an 18 yr old boy. hormones and all.

    now, add viagra and ecstacy to the mix. kind of like beavis after he snarfs down a bunch of sugar and caffeine.

    regardless, it’s pretty clear (especially in the case of nifty double stack pink ecstacy pills with little butterflies on them) that aesthetics and making drugs look similar to candy DOES work in certain demographics. namely bored rich kids.

  29. note : i should corect myself. it’s not “brown tarry powder”. it’s more like brown, tarry… um… tar

  30. Dunphy,

    I don’t think that the preference for pills over powders has little to do with the fact that the pills look (a little) like candy, and more to do with the common misconception that powders and crystals are hard drugs while pills are not.

  31. Opioid pills have a known dosage and adulterants.Street heroin does not(and there’s that adulterant thing).You have to be allergic or a retard to kill yourself accidentally with pharmaceutical narcotics.
    (excepting pure fentanyl*)

    *(using the definition of “narcotic” loosely)

  32. Aha! I have been wondering about something related to this for ages

    The very first line in the DEA schedule of list I chemicals (CFR 1310.02) is :
    (1) Anthranilic acid, its esters, and its salts 8530

    Methyl Anthranilate is commonly used as “grape flavor” in all manner of foods.

    I never bothered to look for the homebrew synthesis path that would use these, or looked up for which drug it’s a reagent, but I have always been curious as to why grape flavor (which would be an ester) was on that list.

    I suppose now I know.

  33. Shannon Love, you might be surprised to know there’s now empirical evidence that olfaction might not be as much about shape as it is something like spectroscopy.

    Luca Turin has been advancing this idea for some time, but only fairly recently found empirical data. It turns out that diborane, with a shape nothing like hydrogen sulfide, smells similar. (The guts it takes to find that out for a toxic gas that spontaneously bursts into flame on contact with air is another story entirely.)

    As a result, he now has a company that is identifying compounds with similar fragrances to some exemplar at a prodigious rate, as he can do the hard work with computers before ever having to synthesize anything.

    He did a surprisingly complete overview of this at the TED conference and the video is available at: http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/luca_turin.html

    Sorry for the digression, it comes from being an aspiring perfumer and fragrance hobbyist. This thread made my day, as the grape/drug thing has had me wondering for years.

  34. “Dunphy,

    I don’t think that the preference for pills over powders has little to do with the fact that the pills look (a little) like candy, and more to do with the common misconception that powders and crystals are hard drugs while pills are not.”

    not so much based on my conversations with the actual USERS of these drugs (and dealers).

    it’s not an issue of “hard”. it’s a *class* and desireability thing.

    the candy aspect certainly adds to it, as the ecstacy is specifically marketed that way. it’s kinda like pez, frankly.

    iow, i think you are partially right, but i think the candy and class aspects also play a part.

    you really gotta hang with the candy ravers to get the full effect, though.

    god knows i have.

    again, this is personal experience.
    these are the kind of comments i get:

    meth is “what those ugly poor white trash people with bad teeth use”.

    crack is what “those poor black people use”

    heroin is “gross. people put that up their butts. plus, needles are gross and i don’t want to look like iggy pop”

    ecstacy otoh is “nice little pills”

    of course most don’t know ecstacy *is* a form of meth.

    3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine iirc.


  35. So, essentially, a cop can nearly ensure the conviction and double the sentence of a posessor of meth simply by emptying a packet of Pop Rox into the baggie of confiscated meth.

    I’m pretty sure there’s some private prison industry lobbyists involved here…

  36. Would the smoke even taste like grape/strawberry? Wouldn’t a flame kinda…kill it?

    Apparently not.

  37. a new strain of cannabis that tastes like valrhona chocolate couverture, grand marnier and demerara sugar would definitely attract my attention.

  38. how about a strain that tastes like liver, fava beans, and chianti.

    they could call it “lecter”

  39. if i ever had the opportunity to eat someone, i would do a small end rib roast with a rosemary, garlic, pomegranate juice and fleur de sel marindade, served with a port reduction sauce and fresh, finely grated horseradish.

  40. Nice touch with the horseradish and port reduction, Bruce. Rosemary compliments all human roasts, of course. Not that I’m necessarily a cannibal. Hey, times are tough. But your homeless person doesn’t have to be. It’s all in the preparation. Make sure you use fresh cracked pepper, and might I suggest a bit of lemon zest?

  41. I’ve had more than a few years of organic chemistry. The silliness of some of the chemical speculation in this thread is pretty fun.

    Shannon Love’s comment is particularly worthy of ridicule. So sugar, saccharin and aspartame all have different chemical structures but the same shape? No, no, no. Sugar, saccharin and aspartame have very different structures and solution conformations. Their difference comes in their binding to ‘sweet’ taste receptors; the binding modes are likely very different and moreover, saccharin and aspartame bind much more STRONGLY to the receptors. That’s why you need so much less (milligrams of aspartame to grams of sugar.)

    Grape esters and fruit esters in general possess a very different structure (straight-chain alkane esters) from the aromatic-type compounds that would be found in methamphetamine chemistry. Sorry, that explanation does not fly. (Unless, of course, the bathtub chemist was using nonanoic acid to make a meth-nonanoate salt. Yeah, that’s it.)

    Turin’s ideas are interesting, but his vibrational hypotheses have been falsified in a number of cases. I stand in front of no man’s path to his fortune, but his scientific ideas have yet to be conclusively proven.

    I suspect that the purple specks are indeed grape Kool-Aid (or whatever); the human nose is very powerful and can detect scents in the parts per million range. There are a battery of tests available to the knowledgeable chemist to identify the specks. (Dude — it’s not hard to separate an aromatic amine from everything else…) Why this was not done while the report was published, I will leave to you good people.

  42. “MDMA tablets stamped with cartoons, or any other drug whose form, packaging, or marketing is deemed child-friendly likewise could see their sentences arbitrarily increased”

    Nowerdays I limit my self strictly to Malt whisky and bolivian nose powder

    but man
    between 97 and 03 any drug I took had either a stupid name or some geeky little picture on it

    strawberries, special K, purple fountains, mitzibushies, doves etc

    I can’t really see that as some nefarious atempt to lure kids onto drugsy than

    the nams are just alot easier to say than

    Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or Lysergic acid diethylamide

    does anyone remember 2cb?



    That was a great drug, really enjoyable of all the pschedelic hippy type drugs it has to be said that was my favorite

    but it never took of

    every one knows mdma, lsd and ketamine cus they had geeky brand names but no one knows 2cb cus it had a shit name.

  43. Here?s a photo of a 2cb tablet with a geeky little logo


    real men snorted it
    ah memories
    or rather the lack of them
    at least coherent memories

  44. In a related story, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has launched a major offensive against the grape vendors of western Pennsylvania…

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