Drug Policy

The Georgetown Drug Lab Bust: More Promising Young Lives Ruined for No Good Reason

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Using your dorm as a drug lab only two months after starting at one of the most prestigious universities in America is one of the dumber things you can do (although who could blame you, what with the high cost of living in Washington, D.C.). But while the Georgetown University and University of Richmond freshmen busted for running a Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) lab out of a Georgetown dorm won't be getting elected valedictorian any time soon—least of all because they might be in jail for the next 20 years—they're a lot less stupid than the laws they're alleged to have broken.

DMT, which produces a horrifying waking nightmare of a psychedlic trip for about 30 minutes, is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. But its more intense cousin, 5-MeO-DMT, or 5 methoxy DMT, is perfectly legal in 47 American states. According to Dr. Bryan Roth, a University of North Carolina professor who has done important research on the effects of DMT in mice, 5 methoxy is commercially produced in the United States and easily obtained by academics who use it for non-clinical testing. It's also functionally similar to DMT. "We think they have essentially the same mechanism of action," said Roth of DMT and 5 methoxy's effect on the brain. "They do more or less the same thing, although I think the effect of 5 is quite a bit more intense, and for that reason it isn't really abused very much."

This likely explains why the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) only got around to even discussing a 5-MeO-DMT ban in 2009, when a report by the Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section of the DEA recommended that it be classified a Schedule I controlled substance. The report described a veritable 5-MeO-DMT epidemic, and cited "at least 5 hospital emergency room visits and a death" related to the drug's use between 1999 and 2008. But the 5 methoxy crisis wasn't urgent enough to spur the DEA to immediate action—even though the DEA decided that 5-MeO-DMT fit the criteria for Schedule I, the drug remains legal over a year later.

Normal DMT, as the Georgetown crew is rapidly learning, is not legal. But it doesn't sound all that bad either. DMT expert Rich Strassman told The Washington Post that DMT is sometimes referred to as "the businessman's trip," because "theoretically, I suppose you could smoke it at lunchtime."

Like the legal drug salvia and unlike the legal drug alcohol, DMT's effects are over after about half an hour. So the students could spend decades in prison because they were producing a drug whose identical yet more intense form is not only legal, but has only succeeded in killing a single American over the past decade, according to the above-linked DEA report (see page 2). Meanwhile, the comparatively-mild drug they are accused of producing only affects its users for about a lunch-break's worth of time. 

Today, the Post reported that the two students held in connection with the Georgetown lab were denied bail, and would likely be charged with a federal drug offense. These are two talented, enterprising young men who are unfortunately short on common sense. But according to the DEA's own contradictory policies, that's pretty much the only threat they pose to society at large. Here's hoping the criminal justice system realizes this.

Jacob Sullum discussed DMT and other drugs that are sometimes legal for religious purposes in Reason's June 2007 issue and the "Salvia Ban Wagon" in Reason's December 2009 issue.

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  1. does it require chemicals that go boom?

    1. Not really — it’s an extraction process, not a synthesis. DMT naturally occurs in a whole host of plants. Ayahuasca is basically DMT along with an MAOI to make it orally active.

      http://www.erowid.org/chemical…..ide1.shtml

      The most dangerous chemical appears to by muriatic (aka hydrochloric) acid, which is not especially flammable.

    2. I know. What lab? You don’t need a lab. You need a few jars and a turkey baster.

    3. Well, you need some sort of organic solvent that won’t mix with water and those are most often flammable, but you wouldn’t need anything more than lighter fluid.

  2. I used to take ether and glassware from Molecular and Cellular Biology lab. What kind of prison time does that get me?

    1. Post it to your facebook page and we’ll find out.

  3. produces a horrifying waking nightmare of a psychedlic trip for about 30 minutes

    So you haven’t tried it?

    It never lasts half an hour, and it’s only horrifying to hippie jackholes who think drugs are “spiritual,” so any weird shit that happens is evil-spirit shit.

    What actually goes down, man, is it makes the connection between your sensory apparatus and your brain severely lossy, and so your brain, in an attempt to shield you from a world of nonsense in which you can’t survive, fills in the interpretive gaps with utterly psychotic, terrifyingly logical…whatever you really deep-down think it should. It’s kind of like a shockingly convincing LaRouche pamphlet. But of the mind, dude. The miiiiiiiind.

    And then you’re fine.

    Best drug ever. Do not attempt.

    1. How can you be sure that your brain isn’t constantly sanitizing a real world filled with nonsense, and the DMT just turns that off for a little while?

      1. Amazing, that’s what I hear people ask about every other psychedelic drug. It’s incredible that all these different drugs happen to all be the key to reality…

    2. Salvia is horrifying. DMT is tame by comparison.

    3. like a shockingly convincing LaRouche pamphlet

      That one is going up on my wall.

      only horrifying to hippie jackholes who think drugs are “spiritual,”

      This! Psychedelics are a lot more fun once you stop treating the experience as some kind of spiritual awakening. Otherwise you risk ending up naked and penniless in a commune in southern Oregon, starving on a diet of radishes.

  4. Hmmm. Does one see the fnord?

  5. I got this from erowid.com:

    “[The feeling of doing DMT] is as though one had been struck by noetic lightning. The ordinary world is almost instantaneously replaced, not only with a hallucination, but a hallucination whose alien character is its utter alienness. Nothing in this world can prepare one for the impressions that fill your mind when you enter the DMT sensorium.”
    –(someone named) Terence McKenna

    1. –(someone named) Terence McKenna

      That someone is famous for trippy stuff. His opinion is valid.

  6. “Here’s hoping the criminal justice system realizes this.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAH! OMG, that’s funny.

    They’ll be lucky if we don’t try them for attempted chemical warfare against the District of Columbia.

    1. “Here’s hoping the criminal justice system realizes this.”

      Yup, sounds like the same kind of hope that was talked about so much a couple of years ago… the one that goes with all the change that has happened in the CJ System since then.

  7. I was in Home Depot yesterday to buy some herbs (real herbs guys!) and I noticed they were selling live Salvia. Even funnier is that it is technically illegal in this state.

    1. It was a sting. There was a DEA agent hiding in the Weed Whacker isle, waiting for you to buy.

    2. Pretty unlikely that it was Salvia divinorum. There are many plants in the genus which are grown for ornamental purposes, like Salvia elegans, aka the common garden plant Pineapple Sage.

      1. Ah, no wonder it gave me headaches!
        Nice name, keep running.

  8. I knew of two groups of students that did this extraction last year in my dorm at a USNWR top ten school. In a sane world, freshman year shenanigans wouldn’t be in the national news.

  9. Odd, I heard that when the DEA puts a drug on Schedule 1 listing, they put all the possible isomers and chemically similar drugs on the list as well, even if they’ve never been synthesized (citation needed)

    1. Yeah, I thought that was the Analog control act or something.

  10. I am a Georgetown student who must respectfully disagree with this opinion piece. I was recently told that a chemistry professor here says that the chemicals used to synthesize DMT could have caused serious destruction if they had caught fire. (Details about what chemicals they had are available in the criminal complaint.) Also, this columnist asserts that the suspects were “talented and enterprising”. How do you know that? I do not know the suspects, but we should not assume that they are talented. Yes, one goes to Georgetown, but we should realize that the admissions process is a human process and is liable to make mistakes. The fact that one may believe that most Georgetown students are talented does not make all of them talented. The criminal justice system is not choosing to ruin anyone’s life. People must be held responsible for their own choices. If they were so “talented” they would have taken the time to learn about the consequences. Yes, young people make mistakes, but this behavior is so wildly atypical that the “people make mistakes” line of argument is not persuasive. The great majority of people here do not make this sort of mistake and they find the very idea of making drugs in a dorm room as reprehensible.

    1. Go read TIHKAL and tell me if you really think that these dudes were doing a full synth in a fucking dorm room. Where did they hide their argon tanks? Most likely they were doing a simple A/B extraction that they read about on erowid. The chemicals that they most likely used were dihydrogen monooxide,Napthalene, hcl, naoh, methanol, or ethanol, not real earth shattering stuff.

      Now if they were using grignard reagents to make meth, then you could be worried.

      1. It’s a simple acid base extraction. You need acid, base, water, and an organic solvent (that doesn’t mix with water).

    2. I am a Georgetown student who must respectfully disagree with this opinion piece. I was recently told that a chemistry professor here says that the chemicals used to synthesize DMT could have caused serious destruction if they had caught fire. (Details about what chemicals they had are available in the criminal complaint.)

      That’s a different issue. For instance, I could start an fireworks factory in my coldwater walkup.

      If there were no drug war, this activity probably wouldn’t be occurring like this.

      There are certainly dangers in bringing toxic chemicals into a place where the use and disposal of chemicals isn’t properly zoned.

      But saying that the drug war solves this only continues to make the argument that the drug war doesn’t solve this. Because we have this here drug war, and this is still happening.

    3. The great majority of people here do not make this sort of mistake and they find the very idea of making drugs in a dorm room as reprehensible

      My god, you’re a stiff one. What if someone makes beer in their dorm room? Is that reprehensible too?

      1. The CO2 could build up… and EXPLODE!!!

    4. Yes, all those who deviate from the mainstream must be punished. I agree, because I don’t want to go to jail.

    5. Here, troll, have some bloody chunks of meat.

  11. I assume these guys are white or asian, so this will make the drug war a little less racist. That is a good thing I am told.

  12. You guys (Reason) keep addressing this idiotic drug war/hysteria as though there is some rational, defensible argument, though poorly understood basis for it, that there are decent and rational motives behind it and if you could just reason with the pro-drug war people and get them to see your view point they would see the light. If you don’t start from first principle – that the people who endorse and promote and perpetuate the drug war are people who want to promote and profit the suffering and persecution of others and want to exercise authority over others – then you will never get anywhere. There are not good guys on both sides with differing views. There are only those who believe in liberty and self ownership and those who do not. Until and unless you go after prohibitionists as the witch hunters and exploiters of public gullibility, as the evil people they are, you will never make any headway.

    1. Uh, I think you are preaching to the choir, son.

    2. Until and unless you go after prohibitionists as the witch hunters and exploiters of public gullibility, as the evil people they are,

      Ummm, isn’t what you’re proposing the definition of a witch-hunt? You know, blindly labeling your political opponents “evil” and making emotional appeals to “hunt them down?”

      There’s a difference between people who are wrong or stupid, and people who are evil. Let’s NOT take the intellectual shortcut of conflating the two. We need to be able to counter both.

  13. I’m also a Georgetown student who a.) is stoked that his university came up on the Reason blog and b.) completely agrees with this opinion piece. In fact the reason the students in question got busted was because someone reported a weird smell in their dorm room hallway, which turned out to be k2, a legal marijuana alternative. That student then pointed the campus cops to the room where he bought it from, and there they discovered something like six mason jars which was then labeled a ‘cook laboratory’.

    Were those freshmen completely idiotic for making drugs on a freshmen floor? Yes. Should their lives be ruined as a result of this mistake? Definitely no.
    *also I actually did know one of those guys in passing, as the long haired dude who brought a guitar to a party I hosted. Basically your average harmless hippy.

    1. Higha Saxa, baby.

    2. Thanks for the details. What’s interesting to me is that kids are selling K2 (which sucks hairy nut-sack, by the way) to each other as though it were an illegal drug. You can just stroll down to the local headshop and pick some up. Was it a homemade batch of herbs spiked with JWH-018 or something?

      In the future the kids should just grow some shrooms. That shit can go under the bed, no lights or ventilation or any of that crap required.

  14. It never lasts half an hour, and it’s only horrifying to hippie jackholes who think drugs are “spiritual,” so any weird shit that happens is evil-spirit shit.

  15. The next time I go into a public restroom and find a commode filled with a nasty unflushed shit, I’m going to call the cops to report a jenkem lab.

    1. Win. Seriously, that is a fantastic idea. What I wouldn’t give to see that news story.

  16. DMT is not a horrifying nightmare of a drug, it can be quiet wonderful – I’m sorry if you had a bad experience with it Armin – set and setting…

    1. Yeah, which is true of pretty much any hallucinogen. DMT is just especially intense — which can mean intensely good or intensely bad.

  17. Meh. I have a hard time getting outraged when the morons are manufacturing drugs in their dorm rooms.

    30 years sounds a bit harsh, though, but then again, I doubt they’ll actually get that kind of time.

    And I don’t know about “the only threat posed” – if they’re using hydchloric acid or flammable solvents in a dorm room, they’re posing a potential threat to everyone in that dorm.

    The argument here is a bit of a stretch and these two are not the most sympathetic figures to base such an argument on.

    1. What about hotplates and clothes irons? I bet they cause more dorm room fires than drug labs.

  18. by no means does dmt produce ‘a horrifying waking nightmare’. do some research. dmt produces a sensation and that death of the girl who drowned in the lake was freaking out on other substances and had mental issues. dmt lasts for about 3 to 5 minute before the user is back to reality, with slight tingling feelings for another 15 or so minutes. the user can barely open their eyes, let alone run into a lake. she was clearly not high on dmt when she drowned.

    dmt is like smoking an alex grey painting that speaks to you. as whacky as it sounds, its not so strange once youve tried it. and believe it or not, dmt is produced by our brains and is in all of our blood as we speak. read The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman. there are theories that it produces dreams during rem sleep, so why hate if we’re all holdin?

  19. The author of this article is an idiot. And lol, John Perrone XDDDDDDDD

  20. Hello,
    They can be classified into several categories depending on their functions. Let’s examine some of the types of pipettes used in laboratories.

  21. “Here’s hoping Novo 7 Paladin the criminal justice system realizes this.”
    Android 4.0 Tablet PC
    Yup, sounds like the same kind of hope that was talked about so much cheap android tablet a couple of years ago… the one that goes with all the change Cheap Android Phone that has happened in the CJ System since then.

  22. Don’t know what to say. May every one good luck!

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