Since its earliest stages, the war on drugs has followed the policy of prohibition as its misguiding light. Drug warriors, many driven by the belief that laws and enforcement alone can tame the desire to get high, have embraced the often draconian strategy as the primary weapon in an arsenal that has missed its target.
More than 40 years after President Richard Nixon launched what would eventually escalate into a global effort to stamp out illegal drugs, report after report continues to show that prohibition has failed to control either the supply or demand for narcotics, despite the policy's astronomical costs.
There are numerous reasons for this failure, but among the most prominent is the simple fact that the aggressive international push against drugs rarely comports with reality. People enjoy altering their state of mind, and many of the substances they use to achieve this goal are catastrophically addictive.
Despite this seemingly obvious trait of the human character (or flaw, depending on whom you ask), the overarching global anti-drug strategy of the last few decades has largely ignored compassion, treatment and rehabilitation as tools to combat drugs. Instead, the commanders of this battle have opted for frequent crackdowns, seizures and mass incarceration. This approach has succeeded in making drug trafficking more lucrative for the millions of criminals that escape the long and often tragically clumsy arm of the law.
While the global war on drugs may now be starting to examine a more diverse playbook, the official approach to the drugs listed below often underscores just how futile a policy centered around prohibition can be.
Warning: Some of the images in this article may be disturbing.
This Kenyan alcoholic drink, whose name translates to "kill me quick," is made from maize and sorghum and is often fermented with actual jet fuel. It's sometimes mixed further with embalming fluid. Side effects of these impure forms of chang'aa include blindness and, of course, death. If that's not enough of a challenge for you, try a related "drink" called kiroro, which is just straight jet fuel.
Only recently did Kenyan authorities step away from a prohibiting chang'aa and instead legalize the drink in bottled form to prevent additives like jet fuel. In a recent effort to control the health hazards of the persistent adulterated brews, Business Africa Daily reported that the nation's anti-drug bureau is partnering with local distilleries to make sure that low-income earners have access to clean and affordable liquor.
A Kenyan man brews Chang'aa using very simple materials. The addition of jet fuel to speed up fermentation makes this process extremely dangerous.
Jenkem is disgusting. This hallucinogenic inhalant is created from fermented human waste. It's believed to originate in Zambia, where street children would collect human waste from sewage pipes, place it in sealed bags, and leave it to ferment. Regularly inhaling the toxic chemicals in this mixture can result in hypoxia, the deprivation of oxygen to certain parts of the body.
Although it's supposedly a real threat in many poor countries -- if only because of the dangers of handling human waste -- authorities in the United States have been fooled on a few occasions into thinking jenkem was becoming an emerging epidemic that should be addressed by quick action. Their first reaction was to send out a bulletin warning parents that their children might be trying "butthash."
As far as prohibition goes in this case, it's pretty clear why it would be impossible to prevent anyone from getting high on their own excrement. Why they'd want to do so is another question altogether.
You can do without an image of this one. You're welcome.
Household nutmeg contains myristicin, a hallucinogen that has sense-altering effects in larger doses. The main health danger is that its effects don't kick in for many hours, leading many users to think they haven't consumed enough and eventually risk overdose. The effects can last up to two days. While not rampant, the use of this simple spice to get high may be the strongest evidence that drug laws will never be able to cover all bases.
Average, ordinary nutmeg you would find in any kitchen across the U.S.
Krokodil originated in Russia, but has since made its way to the U.S. An opiate like heroin, it is injected and has terrifying physical side effects. The drug is made from combining desomorphine (from codeine tablets) with caustic agents like gasoline or paint thinner. The drug causes scaly, gangrenous skin on the user, hence the name, and rots the flesh, exposing muscles and even bone.
Krokodil is itself a product of prohibition, mixed with desperation and addiction. Heroin is highly illegal in Russia, but that hasn't stopped people from doing it and getting hooked. Codeine is not, and can actually be purchased over the counter without a prescription. Heroin addicts looking for a cheaper high turn to krokodil as an alternative. It costs three times less, but produces a high similar to its purer counterpart, only far shorter, and far more likely to eventually lead to death.
As Jacob Sullum points out at Reason, "If Russians could buy heroin (or pharmaceutical-quality desomorphine) the same way they buy codeine, 'the most horrible drug in the world' would have no following."
Bone visible and foot barely hanging on, a Krokodil user has what's left of his leg removed.
This South African drug, known in some forms as nyaope, sprung up in the nation's poorer regions within the last few years and typically consists of marijuana, heroin or other street drugs mixed with retroviral AIDS drugs. It can also be mixed with things like rat poison or other toxic chemicals, sometimes shortening the lifespan of users who choose to inject it to as little as one year. Doctors seem skeptical as to the addictive or hallucinogenic properties of the AIDS drugs used, but worry that whoonga might have a detrimental effect on the fight against AIDS in the region since users may purposely try to contract HIV in order to get the necessary retroviral drugs free from clinics.
South African authorities responded to reports of whoonga's increased use by adding it to a list of banned substances. Rehabilitation efforts are reportedly minimal and punishments for possession are harsh, and Sowetan Live notes complaints that South Africa has no "functioning government institution to tackle substance abuse."
A South African whoonga addict rolls a joint using retroviral AIDS drugs.
This South American drug is made from the paste of cocaine production, also called crude cocaine or "cocaine's garbage." It's very cheaply made, mixed with everything from rat poison to kerosene, and sometimes even crushed up glass. Because the high from paco is so quick and intense, it's usually followed by a deep depression. Users are known to become extremely aggressive in the search for another fix. As some have put it, addicts become like Neanderthals or the walking dead.
Paco rose to prominence in the early 2000s in Argentina, as the financial collapse hit. As the North American Congress on Latin America reported in 2008, the drug's spread in Argentina was directly tied to "a heavy-handed crackdown" by the United States and other nations on producers and traffickers of cocaine across South America. Instead of forcing the offenders out of business, the actions simply forced them adapt their operation and change their product and market.
A drug trafficker displays three kilos of cocaine paste, which will later be crystalized into cocaine.
7. Bath Salts
This drug, while not actually bath salts, looks similar enough that it's often sold as such to skirt the law or mislead consumers altogether. Though the ingredients can vary, bath salts normally contain some type of cathinone stimulant like mephadrone. Mephadrone, while not a hallucinogen, can act as a psychoactive amplifier to existing emotions.
The drug gained notoriety in the U.S. after it was linked to a grisly face-eating attack in Florida. It turned out that the assailant was not high on bath salts at the time of the incident, but stories like this one and others, as well as the legitimate health concerns, were enough to lead President Barack Obama to enact a ban on the substance.
Drug policy reformers were unimpressed by the move, suggesting authorities instead seek to combat the dangerous drug by regulating it, as they did in New Zealand.
"Simply banning these drugs only incentivizes producers to develop drugs that get around the law -- regardless of what they will do to the people that take them," said Ross Bell, executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, according to Stop The Drug War. "This model incentivizes producers to develop drugs that are safer. We think that's a much smarter way to go about it."
A misleading bath salts bag, packaged in a way to circumvent laws in Mississippi.
A street drug whose use is surging among Greece's young and impoverished, Sisa is a highly addictive cocktail of crystal meth mixed with any sort of random toxic ingredients people can get their hands on. In a disturbing documentary done by Vice, the drug was found to have been cut with everything from battery acid to engine oil.
Like many of the drugs on this list, sisa's growth is a function of the poverty that spread after Greece's recent financial crisis. The nation enacted crippling austerity measures, drastically reducing safety nets and further lowering the quality of life for the lower class. Uninterested or incapable of affording a treatment-focused response to sisa, the government has instead opted to pursue a policy of prohibition and harsh enforcement that isn't working.
However discrete, a young Greek man fires up sisa right in public view.
9. Flash Blood
This particularly disturbing and desperate trend involves drawing blood from a user who currently has drugs in his body, and injecting that blood into one's own stream. It's been springing up more and more in poorer areas of African countries, especially in the western part of the continent, where both heroin use and HIV infection rates are high.
In Kenya, where this practice has been documented amid an influx of heroin over the past decade, authorities have begun to address the drug epidemic as a public health issue rather than a criminal one. The Kenyan government announced plans to begin distributing free needles to injecting users in 2012, a decision that drew backlash. The broader strategy, however, appears to be more focused on amping up enforcement in the war on drugs, a task made even more difficult by the country's rampant political corruption.
The simplicity and zero cost of flash blooding, combined with already high rates of HIV in regions where it is prominent, makes it especially dangerous.