Snow Joke


Workers Find Couch with $8M Worth of Cocaine Inside

It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a pallet, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.

- Epicurus

New York - Sanitation workers picked up a couch on a Bronx street Friday and discovered it had been stuffed with about $8 million worth of cocaine, police said.  The workers picked up the sofa on East 137th Street in the Port Morris section, and when they placed it in the back of the truck to be compacted, white powder was released.  The workers called police, who determined that the powder was cocaine and found that the sofa contained about 370 pounds (170 kilograms) of the drug with a street value of about $8 million.

It was unclear who put the drugs into the couch.  No arrests were made, and police continued to investigate, said department spokesman Detective Gary Cillo.

Source: Daily Record Morris County edition Sunday 12 May 2002

Facts and Figures on Drugs and Drug Trafficking

bullet200 million, or 5% of the world's population - number of people worldwide aged 15 - 64 who have used drugs at least once in the last 12 months.
bullet$13 billion - estimated value of global illicit drug market in 2003 at production level.
bullet$94 billion - estimated value at the wholesale level.
bullet$322 billion - estimated value at retail level.
bullet$70.5 billion - estimated value of cocaine alone at retail level.
bullet$17 billion - value of exports worldwide of wine in 2003.
bullet$6 billion - value of exports worldwide of coffee.
bullet$65.2 million - 1972 Drug Enforcement Administration budget.
bullet2,775 - 1972 number of DEA employees.
bullet$2.1 billion - 2005 DEA budget.
bullet10,894 - 2005 number of DEA employees.
bullet44% - North America's share of worldwide drug purchases.
bullet33% - Europe's share of worldwide drug purchases.
bullet76% - share of total drug profits generated in industrialised countries.
bullet1% - share of profits earned by producers of cocaine and heroin in developing nations.
bullet125,921 - number of emergency room visits in US in second half of 2003 in which cocaine was a factor.
bulletMovie producer Don Simpson; actor River Phoenix; John Entwistle, bassist for The Who; comedian John Belushi; comedian Chris Farley; Bobby Sheehan, bassist for Blues Traveler; University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias - celebrities who died from cocaine or cocaine mixed with other drugs.
bulletSulfuric acid, gasoline or kerosene, ether, ammonia, acetone - substances used to convert coca leaves into cocaine.

Sources: UN Office on Drugs and Crime; Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN); DEA via the Assiciated Press by way of 5 November 2005

Altered States

by Brian Doherty

A review of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into The Heart of Contemporary Shamanism by Daniel Pinchbeck (Broadway, 322 pages $24.95)

This book delivers finely written and observed, often harrowing, personal reporting on experiences with exotic psychedelic drugs.  It also pushes a larger message that the reporting doesn't support - and in some ways actively contradicts.

Daniel Pinchbeck, a young Manhattan intellectual, son of an abstract expressionist painter, Peter Pinchbeck, and a Beat generation memoirist, Joyce Johnson, found himself "yearning for meaning and spiritual truth in a world that seemed devoid of both."  Driven by this sense of lack - and by an assignment from Vibe magazine - he ventured into Gabon to participate in the ancient iboga ceremony.  Derived from the rootbark of an African tree, iboga is known to provide visions and psychological insights that are said to cure drug addictions.  Pinchbeck saw visions, realised that he drank too much, and started to think that his dead grandmother was haunting him.

That's just the beginning of his psychedelic travelogue.  The book follows him on trips to Huautla, Mexico, to eat psychedelic mushrooms, and to the Ecuadorean Amazon to partake in an ayahuasca ceremony.  He took a side trip to the Burning Man festival, where wealthy computer-industry types chatted with him about designer psychedelics.  He attended a conference on entheobotany - the study of plants that give insight into God - that served as his entree to the weirdest drugs of all: DMT (dimethyltryptamine) and DPT (dipropyltryptamine).  Pinchbeck describes the effects of smoking DMT as "being shot from a cannon into another dimension."  Users report feeling as if it rips back the veil of reality, revealing what Pinchbeck speculates are "superconscious entities who created and maintain our universe."

After taking DPT a couple of times - the first time he pegged it as "evil... the wrong doorway" - he decided that his apartment was haunted.  In his silverware drawer he saw grotesque insects that he thought must be of supernatural origin.  He came to "strongly suspect an ordinary death is not the worst thing that can happen to a human being."  Panicked, and with the help of a mystical stripper he befriended at Burning Man, he performed a ritual to cleanse his apartment of the evil vibes before his girlfriend and infant child returned.

Pinchbeck's reporting is fascinating and entertaining, but he doesn't let it stand alone.  He insists that psychedelics have something valuable to teach us about the world of the spirit - that they can make us "spiritual warriors" and "break the spell of our culture's death-trap deceptions."  But his iboga shaman threatened and extorted from his American charges; the ayahuasca shaman waved a rifle and threatened to kill whoever stole his boat.  They do not seem, after all, so different in character from those in the visionless West.

To be sure, the psychedelic experience casts many things about our understanding of consciousness and reality into question.  But Pinchbeck neglects to take seriously that he is ingesting chemicals that affect the brain.  The ability of psychoactive-chemical consumption to create fascinatingly strange perceptual and cognitive effects could be used to support a purely biochemical explanation of human consciousness.

But Pinchbeck takes the opposite tack.  He insists that these substances are teaching us something about spiritual reality as opposed to something about consciousness.  These currently illegal substances hold plenty of promise for purposes ranging from the therapeutic to the cognitive to the purely hedonic.  They do have much to teach about how our brains work, and provide valuably unique experiences besides.  It's a crime, as Pinchbeck rightly notes, that laws prevent above-board research into their nature and effects.

But Pinchbeck doesn't merely argue for personal freedom in using drugs.  He calls Timothy Leary a "villain" for his freewheeling approach to bringing the psychedelic experience to the people.  Pinchbeck plumps for the tribal shamanic tradition, which in modern terms is the mandarin one - the idea that these substances are not for the masses, but for an elite guild.  He writes at times as if he would prefer a Federal Bureau of Shamans to pure psychedelic liberty.

Old heads know: Sometimes nothing can be as dull as other people's trips.  Pinchbeck succeeds in making his fascinating.  Still, there is something inherently personal, incommunicable and often evanescent about psychedelic insights.  So from an outside perspective, the reader sees Pinchbeck changing from an ennui- filled modern to someone frightened out of his wits by eldritch insects.  He went around the world, took part in ancient and hallowed ceremonies, and learned that corporations are bad and humans are raping the earth.  (One suspects that a young Manhattan intellectual might have pretty much felt that way before all the drugs.)

Although he is a great reporter, when it comes to making the case for the spiritual wonders of psychedelics he is unpersuasive.  His book does convey that there are vital, often incredible things about psychedelics that we don't understand - and should try to.  But when he tries to glean spiritual significance from these possibilities, Pinchbeck seems to be trying to lay his bum trips on his readers.

Brian Doherty is an associate editor of Reason magazine.

Source: The Washington Post Sunday 22 September 2002

Drug Tests with Hair

Testing Methods


Urinalysis is an older drug testing technology. This method has some problems that have been exploited by drug users.

Detection Period

Urinalysis can generally detect drug use for the previous 2-3 days for most drugs.  After that the body flushes out the substance.  A drug user can simply abstain for a short period of time, drink water, take the urine test and pass!

Ease of Evasion

Drug users can substitute clean samples, or tamper with urine specimens.  Books about "beating urine tests" are widely available and advertisements for "clean urine" and urine adulterating products are prevalent on the Internet.  Beating a urine test is "no big deal" for an experienced drug user.

Intrusive Collection

The act of collecting a urine sample is intrusive and unpleasant.  Also, since tampering is pervasive, most urine collections have to be observed, causing further uneasiness, particularly for women.

Oral Fluid

Detection Period

Short - 24 hours.

Collection Problems

Oral fluids are easily collected and are resistant to adulteration, substitution, and dilution.  However, the very short time frame makes it easy to evade the test by laying off drugs for a day.

Hair Testing

Detection Period

Hair analysis can detect drug use for approximately the previous 90 days.  Temporary abstention won't beat the test.


Hair testing cannot be evaded as in urinalysis since the drug residue remains permanently entrapped in the hair.  Evidence of drug use cannot be washed or bleached out.


A cosmetically undetectable snip of hair is easily collected without causing embarrassment.  Collection can be done in-house saving the time, inconvenience and the cost of having a job applicant visit a urine collection site.

Commonly Asked Questions and Answers

Q:  What is RIAH (Radioimmunoassay of hair)?

Radioimmunoassay. RIAH measures the drug molecules permanently entrapped in the hair following ingestion.

Q:  What drugs are included in a standard test?

Cocaine (including crack), marijuana, opiates (including heroin), amphetamines (both methamphetamine and Ecstasy), and phencyclidine (PCP)

Q:  How sensitive is hair testing in detecting drug users?

Comparison studies have proven that Psychemedics testing can be as much as 5 - 10 times more effective in identifying drug users than urinalysis.

Q:  What time period does a standard test cover?

A standard test provides a several month history of drug use.

Q:  How soon after use can a drug be detected in hair?

It takes approximately 5 - 7 days from the time of drug use for the affected hair to grow above the scalp.

Q:  What is the shortest time period that can be accurately evaluated?

In most situations the minimum time period is approximately one month.

Q:  How much hair is needed for the test?

A standard screen with GC/MS, GC/MS/MS or LC/MS/MS confirmation usually requires a cosmetically undetectable lock of hair preferably snipped from the back of the head, just below the crown.  In general, the amount needed is the thickness of a shoelace tip.

Q:  Can tests be run on people with little or no hair?

Yes.  Hair can be collected from several locations on the head and combined to obtain the required amount of hair.  In addition, body hair can be used as an alternative to head hair.

Q:  Is there a risk that the results of a hair test can be affected by environmental contamination?

Independent approaches rule out the possibility of a positive result through external contamination.  These procedures involve extensive chemical washing of the hair specimen, followed by analysis of the content of the wash data.  This wash analysis is a critical step to ensure that any contamination is effectively accounted for.  Along with the parent drug, drug metabolites are identified, when appropriate, which are known to be produced by ingestion.  The ability to distinguish and measure metabolites eliminates the possibility of false positives from external contamination.  Additionally, any positive internal contamination (for example, from passive inhalation or even poppy seed consumption) is distinguished from deliberate drug use by setting cut-off levels above those which can be produced by passive internal exposure.  Extensive external studies confirm that external exposure is not a factor in hair testing results.

Q:  Does hair colour or texture affect the results of the test?

Melanin, the colour component of hair, is separated from the sample.  Therefore, the hair that is tested is colourless.  Large-scale independent studies have shown that hair colour is not a factor in hair testing results.

Q:  Does chemical treatment of the hair affect the test results?

Commonly used hair procedures (for example, shampoos, conditioners, sprays, mousses and gels) have no significant effect on results.  Drug residues remain permanently entrapped in the hair.

Q:  Are reconfirmation tests performed on all positive results?

Automatic reconfirmation tests for cocaine, opiates, PCP, methamphetamine, and marijuana are performed on all pre-employment or employee tests which screen positive.  Therefore, no positives are reported without a reconfirmation test.

Q:  Has hair testing been admitted in court?

Yes.  The use of hair testing for drugs of abuse has been routinely admitted in both state and federal courts, as well as in arbitrations and agency hearings.  Many court systems use hair analysis as part of their probationary programs.

Q:  Is hair testing regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

Federal regulations require workplace drug testing to be performed with tests that have been approved, cleared, or otherwise recognised by the Food and Drug Administration as accurate and reliable.

Source: from Psychemedics Corporation, world's largest provider of hair testing for drug abuse

The following is from the Drug Detection Laboratories site"

Hair testing currently is not recommended due to scientific reliability problems with "positive" tests.  Hair testing is plagued with problems of reliable and reproducible techniques for washing potential environmental contamination from the hair, which makes "positive" tests inconclusive.

Laboratories that perform hair testing do not currently have peer review or proficiency testing available to independently confirm the reliability and accuracy of testing performed on hair samples.  This results in a precarious legal position for defending hair test results in court.

The following is from the Craig Medical ("Quality Forensic Diagnostics since 1984") site:

...Studies have shown that anything short of several hours of washing is insufficient in removing potential external contamination.  The failure of other labs to conduct a thorough wash of the sample, (and, most importantly, an analysis of the wash), puts client companies at risk for making an employment decision based on a potentially false positive result.  Some labs may claim to distinguish contamination from ingestion through metabolite identification.  However, while metabolite criteria is appropriate for some drugs, relying only on metabolite identification is an ineffective procedure to distinguish ingestion from exposure for other drugs.  Ask the lab to produce independent contamination studies and court decisions on its methodology....

And finally, the following is from "Technical Review. Hair Testing: Just How Accurate Is It?" by Jason Ditton

Mieczkowski, et al, (1997) report the dispatch of cocaine positive hair samples from 141 individuals to two laboratories.  The two laboratories used different assay methods (one RIAH, the other GC/MS) and different cut-offs.  None of those deemed negative by GC/MS were deemed positive by RIAH, but 16 of those deemed positive by GC/MS were deemed negative by RIAH.  Finally, Kintz & Cirimele (1997) sent a hair sample spiked with AP, MDA and MDMA to 16 different laboratories.  The laboratories all used GC/MS (but used a variety of washing procedures) and were asked to test for AP, MA, MDA and MDMA.  Two laboratories detected MA (with which the samples were not spiked), three failed to detect AP, two failed to detect MDA and three failed to detect MDMA.  For the remainder, the scatter in the concordant set was: for AP (13 positive results) 3.3-17.5; for MA (2 positive results) 0.8-1.8; for MDA (14 positive results) 2.5- 19.5; and for MDMA (14 positive results) 3.3-100.00.

Mieczkowski, T, R Mumm and H Connick (1997)  A research note: an analysis of RIA and GC/MS split hair samples from the New Orleans pretrial diversion program.  Forensic Science International, 84: 67-73.

However, a study of Key Court Cases Involving Hair Testing shows 100% acceptance of hair tests by the Courts.

This section on enhancing human experience covers bodybuilding, marijuana, caffeine, amphetamines, ecstasy, PMA, alcohol, Ritalin, kava, nicotine, cooked food and more.  Clicking "Up" below will take you to the Index page for this section on Drugs.

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