Last month, the autopsy of a UCSB student implicated a drug called 25I-NBOMe — better known as “smiles” or “N-bomb.” The synthetic hallucinogen, sold in liquid, tab, and powder form, has psychedelic and euphoric effects, somewhat like those of LSD; occasionally, it’s even passed off as a substitute. Thing is, they’re hardly equivalent: N-bombs and related substances are known to be more dangerous than other psychedelic drugs, largely because their inconsistent formulations make them much more difficult to dose. As the DEA put it, even attempting to take “safe” doses is like “playing Russian roulette.”

The synthetic drug was first discovered by a German scientist in 2003 and has been making the rounds on the street — and, more recently, the internet — ever since. Recreational abuse rates, however, exploded when online drug user forums started really discussing it in 2011, prompting the DEA to classify it as a Schedule I illegal drug in 2013. So far, at least 19 Americans have died after taking it and experiencing unwanted effects, including seizures, aggression leading to self-harm, and psychosis-like symptoms.

Online, users praise it for its “crazy visuals” and “enjoyable mindfuck.” But even fans are wary of the risks. “Dead legs,” blue skin, and stabbing sensations due to constriction of the blood vessels, together with nausea and full-on psychedelic “freakouts,” are frequently reported. As one ex-Reddit user warned, “This compound was not seen in the wild until 2010, so the number of guinea pigs and length of human trials is exceedingly small.”

N-bombs haven’t been tested on humans. Most designer drugs haven’t: Because it’s relatively easy to synthesize new ones (many of them are just variations on a chemical theme), there are simply too many out there to study or regulate. 25I-NBOMe just happens to be the one that’s killing users at the moment.

Even the drug gurus at Erowid warn of the risks of combining N-bombs with other drugs and the dangers of overdosing. Because the mental component of the N-bomb high isn’t as intense as seasoned hallucinogen trippers might be used to, the tendency is to take more. That is a terrible idea. If you’re looking for an intense psychedelic high, just stick to LSD.

With drugs this new, safety is almost impossible to guarantee. Buying drugs off the internet is never really a good idea. If you’re willing to take the risk, do your homework online and ask dealers about dosage, but take what they say — and sell — with a healthy grain of salt.

Photos via https://www.flickr.com/photos/vovan_uk/