What is 2C? New Designer Drug Causing a Buzz

Witnesses in Grand Forks, North Dakota who saw 17-year-old Elija Stai after he had ingested the drug said that he was “growling,” banging “his head against the ground,” and appeared to be “possessed” before he died. The 18-year-old who provided Stai with the drug found himself facing charges for “murder, manslaughter and controlled substance charges.” And, just days after Stai’s death, another teenager was found dead on a sidewalk in the same city from consumption of the same drug.

The drug that killed these two young men is 2C-I, a derivative of the designer drug 2C. The use of designer drugs–especially by individuals aged 21 to 30–is on the rise. Here is what you need to know about this potentially dangerous substance.

The History of 2C

2C was invented by Dr. Alexander Shulgin, the chemist who created Ecstasy and who is known as the “Godfather of Psychedelics.” Shulgin synthesized Ecstasy in the 1970s and attempted to find therapeutic benefits from the drug. During this time, Shulgin also worked closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration, assisting with drug studies. Once the DEA decided to classify Ecstasy as a Schedule I drug–with no apparent therapeutic benefits–the agency ended its relationship with the chemist.

Shulgin continued his work and published the book, Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story, in 1991. The text is largely a recipe book for psychedelic compounds, including 2C. Shulgin did not promote a devil-may-care attitude with the psychedelic substances he created. On the contrary, he sought to invent substances that could help others. Shulgin is quoted as saying the following with regards to psychedelic drugs: “Use them with respect as to the transformations they can achieve, and you have an extraordinary research tool [. . .] Go banging about with a psychedelic drug for a Saturday night turn-on, and you can get into a really bad place.”

What is 2C?

If you can recall the classes you took in organic chemistry, you will be able to make sense of this designer drug’s name. 2C refers to a molecule that has one amino group attached to a benzene ring by two carbon molecules. 2C thus refers to these two carbons. Molecules like iodine and bromine can be connected chemically to the benzene ring to make the multiple derivatives of 2C that exist, such as 2C-B, 2C-I, and 2C-T-7. All versions of the 2C drug are classified as hallucinogens. And additions of different molecules to the benzene ring of the 2C molecule are what make 2C more hallucinogenic. The most popular forms of 2C are 2C-I and 2C-I-NBOMe. 

2C can be found online, in dance clubs, gas stations, and truck stops. Depending on the form of 2C used, the drug can be consumed as a capsule, a liquid, or a powder. Snorting the drug gives the user faster and more intense effects than does taking the drug orally.

What Effect Does 2C Have on the Body?

2C’s effects on the body are dose-dependent. At low doses, 2C works as a stimulant and can cause hallucinations. At high doses, users may experience disturbing hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and increased body temperature. In general, users of 2C may experience euphoria, agitation, rapid heartbeat, respiratory depression, hallucinations, and seizures.

One especially dangerous side effect of 2C is “excited delirium.” The condition is thought to be caused by a surge of dopamine in the brain–following the use of 2C and other drugs–that cannot be cleared by the brain’s dopamine transporters. Individuals experiencing excited delirium may become hyperactive, violent, and/or hyperthermic. Even worse, those with excited delirium may die suddenly from cardiopulmonary arrest.

How Dangerous is 2C?

Online threads discussing 2C and its derivatives make using the drug sound like a psychedelic adventure. On one Reddit thread, a user recommends “doing 2cb with 4fa, you get the really amazing visuals but at the same time your [sic] energetic and everything feels amazing.” A poster on erowid.org shares, “This was my first time trying 2C-I, and it was a miraculous experience.”

There is no arguing with the subjective experiences that these and other users of 2C have had. However, it is important to remember that 2C is a potentially dangerous substance for a variety of reasons. First, there is a dearth of information regarding 2C’s effects on the body; more research needs to be done before we can understand more fully how 2C works. Second, there is no such thing as “quality control” when it comes to the production of 2C and other designer drugs. Without FDA approval and regulation, there is no way of knowing the quality of 2C that you are buying. Bacterial contaminants and other chemicals that may be present in a sample of 2C can lead to unexpected and detrimental health consequences. Lastly–while someone intoxicated with opiates can be helped with Narcan and someone intoxicated with alcohol can be treated with benzodiazepines–there is no antidote for acute intoxication with 2C. The only treatments available are supportive ones: sedation of the patient, hydration, and cooling measures. And, as is evident from the Grand Forks cases described above, some users of 2C do not recover from intoxication.

Recent Research on 2C

Interestingly, much of the recent research on 2C has been done on animals. Among a handful of studies using rats, one study in 2018 found that a concentration of 100 micromoles of 2C-B inhibits brain activity. Another study in 2017 showed that 25I-NBOMe–a derivative of 2C-I–interacts with a specific serotonin receptor in zebrafish to induce muscle breakdown.

With regards to human studies, researchers in 2018 determined how 2C-B and 25I-NBOMe, among other designer drugs, act on the brain to produce their effects. They found that drugs like 2C act on serotonin receptors in the brain to produce their hallucinogenic effects. And, like most scientists studying designer drugs, the researchers observed that more research must be done on drugs like 2C because public health depends on it.

For people like Dr. Alexander Shulgin, designer drugs like 2C made for intriguing scientific experiments. Experimentation with these drugs outside of the laboratory, however, can prove toxic and even fatal. More remains to be learned about 2C and its effects on the human body.

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