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Yaba Drug

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(crazy medicine, pronounced yar bah)

They are tablets containing a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine, typically brightly colored in orange or green and carrying logos such as “R” or “WY”. They are sometimes called Bhul Bhuliya in India.

Quality varies according to source, most are manufactured for oral administration or ‘chasing’ on foil; there is a brand preferred for injecting from Laos. This illegal drug is especially popular in Thailand, where it is imported from neighboring Burma. In recent years it has also been used by immigrant populations in the United States, and occasionally as a club drug replacing ecstasy.

Yaba tablets were outlawed by the Thai government in 1970; at the time they were sold at gas stations and used by Thai truckers to keep awake. After many horrific long distance bus accidents, and deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s campaign from 2003 onwards to eliminate drug trafficking, use of the drug for bus drivers is not as widespread as it was. Retail prices have risen from 100 – 150 Baht ($3-4) to 250-450 Baht per pill as a result of the crackdown, though it remains a popular party drug.

In 2006-7 Yaba consumption became fashionable for the well-to-do in Bangladesh. A series of highly publicized drug raids in 2007 by authorities implicated some well-known business people there. When Mr Joynal (owner of Hotel Purbani) & his girlfriend Nikita were arrested for the allegation of Yaba smuggling, it generated large media coverage.

Originally manufactured by the Nazis to help keep their troops awake for days, Yaba has become increasingly popular in the Far East amongst claims that the drug is now bigger than heroin in Thailand.

Yaba is a derivative of synthetic amphetamines such as speed and can be manufactured far more quickly and easily than traditional forms of amphetamine. The recipe has spread from the Far East by word of mouth and on the Internet (no, don’t ask us).

We’ve experienced some difficulty getting a consistent description of ingredients and effects, with some reports stating that the drug is mostly methamphetamine, running 80% pure with much of the cut being castoff from heroin production

The drug usually comes in pill form (often red/orange, sometimes green) and with its potent mix of visuals and intense highs, drug experts predict that it may soon become popular on the UK club scene.

Although yaba is still very rare in the UK, drug experts report that the UK is being targeted by yaba producers from the ‘Golden Triangle’ – the drug producing areas which straddle the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos.

The main ingredients, which include salt, household cleaning products, distilled cold medicines and lithium from camera batteries, can be bought legally and the drug easily knocked out at home with a couple of casserole dishes and a hob.

The rewards for criminals can be huge. Around Β£300 of raw materials can make yaba worth more than Β£2,000 at British street prices. Since the equipment needed is portable, labs can be moved on a regular basis, making it more difficult for police to track them down.

Side effects:
The drug is claimed to create an intense hallucinogenic effect and can keep users awake for days on end, although some users have reported that the only visuals come as a result of sleep deprivation after binge sessions.

Health risks:
Addictive and/or habit-forming. Regular use of the drug has been linked to lung and kidney disorders, hallucinations and paranoia. A frequent hallucination is ‘speed bugs’ or crank bugs’ where users believe that bugs are crawling under their skin and go loopy trying to get them out. In Thailand, the number of students entering rehab to deal with yaba addiction has risen by nearly 1,000% in the past two years (source: Observer 17.10.99) Those coming off the drug are also susceptible to severe depression and suicidal urges.

What is yaba?

Yaba is a combination of methamphetamine (a powerful and addictive stimulant) and caffeine. Yaba, which means crazy medicine in Thai, is produced in Southeast and East Asia. The drug is popular in Asian communities in the United States and increasingly is available at raves and techno parties.

What does yaba look like?

Yaba is sold as tablets. These tablets are generally no larger than a pencil eraser. They are brightly colored, usually reddish-orange or green. Yaba tablets typically bear one of a variety of logos; R and WY are common logos.

Photograph of orange and pink tablets in baggies.
Yaba Tablets
Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Photograph showing comparison of  small pink tablets in a baggy beside a pen and cigarette.
Yaba Tablets
Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

How is yaba used?

Yaba tablets typically are consumed orally. The tablets sometimes are flavored like candy (grape, orange, or vanilla). Another common method is called chasing the dragon. Users place the yaba tablet on aluminum foil and heat it from below. As the tablet melts, vapors rise and are inhaled. The drug also may be administered by crushing the tablets into powder, which is then snorted or mixed with a solvent and injected.

Who uses yaba?

It is difficult to determine the scope of yaba use in the United States because most data sources do not distinguish yaba from other forms of methamphetamine. Yaba has emerged as a drug of abuse in Asian communities in the United States, specifically in Northern California and in Los Angeles.

Yaba also is becoming increasingly popular at raves, techno parties, and other venues where the drug MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, typically called ecstasy) is used. Drug distributors deliberately market yaba to young people, many of whom have already tried MDMA. The bright colors and candy flavors of yaba tablets are examples of distributors’ attempts to appeal to young people.

What are the risks?

Individuals who use yaba face the same risks as users of other forms of methamphetamine: rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and damage to the small blood vessels in the brain that can lead to stroke. Chronic use of the drug can result in inflammation of the heart lining. Overdoses can cause hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), convulsions, and death. Individuals who use yaba also may have episodes of violent behavior, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia.

Although most users administer yaba orally, those who inject the drug expose themselves to additional risks, including contracting HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne viruses.

What is it called?

The most common names for yaba are crazy medicine and Nazi speed.

Is yaba illegal?

Yes, yaba is illegal because it contains methamphetamine, a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule II drugs, which include cocaine and PCP, have a high potential for abuse. Abuse of these drugs may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Hitler’s drug is the new ‘new crack’

In 1940, Hitler’s Luftwaffe invaded allied air space and rained bombs on Great Britain. The Battle of Britain ensued, and in what Churchill called “their finest hour,” the Royal Air Force successfully turned back the German menace. Sixty years later, the country of Shakespeare and the Sex Pistols is hyped up over yet another Nazi-related invasion in a different war that also started long ago — the nearly century-old drug war. Today, a new form of speed that harks back to Nazi-era chemists is on the streets, and it’s far more dangerous than those “mothers’ little helpers” The Rolling Stones used to sing about.

See also…
… by Mike Horowitz
… in the Whoa! section
… from November 10, 1999

Seems like every time the drug reform movement scores a few victories against prohibition a new, more powerful, instantly addicting, and totally deadly drug scourge appears, evidently out of nowhere. Last month, London’s venerable Observer broke the news on the latest drug menace in subtle fashion: “Hitler’s Drug Set to Invade British Clubs.”

“Hitler’s Drug,” or “Nazi Speed,” is popularly known as “yaba,” a Thai word meaning “crazy medicine.” The so-called “Nazi method” of making yaba was revived in Thailand about 30 years ago, and today the drug — popular in discos but also found in high schools — is creating one of the biggest youth drug problems in Southeast Asia. The effects are said to make it the most intense form of speed known, providing multiple hours of high energy and euphoria, followed by the inevitable speed crash. Available in pills or powder form, yaba, like crack, is sometimes smoked in a pipe with heroin, creating the infamous “speedball” effect.

According to The Observer, “yaba is heading for Britain, amid warnings that it could supercede ecstasy as the drug of choice for the country’s clubbers.” Heading for London… like a German V-2 rocket?

Maybe not. “In my opinion, yaba is crap,” says “Huffalump,” who admits having tried it. “I’m not a tweaker. For people that like to go fast, yaba is the thing. It is not a psychedelic amphetamine, or designer drug, as it has been incorrectly labeled in the press. The [Western] media has attempted to demonize it as ‘Nazi Crank.’ I truly doubt it will replace MDMA as the drug of choice in nightclubs. While I suspect that it will gain a sizable and steady market wherever it is introduced, it lacks the glitz and glamour that ravers crave.”

Nonetheless, the U.S. drug czar and his U.K. counterpart (known there as the “czarette”) and their PR flacks could hardly dream up a better propaganda coup. But apparently the DEA did not come up with this mother-of-all-drug-menace monikers. According to one disgruntled American chemist, some blabbermouth in the speed lab underground is responsible for popularizing the Nazi connection.

The Making of “Nazi Speed”

World War II was largely fought on speed. The American, British, German, and Japanese high commands gave massive quantities of amphetamines to their fighting men, particularly their air forces. Speed was systematically fed to troops to combat fatigue, heighten endurance, and elevate mood.

The primary energizers were Benzedrine, Dexedrine, and Methedrine. When the Nazis couldn’t get the raw materials to continue producing amphetamines in the traditional manner (supplies of standard precursors had dwindled during the course of the long war), Merck Labs came up with something called the “iodophosphorus-ephedrine reaction.”

Everything needed to produce yaba can be purchased legally and apparently you don’t have to be a serious chemist to manufacture it. The cooking time is only a couple of hours, whereas traditional speed formulas take days. Forget the retort stand and Bunsen burner — all you need is a casserole dish. One meth-lab buster compared making it to baking chocolate chip cookies.

The “Nazi method” employs the drug ephedrine, a natural stimulant found in the ephedra bush. (Far Eastern ephedra has a higher concentration of ephedrine than the Western plant.) Ephedrine is quite common, being frequently used in allergy and cold medicines. The other main ingredients of yaba can be found today in common household products: salt, cleaning products, and lithium from camera batteries.

According to The Observer, UK drug agents believe the recipe has spread from the “Golden Triangle” by word of mouth and on the Internet. Like the importation of the ecstasy dance scene, which British clubbers discovered while vacationing in Ibiza in the 1980s, demand for yaba in Britain is said by the Observer to be “fueled by holidaymakers returning from the Far East.”

If one believes the British press (which is as misinformed and sensationalistic as the American press in matters of drug reporting), yaba has all the earmarks of a major drug menace. First, there’s the Nazi lineage; second, you have the Golden Triangle origin (home of the opium poppy and cheap heroin); third and most importantly, it gets you wired big-time. The Observer, hitting the severe-abuse panic button, warns of intense hallucinations, including “speed bugs,” a susceptibility to “severe depression and suicidal urges,” and grievous bodily harm.

The New Crack, or a Phantom Menace?

Yaba has been known in the U.S. at least since 1996, showing up in Seattle after first appearing on the East Coast. The first reports of yaba in the American press appeared in the Seattle Times that year. A meth chemist, quoted on the origin of the Hitler/ Nazi link, lamented that “the cooks who call it the ‘Nazi method’ so they can sound bad-ass just gave the DEA another meaningless rhetorical piece of garbage they can use for propaganda.”

And what a propaganda tool it is. Like crack and crank before it, yaba is tailor-made to strike fear into the hearts of soccer moms everywhere. Virtually every successful anti-drug campaign utilizes the mass media to alarm the general population with fears about a drug’s:

  • huge addiction potential (one hit may be enough to hook you for life)
  • horrible side-effects (which may not be noticeable for years)
  • potential to cause really bad behavior (users hurt themselves, are a threat to others, or both)
  • creation and distribution by an insidious foreign power bent on destroying our will and our youth
  • ease of manufacture from readily obtainable products even by idiots who’ve flunked high school chemistry
  • effects being twenty times stronger nowadays than when YOU used it
  • easily remembered moniker (dope, reefer, coke, crack, smack, crank, ice, glass, acid, angel dust, to name a few)

Yaba a.k.a. “Hitler’s Drug” — the pedigree alone makes it sound like the most dangerous drug in the world. It’s as if that sick fuck has come back from the grave (or Argentina) to menace us once again. Of course, yaba could simply be yet another “new crack,” arriving just in time to bolster public support for the ever-more-unpopular war on drugs.

In any case, there’s an effective counter-spell that’s been around since 1968. If someone offers you this drug and you feel menaced, remember the mantra: “Yaba-daba-doo. Speed kills (you).”

Michael Horowitz has been a drug historian for 30 years and has edited books by Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Fitz Hugh Ludlow, among others. He also sells first editions of books by such writers by mail order.


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