Pill divans and dragon-chasing
Heroin tablets were also used to some extent as a cure for morphine
dependence. For the most part, physicians warned against this practice, realising that heroin was at least as addictive as other opiates. Nonetheless, there was little control anywhere of medicines sold across the counter at the turn of the last century. In the United States, ‘cures’ for opium
dependence were sold in drug- stores and by mail order. Many of these tablets contained opiates themselves and therefore were miraculously successful in curtailing drug craving
. The only snag was that the sufferer had to keep taking more and more of the cure!8 It is claimed that an American charitable society, the Society of St James, contemplated mounting a campaign to supply free doses of heroin through the mail to morphine
addicts who wanted to give up their habit.9
Heroin pills became very popular in China and Hong Kong. They were used as a general tonic, but also particularly as ‘anti-opium medicine’ during the various government crackdowns on opium
smoking. The first government seizures of these tablets occurred in
1921, but it is likely that by this time their use was widespread. They were usually pink and contained heroin, caffeine, strychnine and quinine, often flavoured with rose water. Probably this mixture owed something to earlier cough medicine cocktails, but interestingly these ingredients continue to feature in illicit heroin mixtures up until the present day.
Many unofficial chemists joined in the business. Pill-takers compared the merits of Golden Dragon, Tiger, Fairy Horse and countless other brands, each made with slightly different constituents. The pills were stridently advertised. A typical leaflet proudly proclaimed:
It is hereby announced that I have studied medicine for over ten years and have spent several years of painstaking work in inventing CHAN LENG TEN one of the most efficacious of medicines. It is unanimously applauded and said to be the best medicine in the world.
Faced with these claims, it is not surprising that they became immensely popular. Over ten tons of heroin was used to make these pills in 1923 alone.Opium
smokers soon discovered that these pills could replace opium
at a cheaper price. China has a long tradition of opium
smoking. It is not surprising therefore that people started trying to smoke the heroin pills. Porcelain pipes
were constructed, sometimes by snapping the spout off wine jugs, and placing the pill on the hole
where the spout would have entered the jug. A bamboo pipe
would be inserted into the neck of the jug, and the pipe
sucked while an oil lamp was held to the pill. Usually ten to twenty pills would be smoked in a row, with heavy smokers taking up to 500 tablets a day. Many casual opiate takers preferred smoking pills to opium
. They found it cleaner and quicker. It was also less likely to lead to constipation, which is the perennial curse of the opiate addict. Twenty cents’ worth of pills was about the equivalent of fifty cents’ worth of opium
. It was therefore preferred by poorer people, who could not afford opium
. ‘Pill divans’ began to replace the old opium
At first the authorities were baffled by their seizures of pills. Government tests showed that no heroin at all was present in the smoke from the pills. It was assumed that the users were getting high on the caffeine in the pills rather than the heroin. However, when the tests were repeated with more sensitive equipment, it was discovered that a certain small amount of heroin could be extracted by this process.10, 11 It was not enough to feed a serious habit, but it was suffi- cient for moderate users, provided enough pills were smoked.12
The habit continued to increase until the outbreak of World War II. In 1936 the Hong Kong government reported that they had seized over 180 million tablets and that ‘the traffic in diacetylmorphine pills has increased to such an extent as to overshadow the whole drug situation in Hong Kong’. At about this time, the pills appeared briefly in the United States and seizures were made in Chicago, Detroit and New York. However, the habit never caught on in America and had disappeared by the war.13 In Hong Kong, however, the pills were still being made according to exactly the same formula in 1974, but now mainly to supply a small group of ageing pill addicts.14 For younger users, the technology of heroin smoking had moved on and become more sophisticated.
In 1939 stricter laws were passed in Hong Kong against pill smoking. During World War II, it was to some extent replaced by a new craze, called ‘ack-ack’ smoking. This involved dipping a cigarette
in heroin, so that the tip was covered. The user then leant back with his face upwards, so that the heroin would not fall off. Smoking quickly, he would release rapid puffs of smoke towards the ceiling, in the process giving a fair imitation of an anti-aircraft gun.15
It was only in the early 1950s that ‘chasing the dragon’ was first noted in Hong Kong. This is a difficult technique, but one that has since spread halfway round the world. In the early days, chasers used heroin hydrochloride with four times the quantity of what was called ‘base powder’ or ‘daai fan’. This consisted of a barbiturate sleeping powder. Lines of heroin and base
powder were placed on creased tin foil and the foil was heated with a cigarette
lighter or an oil lamp. The art of chasing is to make the heroin run smoothly over the foil, and to vaporise rather than let it burn and decompose. The smoker chases the vapour round the foil, and inhales it through a thin tube. If he is not very skilled, he may use a larger container such as an empty matchbox to inhale the smoke. It was then called ‘playing the mouth-organ’.16
Chasing the dragon is not easy. It requires considerable dexterity to move the foil and tube effectively, and to apply heat at exactly the right temperature. Once mastered, however, it enables heroin to be smoked quickly and efficiently. Heroin is vaporised and inhaled at least ten times more efficiently, when compared with pill-smoking. It is there- fore adequate for an addict with a serious habit. There is also less chance of detection, since there is no longer any need for pipes
or other bulky equipment. For this reason, it spread quickly after the war when the governments in Hong Kong and China were pursuing opiate addicts with increased severity.
We explained that heroin hydrochloride is not good for smoking. However, its smokability is definitely improved by adding barbiturate powder. Laboratory experiments have shown that the amount of heroin vaporised is greatly increased when it is mixed with barbiturate.17 The improvement is even greater with the addition of caffeine. The best combination of all is a mixture of caffeine and heroin base
. It is not known how these discoveries were made. Caffeine was present in the heroin pills, but it was there even before the pills started to be smoked. It was probably a chance discovery that caffeine helped the vaporisation of heroin.
Before long, the barbiturate/heroin mixture for smoking was replaced by a powder named Chinese No. 3. Interestingly, the ingredi- ents of this powder were almost exactly the same as the ingredients of the heroin pills, namely heroin, caffeine, strychnine and quinine, usually diluted with lactose. This is a good smoking mixture, but some of the ingredients are puzzling. The caffeine clearly helped the process of heroin vaporisation, but strychnine had the opposite effect. Quinine does not help or hinder. The composition of the mixture probably owes as much to conservatism in the heroin cooks and consumers as it does to chemical innovation. The addition of strychnine and quinine was an idea inherited from earlier times, when heroin was a cough medicine and general tonic.
Chinese No. 3 first appeared in Europe in 1973, to the puzzlement of police scientists. It was reported that heroin consisting of grey or pink-brown granules had been seized in Amsterdam. On analysis it contained 50 to 70 per cent heroin, 30 to 45 per cent caffeine and 0.5 to 10 per cent strychnine. Letters of enquiry were sent to fourteen labora- tories worldwide, but thirteen were equally puzzled. Only the laboratory in Hong Kong was able to provide the helpful information that this type of heroin was used for smoking. This news was not passed on to the Dutch addicts, who continued to inject it. Scientists were worried that addicts might be poisoning themselves with strych- nine, but analysis revealed that the amount absorbed was well below a dangerous dose.18
Chasing the dragon with Chinese No. 3 slowly spread around the East. It reached Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia in the 1970s, and India and Pakistan in the 1980s. Chasing did not really catch on in Europe until the early 1980s. From about 1975 a new type of heroin became available in Europe, mostly stemming from Iran. This heroin was a soft, fine powder, beige to dark in colour and with a character- istic odour. It was often called ‘brown sugar’. It consisted of 70 to 80 per cent heroin base
, with added caffeine. As such, it was ideally suited to smoking. Later on, as a result of political developments in South- West Asia, it was replaced by a very similar powder stemming from Pakistan, but probably produced by the same manufacturers.19 Heroin prices fell by 25 per cent, but purity remained the same. By the late 1980s this heroin was being smoked in England, Spain, Holland and Italy.20
The same type of heroin still predominates in Europe today, although now it mostly comes from Afghanistan. Although it is smoking heroin, many users prefer to take it by injection
. Because it is heroin base
, it does not dissolve in water. For this reason, an acid has to be added to convert it into a salt, before it can be dissolved and drawn into the syringe. Most commonly, citric acid is used. This is usually obtained from a chemist or a needle exchange facility, but sometimes takes the form of lemon juice. Alternatively acetic acid may be used, in the form of vinegar. The process is not perfect, and usually some of the drug remains undissolved. It is reckoned that a user will usually extract the equivalent of 200 mg pharmaceutical heroin from a gram of this type of street heroin; in other words, about 20 per cent. This is partly because the heroin is usually sold with a purity of about 40 per cent. On top of this, a lot of heroin is lost in the process of dissolving, filtering and drawing up the liquid into the syringe.
Although users have worked out that heroin base
will dissolve in water when converted to a salt, they have not discovered, or have not made use of the knowledge, that it dissolves well in alcohol. There are occasional reports of people injecting alcohol. Recently, tales circu- lated of sturdy Geordies injecting themselves with a local ale named Newcastle Brown
. We are unaware yet of addicts injecting themselves with heroin dissolved in vodka or other strong spirits. Or perhaps those who have tried it have not survived to pass on the technique.
Ceci est Issue du livre Heroin century.
Dernière modification par Acid Test (04 novembre 2016 à 13:37)