Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Police seize rare party drug

Customs officers were surprised to discover 18kg of the red-brown powder. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Customs officers were surprised to discover 18kg of the red-brown powder. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A powerful party drug rarely seen in New Zealand that can cause intense hallucinations and paranoia has been seized in a record $4.5 million haul.

Dimethyltryptamine, also called DMT, is also the main psychoactive ingredient in ayahuasca, an Amazonian brew used for healing purposes.

The Class-A narcotic is smoked through a glass pipe in powder form, like methamphetamine, with a vapour compared to burning plastic. DMT can also be injected.

Depending on the dose, the high ranges from a mild psychedelic state to extreme immersive hallucination - including a total disconnection from reality.

Until now, DMT has been rarely seen in New Zealand. Law enforcement agencies are still trying to establish street-level prices.

So customs officers were surprised to discover 18kg of the red-brown powder - the largest seizure on record - in a package from South America. A normal dose is 15mg to 60mg.

A 21-year-old man from Blenheim has been charged with importing the Class-A drug and faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Until the recent 18kg haul, most seizures were small packages intercepted at the border.

Detective Inspector Stuart Mills, from the National Drug Intelligence Bureau, said that as far as he was aware, no one had been charged with importing the drug before.

He was also unsure what had driven the new demand for DMT, given the popularity of methamphetamine and cannabis in New Zealand.

"But people are always experimenting. DMT is similar to LSD, which is a popular illicit drug here, so there could be demand from those users."

While a street-level price in New Zealand was yet to be established, Mr Mills said DMT cost $250 for 1g in the United States. At that rate, the 18kg haul was worth $4.5 million.

Dr Tim Parke, clinical director at the Auckland Hospital emergency department, said he had not seen or heard of any patients presenting under the influence of the drug.

But research shows DMT users quickly reach a euphoric high - which can last less than one hour - followed by paranoia, anxiety, a sense of foreboding and panic, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency.

While most psychedelic drug users know the hallucinations are unreal, this is not necessarily true with DMT, the DEA claims.

On top of the dissociative effect of DMT, users may feel that they are in a different world, says the DEA, or in a reality that is more vivid and compelling than dreams or waking awareness.

- NZ Herald

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