Calls for lookalike ecstasy drug to be banned


Gardai have called for a drug being sold as ecstasy to be added to the list of controlled substances following the seizure of 30,000 tablets earlier this month.

Forensic experts have analysed the tablets as pure ketamine, a hallucinogenic substance originally developed as an animal anaesthetic.

Because ketamine is not on the list of controlled substances in the 1984 Act, it is believed that the Director of Public Prosecutions will not recommend a charge against the Dublin man caught with the drugs in a car in Swords over two weeks ago. The increasing use of the drug has resulted in a number of users experiencing "horrors" or disturbing hallucinations, instead of the expected effects of ecstasy.

The man arrested with the drugs is believed to be working for a northside criminal, and thought the tablets were MDMA or ecstasy. Officers from the Garda National Drugs Unit have spoken to Government officials about adding ketamine to the list of illegal drugs, according to a senior source.

Some of the seized tablets contained a mix of ketamine and caffeine. But none contained ephedrine, a controlled substance normally found in ketamine tablets being sold as ecstasy.

The drug, known as Special K on the street, can be snorted, injected or eaten. Users can suffer a lack of feeling in or lose the use of their limbs and experience "out-of-body" sensations.

Dr Jim Donovan, director of the Garda Forensic Science Laboratory, said the effects of the drug could be frightening to people who believed they had taken ecstasy. The white tablets seized were slightly smaller than ecstasy tablets with an ordinary score line on one side rather than the trademark symbols associated with ecstasy. The drug could cause "quite a severe mental reaction", Dr Donovan said. "The experience would be particularly disturbing for ecstasy users who expect to experience the normal effect from ecstasy. Clubs would be the worst possible atmosphere with loud noise, heat and flashing lights."

Dealers can buy them in Britain and Europe for around 50p each and are selling them for £10, the price of an ecstasy tablet, according to a senior Garda source. Ketamine has become a more profitable drug than MDMA or ecstasy which can cost more than £1 to the supplier.

The drug was first marketed as a general anaesthetic, under the name Ketalar. Doctors stopped using the drug when patients woke up experiencing hallucinations and delirium. It is now only used on humans in conjunction with a Valium-like drug to minimise the side-effects.