While in the UK recently I came across an article in 'Focus' magazine about a dangerous new drug named Yaba. The main points of the article were as follows:

Yaba is also known as Crazy Medicine and Hitler's Drug. The Hitler reference is due to the fact that it was first developed by the Nazis while they were experimenting with ways of keeping their troops active for long periods of time.

Yaba production using the original Nazi recipe was taken up in Thailand more than 30 years ago. At that time it was legal, and was sold at gas stations alongside cigarettes and soft drinks. It was outlawed in 1970, at which time production and supply simply went underground and continued as before. By the mid-Nineties yaba had gained so much usage among young people that seizures of the drug overtook those of heroin.

Yaba creates an intense hallucinogenic effect and can allow users to stay awake for many days at a time. Regular use of the drug has been linked to lung and kidney disorders, hallucinations and paranoia. One frequent hallucination, known as 'speed bugs' or 'crank bugs', leads the sufferer to believe that bugs live under his or her skin, and become desperate to get them out.

In composition, Yaba is a derivative of amphetamines (speed) and other ingredients including salt, household cleaning products, distilled cold medicines, and lithium from camera batteries.

It is feared that yaba could supercede Ecstasy as the drug of choice for clubbers.

All of which is very scary... or rather, it would be, were it not for the fact that it is utterly untrue. The Focus article itself is an almost verbatim rendering of an article that appeared in the UK newspaper The Observer in 1999. Unfortunately, the original Observer article was nothing more than a poorly researched and highly embroidered sensationalization of methamphetamine use, a fact that would be transparent to anyone with an ounce of sense or cynicism. Consider the following quote:

"Last month two packages of a drug thought to be yaba were intercepted at Heathrow Airport. There have been other recent seizures in France and Ireland, and there is evidence that illegal laboratories in the United Kingdom are attempting to make it."

It was 'thought to be yaba'? Why the uncertainty? Either it was yaba or it wasn't, surely? And those 'other recent seizures'... were they also 'thought to be' yaba? Or were those ones "real" yaba? And what about the illegal laboratories... if the police know about them, how come they haven't closed them down? Are the police now operating a 'watch the illegal lab to see if it produces something which is thought to be yaba' policy? No, they are not.

Personally, I find this type of 'reporting' to be irresponsible in the extreme. If you write for a newspaper, write news. If you’re into fiction, write a novel. As long as this kind of sensationalism continues, there can be no useful or informed discussion on the subject of recreational drug use in the media. But not only does it devalue debate, it also undermines the already tenuous credibility of the media, so that when there is something genuine to report, such as a dangerously adulterated batch of recreational drugs available on the street, such a report is unlikely to be taken seriously.

  • Focus Magazine, February 2001
  • "Hitler's Drug Set to Invade British Clubs" by Tony Thompson, The Observer, October 17 1999, quoted in The Vaults of Erowid at http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/meth/meth_media1.shtml
  • A 'report' at http://www.urban75.com/Drugs/yaba.html, which is essentially a slightly re-written version of the original Observer article with some conjecture thrown in