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Non-traditional Designer Substances
A new category of psychoactives in New Zealand
by Matt Bowden
Apr 2004, Last Edited Jul 2005
Edited, HTML, Published by
Citation:   Bowden M. "Non-traditional Designer Substances: A new category of psychoactives in New Zealand"., Apr 2004:
I am involved in a New Zealand-based organization, Stargate International, that produces benzylpiperazine (BZP) "dancepills" as a "safer legal alternative" to street crystal methamphetamine. (Note: BZP is NOT LEGAL in the United States). Our country, like many others, is having problems with methamphetamine use at the moment. A lot of poor quality product is being smoked and injected, which has caused crime and public health issues not previously seen here. To provide an alternative to illicit and low-grade drugs, Stargate International started producing its "dancepill" product in 1999, using BZP in a formula of amino acids and vitamins.

Most phenethylamines and tryptamines are illegal here under analog laws, but BZP isn't. New Zealand's drug policy document is based on World Health Organization and UN principles of "drug harm minimization". Some examples of products which are defined in this document as "harm minimizing" include low-tar cigarettes and low-alcohol beer.

Stargate marketed its BZP formula to drug users as a "lower-risk" alternative to street crystal methamphetamine. We advertised the product's lower addictive potential, standardized high grade, measured dosages, 24-hour helpline to medical personnel, etc. Our "dancepill" products were greatly enjoyed here by the thriving dance community, and they soon began generating significant revenue. We started channeling funds into first-aid and drug counseling at dance parties. Information on these initiatives can be found at: When it became apparent that the synthetic BZP molecule, approved for use as a food additive, was instead being used as a recreational substance, our government began to debate the pros and cons of these products. An Expert Select Committee was convened to decide the legal future of BZP pills.

The Committee agreed that while BZP “dancepills” should not be classified as a "dietary supplement", access to the product should not be legally removed as that might lead to thousands of people reverting to methamphetamine use. This decision was a valid expression of the policy of harm minimization. The Committee saw that consumers were voting with their wallets, clearly demonstrating that they wanted to take pills when they partied. Our industry, in contrast to the illicit drug trade, provided product consistency and was developing high standards of social responsibility. Instead of determining that BZP should be made illegal, the Committee recommended that New Zealand's Health Department create a new category of substances, to be called "non-traditional designer substances", to which access would be restricted to people 18 years of age and over. The Committee, in its recommendation, described the lesser harm involved in the use of "non-traditional designer substances" in contrast to illicit drugs, and referred to the "rights" of people to use such non-scheduled materials. I feel that this may be something of a world first: a step away from prohibition and towards evidence-based risk management systems, and a recognition by a governmental agency that perhaps it is not a moral or legal transgression to alter one's perception and state of mind after all.

Stargate has therefore set a precedent in New Zealand for an environment in which to conduct research into future synthetic recreational "social tonics". The industry is young, and I'm really interested in networking with anybody from the international community who wants to assist us with research models or with ideas for developing and conducting trials of new compounds. We're looking for elders in the field who can provide us with the wisdom to manage things properly so that Stargate International can be a shining example.

Document History: First Version May 2004. Major revision by k-rock, June 15 2004. Other Resources link added Jul 2005.