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UR Student's Arrest Highlights Return of “Terror Drug”

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A University of Richmond freshman's recent arrest raised more questions than what college students might be cooking up in their dorm rooms besides ramen noodles these days. Namely, just what is DMT?

Police arrested freshman John Perrone and Georgetown University student Charles Smith on Oct. 23. They've been arraigned on federal charges of possession with intent to distribute dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, on the Georgetown campus in Washington. (Charges were dropped against a second Georgetown student who was arrested.)

According to court records, Perrone and Smith were found in possession of a laundry list of materials that can be used to make the potent psychotropic drug.

DMT doesn't have the cultural cachet of that other polysyllabic mind-altering substance, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as Ecstasy. But what it lacks in name recognition it makes up for in potency.

DMT, or “Dimitri,” as it's sometimes called, is known to produce highs more intense than even LSD, says Rick Strassman, the University of New Mexico researcher who wrote a book on the drug. As a powdery substance, the drug typically is smoked in a pipe.

The experience can be “extraordinarily intense, rapid, and can be quite disorienting,” says Strassman, which might explain why it's considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the federal government.

While Perrone was arrested in Washington, his local connection begs the question: How popular is the drug among UR students?

University officials are reluctant to talk about it. A spokesman for the university police department declined to discuss trends in campus drug use.

Hard data on DMT's popularity among college-age youth is similarly difficult to come by. But Strassman says his book, “The Spirit Molecule,” has sold 80,000 copies since being published in 2000. By his reckoning, most were sold to college students. Still, the drug, which is relatively simple to make, lags behind acid and narcotic mushrooms in popularity, he says.

“It got the name ‘terror drug' in the '60s,” Strassman writes via e-mail. “The intensity is one reason it's never been so popular.”

Devon Tackels, president of the Virginia Commonwealth University chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, says he was surprised at how little is known about the drug. The group held a discussion following the October arrests and most of the members knew little about the drug, he says. But he expects that to change.

Having premiered in Texas at the Austin Film Festival on the day after the arrest, “The Spirit Molecule” — a documentary based on Strassman's book — likely will increase awareness of drug.

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