Meth: It’s not just for the white-trash crowd. // Timeline of a 72-hour meth binge.
It comes wrapped in red foil and purple tissue, this intricate figurine molded in the form of a Japanese demon, with clawed feet, a mane of fire and a thick tongue jutting from a bloodthirsty smirk. Transparent, the size of a child’s fist, it looks like a tiny ice carving or a statuette of glass. It is neither. In fact, it is 25 grams (a little less than one ounce) of nearly 100 percent pure crystallized methamphetamine hydrochloride, known on the streets of Asia as “Shabu.” It was almost certainly manufactured in a clandestine laboratory in China, then shipped to the Philippines and on to Hawaii, and finally to Denver. Here it was purchased on the black market for $5,500 — nearly five times the street value of an equivalent amount of cocaine and ten times that of low-grade, powdered crystal meth.
Shabu is so expensive because it is so pure — and therefore so powerful. Most of the home-cooked speed in Denver is only 10 to 20 percent actual crystallized methamphetamine, adulterated with toxic by-products of the makeshift ingredients used in crude manufacturing processes. While any tweaker with a hot plate can whip together a batch of bathtub speed, Shabu requires a trained chemist working in a fully equipped laboratory with uncorrupted components. The result is pharmaceutical-grade meth — 95-plus percent pure.
As much as the word can be applied to an illegal drug, Shabu is clean.
"There’s no horse deworming medicine in this shit, okay? You can’t make this kind of shit out of road flares and cold pills," says Nick, delicately unwrapping the Shabu demon atop the burnished steel of his Swedish designer coffee table.
"This is the shit JFK was getting jacked in his ass during the Cuban missile crisis. I shouldn’t even be calling this shit ‘shit,’ because it’s disrespectful."
Nick peels away the last scrap of foil and positions the demon in the center of the coffee table, surrounding it with a careful arrangement of long-stemmed glass pipes, miniature butane torches and razor-sharp utility knives.
On this Thursday afternoon in late summer, Nick is preparing the second-floor recreation room of his fashionably appointed Highland home for what has become a twice-a-month ritual of extreme indulgence for a revolving group of five to ten fellow hip, young and successful citizens of Denver.
"Basically," he says, "we blast off Thursday night and don’t pull the chute until Sunday."
During their 72-hour run, he and his friends will eat little solid food save fruit, so Nick’s fridge and freezer are stocked with the makings for smoothies. Along with yogurt, organic apple juice and frozen blackberries, strawberries and mangoes are five bottles of Moët champagne, a dozen bottles of Italian sparkling water, four cases of microbrew, two bottles of chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a discount-warehouse carton of 400 Otter Pops.
Speed-binge supplies of a different nature have been cached in a master-bathroom medicine cabinet — one bottle holding ninety Valiums and another with forty tablets of ProVigil, the market name for the experimental drug Modafonil, a sleep suppressant the U.S. military tested on fighter and bomber pilots in Afghanistan and Iraq. Modafonil is now prescribed for cancer patients to combat the chronic-fatigue side effects of chemotherapy. Nick has laid in a supply because he claims he’s found that combining Modafonil with Shabu takes the edge off the undesirable psychological whammies of sleep deprivation, including auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions.
"One night without sleep is just staying up all night," he says. "People do that straight or just with coffee all the time. You feel a little zoned-out in the morning, but by midday, your natural rhythm kicks in. So long as you get some sleep that following night, you’re cool. But when you ride the party train two nights in a row, or three nights, things can start to get a little odd, a little slippery. And if somebody spins out, it’s no fun."
In other words, a sudden case of amphetamine psychosis really brings a party down.
"I consider this shit an excellent use of my tax dollars," Nick says, rattling a bottle of ProVigil. "It helps keep people from going werewolf around hour 50."
He buys his ProVigil from a psychiatrist friend of a friend who works in several Veterans Affairs hospitals counseling and treating terminal cancer patients. When the patients die, their families don’t know what to do with their ProVigil pills, so they give them to the psychiatrist, who gives them to Nick’s friend, who sells them to Nick.
All he’ll say about this Shabu is that it comes from Hawaii and that he has a source — another friend of a friend — who flies to Honolulu once every other month, buying two or three statuettes at a time for resale in Denver and Colorado Springs. It’s no big syndicate, just small-time narcotics smuggling where the payoff is a free trip to Hawaii, a little extra spending money and the rush of getting away with it.
The rush of Shabu itself is freakishly powerful. A single minuscule hit — about one-tenth of a gram, vaporized and inhaled — is enough to keep a weekend warrior like Nick riding the lightning for twelve hours.
The statuette on Nick’s coffee table, cut into tiny pieces and smoked, holds about 250 hits.
Like opium, Shabu is relatively exotic in the United States (except for Hawaii, where it rivals cocaine in popularity), but in Asia, it’s cheap and prevalent. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency claimed earlier this year that 11 percent of the Philippine population uses Shabu. The drug is popular in Japan and Thailand and is so pervasive among the professional classes in Indonesiathat the government of that country last year instituted mandatory Shabu-specific drug testing of all public officials.
Nick discovered Shabu during a 1999 vacation in Bali at a full-moon beach rave. He took one hit, danced all night, frolicked in the sand and surf the next day, and didn’t do the drug again for more than three years — until early this year, when he learned of his amigo’s Hawaiian connection.
Since then, he’s become a Shabu vector in his social set.
Shabu is radically addictive. Yet Nick seems unfazed by his own estimate that in less than half a year, he has personally introduced the drug to more than a dozen people who now smoke it with him all weekend long at least once a month, if not twice. He and his party posse burn through a 25-gram chunk of Shabu every three or four weekends, which means they’ve each cultivated about a $300-per-month habit.
Nick doesn’t see himself as a drug dealer so much as the self-appointed ringleader of his own private Cirque de Shabu.
He’s thrown nine Shabu parties since March.
The tenth begins tonight.