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Democracy Dies in Darkness

WorldViews

A trip to meet her online boyfriend in Shanghai ended in drug charges. And now a death sentence.

May 24, 2018 at 8:13 PM

Australian Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto is escorted by police during a court hearing in Shah Alam, Malaysia, on Dec. 27, 2017. (Sadiq Asyraf/AP)

Shanghai had been a disappointment.

The 54-year-old Australian grandmother had traveled to China in 2014 in hopes of meeting her boyfriend, a man she'd met online years before who claimed to be Capt. Daniel Smith, a U.S. service member. She had fallen deeply in love with him, she said, and flew to Shanghai to at last see him in person. He never showed up.

Upon leaving Shanghai, Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto was approached by a stranger, who asked her to take a backpack back to Melbourne. She said yes. Then, while changing flights at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, she mistakenly went through immigration. She volunteered her bags for customs inspection, according to the Agence France-Presse news service.

That's when officers discovered a secret compartment stitched into the backpack that contained 1.1 kilograms of crystal meth. Exposto was arrested.

 

Last December, Exposto was cleared of the charges. It was a rare twist of fate in the Muslim-majority country, where hundreds of people have been sentenced to death in recent years for drug trafficking, officials told AFP.

A Malaysian High Court judge ruled at the time that Exposto wasn't aware she was transporting the drugs and had fallen victim to an online romance scam. She told the court that she had agreed to take the backpack from the stranger because she was told it carried her online boyfriend's clothes.

"He (Smith) made me feel loved, he made me feel wanted," she told the court, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, adding that the boyfriend often sang to her and sent her photos and poems.

Related: [Malaysians usher in a new era as they usher out the ruling coalition]

Upon her acquittal, she wept and hugged her son.

"I'm happy now that I'm free," Exposto had said at the time, according to AFP.

But prosecutors at the time indicated that they wanted to appeal the acquittal, meaning Exposto couldn't return home to Sydney and to her three grandchildren, as there was a still a chance she could face the death sentence, AFP reported in December.

On Thursday, the acquittal was overturned and Exposto was sentenced to death, according to AFP.

Drug trafficking issues have long strained the relationship between Malaysia and Australia. In 1986, Australians Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers became the first non-Asians to be executed in the country when they were hanged for heroin trafficking. The New York Times reported at the time:

The foreign reaction to the case of Mr. Barlow and Mr. Chambers has provoked widespread criticism in Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where Government officials said they would not be deflected from their ''war on dadah'' by Western or international protests when Western lives were involved. Dadah is the Malay word for any mind-altering drug.

Countries in the region, particularly Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, have introduced stringent narcotics legislation partly in response to growing addiction problems at home and partly as a result of pressure from the United States to curb the flow of heroin and opium from the Southeast Asian Golden Triangle area. When Westerners are caught by the laws, officials in the region say, they cannot expect a double standard to apply.

Last year, Malaysian lawmakers voted to abolish mandatory death sentences for drug offenses and did not execute anyone for for drug-related offenses that year, according to Harm Reduction International, a nongovernmental organization partly funded by the European Union that tracks death-penalty laws for drug offenses globally. According to the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, however, Malaysia carried out four executions.

 

AFP reported that changes to the death penalty have not yet come into effect, as they must be approved by the upper house of Malaysia's parliament.

An appeals court Thursday overturned Exposto's acquittal and found her guilty of drug trafficking, according to Exposto's lawyer, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, AFP reported.

He called the ruling "perverse," and told AFP that he believed there was "an overwhelming case for the defense." Shafee Abdullah now plans to make a final appeal to Malaysia's top court.

There have been previous acquittals, too: In 2013, Australian Dominic Bird escaped the death penalty after he was accused of possessing 167 grams of crystal meth.

In a statement Thursday to News Corp Australia, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said "Australia opposes the death penalty in all circumstances for all people." She said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would work to help Exposto avoid the death penalty.

 

Marwa Eltagouri is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. She previously worked as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, where she covered crime, immigration and neighborhood change.

 
 

What Is Spice / K2? The Facts On Synthetic Marijuana

Spice / K2: It’s Not What You Think!

Many people have heard about Spice or K2, also known as synthetic cannabis, fake pot, synthetic marijuana, legal weed, herbal incense and potpourri.

Most people, though, think ‘spice’ is a seasoning for your food like paprika or pepper. They think ‘K2’ is a famous mountain.

And that’s exactly what the makers of this dangerous drug want non-users to think…

Most people have no idea how this awful synthetic drug is affecting millions of people all over the world.

The word is slowly leaking out, however, as reports to Poison Control and emergency room visits have skyrocketed over the past few years.

So, what exactly is Spice / K2?

What Does Spice Look Like?

Traditional smoked Spice/K2 looks like herbal tobacco, or natural marijuana.

It’s actually made from dried plant material and chopped up herbs in a mixture of colors including beige, cream red and brown. The active ingredients are sprayed onto the plant material.

The most popular brands sold today are Spice and K2.

But Spice is actually sold under more than 500 names including Mojo, Scooby Snax, Black Mamba and Annihilation.

Today, vaping the liquid form of synthetic marijuana is a fast-rising trend. The increasing popularity of e-cigarettes, vape pens and hookah pens – especially in high schools and universities – is the reason behind this shift.

What Is Spice Made Of?

Natural marijuana gains its mind-altering effects from a chemical known as THC.

Synthetic marijuana, on the other hand, is coated with synthetic cannabinoids – a family of over 700 research chemicals.

In other words, synthetic marijuana / K2 / Spice is completely different than natural marijuana.

In 2008, the scientific and law enforcement communities began to study what was actually contained in synthetic cannabis mixtures. The result of the scientific analyses was alarming.

Analysis showed that rather than being a simple mixture of harmless herbs, such as canavalia maritima, leonotis leonurus, zornia latifolia and others, the product had in fact been sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids.

These are not the “All Natural” ingredients listed on their packaging and on the sellers’ web sites. These chemicals are similar to natural cannabinoid found in marijuana, THC – tetrahydracannabinol, but affect brain receptors differently.

Spice and K2 may contain one of many synthetic cannabinoids such as JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, AM-2201 UR-144, XLR-11, AKB4, cannabicyclohexanol and AB-CHMINACA, AB-PINACA or AB-FUBINACA. Even the prescription drug, phenazapam, has been found in some products.

Synthetic cannabinoids happens to fit into the same receptors that THC latches onto in the brain, so they can have an effect similar to THC.

However, some synthetic cannabinoids are 100X stronger than THC and many operate on other brain receptors, too.

This can cause a number of significant negative side effects including high blood pressure, blurred vision, heart attack, vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, and severe anxiety and paranoia.

Deaths have also been associated with use of the drug.

Synthetic marijuana is not sold as a single brand, nor does it make use of just one ingredient.

There are a number of different manufacturers who use the same basic approach, but produce very different chemicals.

How Is Synthetic Marijuana Made?

It wasn’t long after the use of Spice & K2 became available that people started experiencing and reporting adverse side effects, including serious psychosis.

Synthetic cannabinoids are produced as an oil or a crystalline powder that can easily be sprayed on plant material or any other low cost garbage the manufacturers can get away with to create a product that can be smoked and provide some kind of high.

Most spice manufacturers don’t follow high manufacturing standards. Many of the chemicals are produced in cheap basement labs in China or Russia.

Because of the wide variety of chemicals involved and the sloppy manufacturing methods used to produce them, the health risks of one batch may not be the same as another batch, turning use of the drug into a game of Russian roulette.

Chemical impurities also carry additional, and possibly much greater, risks.

In liquid forms of Spice or K2, the variety of chemicals may be greater. Some suspect that a few brands of liquid Spice may contain traces of synthetic psychedelics such as 2C-P.

Analysis by the German government in 2008 showed that some products contained almost none of the supposedly mild traditional herbs that were advertised as ingredients.

Around the world, governments have begun to pay attention to spice. One after another, countries find that these products, far from being innocent, contain very dangerous artificial chemicals which are responsible for producing the so called “natural” psychotropic effects.

Spice manufacturers continue to develop new varieties of chemicals in an attempt to get around new laws against synthetic cannabis.

Very few synthetic cannabinoids have been tested on human beings, so none of them can be considered safe.

Where Did Spice Come From?

Spice (synthetic cannabinoid) was first sold as a recreational drug in 2004, in the UK.

By 2006, it had gained a considerable hold on the market, and the brand name Spice (along with another brand, K2) had become a generic term for all synthetic cannabis.

At first, people believed Spice was simply a mixture of harmless herbs that had a similar effect to marijuana, so it was legally sold all over the world, especially via the internet. It was attractively packaged in small colorful sachets, and generally marketed as a herbal smoking tobacco substitute, or as incense. The packaging had a kind of 60’s, summer of love, retro feel, which gave it an aura of harmlessness.

The product itself looks very much like herbal tobacco or even potpourri.

In fact, Spice is often sold as potpourri, room deodorizer or incense, purporting to be an innocent product for scenting rooms and will usually have the warning, “Not for human consumption” on the packet.

But this is just a marketing strategy to ward off legal threats.

Consumers, through the grapevine, know perfectly well that they are buying something intended to be smoked in a joint or a bong pipe.

Is Synthetic Marijuana Legal?

In most countries around the world, including the United States, synthetic cannabis is illegal. Spice use is also banned for U.S. Military personnel.

There are, unfortunately, some countries around the world where synthetic cannabinoids remain legal. This is creating a tangle of problems for authorities in the U.S and is probably increasing the use of synthetic cannabis.

In May, 2013, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) took action and formally banned Synthetic Marijuana as a Class I drug, making distribution of legal weed a federal crime in the US.

Unfortunately, the DEA action only covered a small number of chemicals, leaving pushers legal room to sell different chemicals in their place. Some states are taking further action to limit all forms of spice.

The manufacturers of synthetic cannabis work hard to stay one step ahead of the law and are continuously creating new compounds to side-step regulations.

Today, it’s basically a cat and mouse game between the creators of these dangerous substances and the legislators who seek to protect the unsuspecting public, especially young people who are easily conned into thinking that they have somehow found legal, safe weed.

As fast as common synthetic cannabinoids are banned, the producers create different versions which can slip through the legal net. This is creating huge problems as the authorities attempt to cut of the many heads of the hydra.

Today, it is estimated there are well over 200 synthetic cannabinoids sold on the street, with about 50 of them currently listed in the US as federal Class I drugs.

The following 7-minute news report by CNN explains just how hard it is for law enforcement to get their hands around this fast-growing problem.

Synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are designer drugs that are chemically different from the chemicals in cannabis but which are sold with claims that they give the effects of cannabis. When these chemicals are sprayed or otherwise soaked into a base material which is often plant-based, then the plant with chemicals is sometimes misleadingly called synthetic marijuana.[1] These products are sold for recreational drug use.[1]

There are several psychoactive artificial cannabinoid families (e.g. AM-xxx, HU-xxx, JWH-xxx, CP xx) that are sold under brand names like K2[2] and Spice,[3] both of which are now used as generic terms used for any synthetic cannabinoid product.

When synthetic cannabinoid blends first went on sale in the early 2000s, it was thought that they achieved an effect through a mixture of natural herbs. Laboratory analysis in 2008 showed that this was not the case, and that they in fact contain synthetic cannabinoids that act on the body in a similar way to cannabinoids naturally found in cannabis, such as THC. A large and complex variety of synthetic cannabinoids, most often cannabicyclohexanol, JWH-018, JWH-073, or HU-210, are used in an attempt to avoid the laws that make cannabis illegal, making synthetic cannabinoid a designer drug. They have been sold under various brand names, online, in head shops, and other stores. Studies have associated synthetic cannabinoid use with psychotic episodes days after use, some of which have resulted in death.[4]

They are often marketed as herbal incense or "herbal smoking blends", and the products are usually consumed through smoking. Although synthetic cannabinoids may not produce positive results in drug tests for cannabis, it is possible to detect their metabolites in human urine. The synthetic cannabinoids contained in these products have been made illegal in many countries.

THE DEADLY EFFECTS OF METH

The short-term and long-term impact of the individual

When taken, meth and crystal meth create a false sense of well-being and energy, and so a person will tend to push his body faster and further than it is meant to go. Thus, drug users can experience a severe “crash” or physical and mental breakdown after the effects of the drugs wear off.

Because continued use of the drug decreases natural feelings of hunger, users can experience extreme weight loss. Negative effects can also include disturbed sleep patterns, hyperactivity, nausea, delusions of power, increased aggressiveness and irritability.

Other serious effects can include insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.1 In some cases, use can cause convulsions that lead to death.

Long-range damage

In the long term, meth use can cause irreversible harm: increased heart rate and blood pressure; damaged blood vessels in the brain that can cause strokes or an irregular heartbeat that can, in turn, cause cardiovascular2 collapse or death; and liver, kidney and lung damage.

Users may suffer brain damage, including memory loss and an increasing inability to grasp abstract thoughts. Those who recover are usually subject to memory gaps and extreme mood swings.

Meth Harm

SHORT-TERM EFFECTS

  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Nausea
  • Bizarre, erratic, sometimes violent behavior
  • Hallucinations, hyperexcitability, irritability
  • Panic and psychosis
  • Convulsions, seizures and death from high doses

LONG-TERM EFFECTS

  • Permanent damage to blood vessels of heart and brain, high blood pressure leading to heart attacks, strokes and death
  • Liver, kidney and lung damage
  • Destruction of tissues in nose if sniffed
  • Respiratory (breathing) problems if smoked
  • Infectious diseases and abscesses if injected
  • Malnutrition, weight loss
  • Severe tooth decay
  • Disorientation, apathy, confused exhaustion
  • Strong psychological dependence
  • Psychosis
  • Depression
  • Damage to the brain similar to Alzheimer’s disease,3 stroke and epilepsy

WHAT IS CRYSTAL METH?

Crystal meth is short for crystal methamphetamine. It is just one form of the drug methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine is a white crystalline drug that people take by snorting it (inhaling through the nose), smoking it or injecting it with a needle. Some even take it orally, but all develop a strong desire to continue using it because the drug creates a false sense of happiness and well-being—a rush (strong feeling) of confidence, hyperactiveness and energy. One also experiences decreased appetite. These drug effects generally last from six to eight hours, but can last up to twenty-four hours.

The first experience might involve some pleasure, but from the start, methamphetamine begins to destroy the user’s life.



Meth user in 2002
...and 2 1/2 years later

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is an illegal drug in the same class as cocaine and other powerful street drugs. It has many nicknames—meth, crank, chalk or speed being the most common. (See the list of street names.)

Crystal meth is used by individuals of all ages, but is most commonly used as a “club drug,” taken while partying in night clubs or at rave parties. Its most common street names are ice or glass.

It is a dangerous and potent chemical and, as with all drugs, a poison that first acts as a stimulant but then begins to systematically destroy the body. Thus it is associated with serious health conditions, including memory loss, aggression, psychotic behavior and potential heart and brain damage.

Highly addictive, meth burns up the body’s resources, creating a devastating dependence that can only be relieved by taking more of the drug.

Crystal meth’s effect is highly concentrated, and many users report getting hooked (addicted) from the first time they use it.

“I tried it once and BOOM! I was addicted,” said one meth addict who lost his family, friends, his profession as a musician and ended up homeless.

Consequently, it is one of the hardest drug addictions to treat and many die in its grip.

“I started using crystal meth when I was a senior in high school. Before my first semester of college was up, meth became such a big problem that I had to drop out. I looked like I had chicken pox, from hours of staring at myself in the mirror and picking at myself. I spent all my time either doing meth, or trying to get it.” 

10 of the most dangerous street drugs in the world

As Ireland announces it will decriminalise heroin and Ohio considers legalising marijuana, we look at 10 most dangerous street drugs in the world, their histories and side-effects. 

10. Purple Drank

One of the more unusual drugs around at the moment, purple drank was popularised in 90’s hip hop culture, with the likes of Jay Z and Big Moe all mentioning it in their songs. It is a concoction of soda water, sweets and cold medicine, and is drunk due to cold medicine's high codeine content, which gives the user a woozy feeling. However it can also cause respiratory issues and heart failure. 

9. Scopolamine

Scopolamine is a derivative from the nightshade plant found in the Northern Indian region of South America (Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela). It is generally found in a refined powder form, but can also be found as a tea. The drug is more often used by criminals due its high toxicity level (one gram is believed to be able to kill up to 20 people) making it a strong poison. However, it is also believed that the drug is blown into the faces of unexpecting victims, later causing them to lose all sense of self-control and becoming incapable of forming memories during the time they are under the influence of the drug. This tactic has reportedly been used by gangs in Colombia where there have been reports of people using scopolamine as a way to convince victims to rob their own homes. 

 

The CIA also revealed in 1993 that they had trialled the drug as a truth serum during the Cold War. However it is believed it wasn’t effective due to scopolamine’s ability to induce hallucinations at a low dosage.

8. Heroin

Founded in 1874 by C. R. Alder Wright, heroin is one of the world’s oldest drugs. Originally it was prescribed as a strong painkiller used to treat chronic pain and physical trauma. However, in 1971 it was made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Since then it has become one of the most destructive substances in the world, tearing apart communities and destroying families. 

The side effects of heroin include inflammation of the gums, cold sweats, a weak immune system, muscular weakness and insomnia. It can also damage blood vessels which can later cause gangrene if left untreated. 

7. Crack cocaine

Crack cocaine first came about in the 1980’s when cocaine became a widespread commodity within the drug trafficking world. Originally cocaine would have attracted a high price tag due to its rarity and difficulty to produce, but once it became more widespread the price dropped significantly. This resulted in drug dealers forming their cocaine into rock like shapes by using baking soda as a way of distilling the powder down into rock form. People were doing this because it allowed for them to sell cocaine at a lower quantity and to a higher number of people. 

Since then it has gone on to form one of the biggest drug epidemics in the world, and during the height of its popularity it was believed that over 10 million people were crack cocaine users in the US alone.  

The side effects of crack cocaine include liver, kidney and lung damage, as well as permanent damage to blood vessels, which can often lead to heart attacks, strokes, and ultimately death.

6. Crystal meth

Not just famous because of a certain Walter H White, but also because it is one of the most destructive drugs in the world. First developed in 1887, it became widely used during the Second World War when both sides would give it to their troops to keep them awake. It is also believed that the Japanese gave it to their Kamikaze pilots before their suicide missions. 

After the war crystal meth was prescribed as a diet aid and remained legal until the 1970s. Since then it has fallen into the hands of Mexican gangs and has become a worldwide phenomenon, spreading throughout Europe and Asia. 

The effects of crystal meth are devastating. In the short-term users will become sleep depraved and anxious, and in the long-term it will cause their flesh to sink, as well as brain damage and damage of th

5. AH-7921

AH-7921 is a synthetic opioid that was previously available to legally purchase online from vendors until it became a Class A in January 2015. The drug is believed to have 80% of the potency of morphine, and became known as the ‘legal heroin’. 

While there has only been one death related to AH-7921 in the UK, it is believed to be highly dangerous and capable of causing respiratory arrest and gangrene.

4. Flakka

Flakka is a stimulant with a similar chemical make-up to the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts. While the drug was originally marketed as a legal high alternative to ecstasy, the effects are significantly different. The user will feel an elevated heart rate, enhanced emotions, and, if enough is digested, strong hallucinations. The drug can cause permanent psychological damage due to it affecting the mood regulating neurons that keep the mind’s sertraline and dopamine in check, as well as possiblycausing heart failure.  

3. Bath salts

Bath salts are a synthetic crystalline drug that is prevalent in the US. While they may sound harmless, they certainly aren’t the sort of salts you drop into a warm bath when having a relaxing night in. They are most similar to mephedrone, and have recently been featured throughout social media due to the ‘zombification’ of its users.

The name comes from the fact that the drug was originally sold online, and widely disguised as bath salts. The side effects include unusual psychiatric behaviour, psychosis, panic attacks and violent behaviour, as well as the possibility of a heart attack and an elevated body temperature.

2. Whoonga

Whoonga is a combination of antiretroviral drugs, used to treat HIV, and various cutting agents such as detergents and poisons. The drug is widely available in South Africa due to South Africa’s high rate of HIV sufferers, and is believed to be popular due to how cheap it is when compared to prescribed antiretrovirals. 

The drug is highly addictive and can cause major health issues such as internal bleeding, stomach ulcers and ultimately death. 

1. Krokodil

Krokodil is Russia’s secret addiction. It is believed that over one million Russians are addicted to the drug. 

Users of krokodil are attracted to the drug due to its low price; it is sold at £20 a gram while heroin is sold for £60. However, krokodil is considered more dangerous than heroin because it is often homemade, with ingredients including painkillers, iodine, lighter fluid and industrial cleaning agents. This chemical make-up makes the drug highly dangerous and likely to cause gangrene, and eventually rotting of the flesh.