by James J. Galligan, Ph.D., Associate Chair,2c-i image from wikipedia
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

There was a recent news story about 1 death and several hospitalizations that might have resulted from the use of a drug known as 2C-I.  This happened after a spring break house party in suburban Minneapolis.

What is 2C-I?  2C-I is 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodophenethylamine.  The key part of this chemical name is “phenylethylamine”.  This is important because the brain neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine are also phenylethylamines.  The brain neurotransmitter, serotonin is also very similar in chemical structure to the phenylethylamines.  Many legal and illegal drugs are also phenylethyamines including: amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA (“Ecstasy).

Let’s first discuss methamphetamine and amphetamine.  These drugs are stimulant drugs as they increase alertness.  This effect is caused by activation of the norepinephrine systems in the brain.  Amphetamine and methamphetamine also activate norepinephrine nerves that supply the heart and blood vessels.  Amphetamine and methamphetamine stimulate the heart to beat faster and they contract blood vessels.  These effects cause an increase in blood pressure and they also make some people susceptible to altered heart rhythms and potential heart attacks.  Both drugs cause pleasant feelings (euphoria) and this is what makes them addictive.  The euphoria is caused by activation of dopamine systems in the brain.

While MDMA is similar to amphetamine and methamphetamine in chemical structure, it has little activity at the dopamine and norepineprhine systems.  Instead, MDMA prefers to interact with the serotonin system.  The serotonin system is partly responsible for feelings of anxiety and also for monitoring visual and auditory (sound) sensations.  This is why MDMA is classified as a hallucinogen (like LSD-25) but also why it is used as a “club drug”.  MDMA reduces anxiety and increases feelings of interpersonal warmth and empathy.

Back to 2C-I:

Although 2-CI is a phenylethylamine, it does not have the same level of activity at the norepinephrine or dopamine systems as amphetamine and methamphetamine.  2C-I is more like MDMA in its pharmacological effects as 2C-I prefers the serotonin systems.  So, 2C-I can produce hallucinations (like LSD-25) and also feelings of interpersonal warmth and empathy.

LSD-25 is a Schedule I drug and this means it has no legitimate medical use.  MDMA does have some legitimate medical uses but it is still highly regulated and it is illegal to sell these drugs over the internet.  2C-I is chemically different from these regulated drugs and therefore it does not fall under the same stringent controls.  This makes it possible to sell 2C-I through online chemical suppliers or as a research chemical.  The problems arise in unknown quality control in producing the chemical so it difficult to know how much of the active drug is actually in the sample increasing the risk of overdose.  In addition, MDMA can be toxic to serotonin neurons in the brain and 2C-I may also kill serotonin neurons.

Let the buyer beware!

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