by Brian Clarey


The impetus for this 10 Best was the delivery to my office of two 16-ounce cans of a “lifestyle” beverage new to the Carolinas called “Purple Drank,” to be sold with the tagline, “Slow your roll.” The drink, which has been called “a can of drag-ass” by Playboy magazine, is what’s known as a “downer,”: utilizing mellow-out herbs like valerian root, chamomile, rose hips and the hormone melatonin along with a slew of B vitamins in a legal parody of the “drank” made with narcotic cough syrup popularized by Houston rappers. My wife and I each drank a can at around 9 p.m. We were both asleep before 10. Legal? Yes, but not much of a party drink unless yours is a slumber party.


America loves prohibition, and the list of substances our government says we cannot ingest is long indeed. But we also have a slew of legal drugs in this country for those who like their intoxicants mild, without the added thrill of engaging in illegal behavior. The big three in the US are caffeine, which many of us use every day; alcohol, with the power to make us all a bit more witty and attractive; and nicotine, the users of which are, literally, a dying breed.


The most widely used illegal drugs in the US — marijuana, cocaine and heroin — may only be available on the black market (or by prescription from a very groovy doctor), but synthetic versions of each exists. K2 is a synthetic form of marijuana developed by Clemson University, which is sprayed on organic matter and sold as incense under various name brands like Genie, Summit and Black Mamba. Synthetic cocaine is sold these days as a “bath salt” under names like White Lightning and Hurricane Charley. Both are perfectly legal in most states and available over the counter at head shops. But you need a doctor’s prescription for synthetic heroin, also known as Oxycontin, because it’s pretty serious stuff.


Energy drinks burst onto the scene about 10 years ago with the groundbreaking product Red Bull, which inspired legions of imitators like Full Throttle, Monster and Greensboro’s own short-lived version, Burn. Until recently, a blend of energy-drink staple ingredients guarana and caffeine laced with alcohol known as Four Loko was commercially available, but now we have to add our own vodka.


On and around the subcontinent of India, betel junkies take these vine leaves, wrap them around an areca nut, add a bit of the mineral lime and chew until their teeth turn red. The betel leaf, closely related to pepper and kava, acts as a stimulant and the alkaline lime enables it to be absorbed sublingually. The nut increases saliva production to grease the whole process along.


Nitrous oxide has many practical purposes: a gentle anesthetic in dentistry, a fuel additive that makes engines perform better and… uh… a greenhouse gas. It’s also popular among restaurant folk who sometimes take the small canisters generally reserved for the making of whipped cream and ingest them orally, causing goofy smiles and lightheadedness for about half a minute. “Whip-its,” as they are known in the common parlance, are more or less legal in all 50 states.


Drugs classified as inhalants are basically household products not intended for ingestion that can be put into a bag and their vapors “huffed.” Common ones include gasoline and other petroleum products, certain aerosols and nail polish removal. Inhalants are popular with teenagers, the conventional wisdom goes, because they aren’t old enough for booze or sophisticated enough to get street drugs. And they’re too young to know that there is a difference between a headache and a high.


Another one popular with the kids — if you believe YouTube anyway — is salvia, derived from a plant with mildly hallucinogenic properties. Historically, salvia was used by Mexican shaman to attain “divination,” which is what people used to call “getting wasted.” The kids like it because it’s cheap, readily available on the internet and legal in almost every state.


Yep, you can purchase adrenaline, that potent fight-or-flight hormone made for free by our bodies in extreme situations, on the black market or the internet. Or you can get it the old-fashioned way: by jumping out of airplanes, running a street-luge course, shoplifting, shooting guns, bungee-jumping or engaging in any other type opf activity that gets your heart racing.


If none of these options will do for you, there are about 13,000 prescription drugs on the market today for maladies both real and imagined that range from social anxiety and narcolepsy to allergies and restless legs. Ask your doctor if any of them are right for you.