Ever Bought Catnip Thinking It Was Marijuana? 10 of the Most Common Drug Scams

For the drug user in need, there is perhaps no worse feeling than opening a bindle/ wrap/ baggie/ balloon only to discover that it contains no drugs. Your stomach sinks as you realize that you have been victimized by the lowest man on the drug totem pole: the scammer.


Everyone who has bought drugs has surely been the victim of a scam at some point of their using career. It has happened to me on more than one occasion—always when buying on unfamiliar turf. My own reactions usually followed the five stages identified in the Kübler-Ross model of grieving:

Denial: No! Surely it’s just some really weird looking smack!

Anger: I’m going to go find the bastard that sold me this and break his legs!

Bargaining: I know I need this money to pay rent, but maybe if I just spend $20 on dope it’ll help me deal with this grievous loss…

Depression: I hate the dope game. I hate my life. I deserved to get ripped off, I’m such a scumbag.

Acceptance: It’s junkie karma. This is payback for all the scams I pulled on dealers over the years.

At the heart of it, buying drugs is based on trust—there’s no Better Business Bureau for dealers. And until the US embraces legalization, buying from “dark web” markets is maybe the only way to ensure some measure of protection. Hearing of a man who sold crushed Pop Tart as “crack” to an undercover cop, Substance.com asked some victims to share their sad stories of rip-offs and deals gone wrong. We were flooded with stories of fake grams, pills that aren’t pills and the world’s most expensive spoonful of oatmeal.

What do these tales of woe teach us? If anything, that bad things happen when people don’t follow basic drug etiquette: Avoid buying from strangers and never—under any circumstances—hand over the money before you get the drugs. Be safe out there…

1. Tommy, 32, currently unemployed

Where: Paterson, New Jersey
Supposed drug: Heroin

Sometimes you can just smell a scam but you’re so dope sick you don’t care. This was one of those times. None of my usual guys were around—it was real heavy with the cops ‘cos it was an election month. Suddenly this guy makes a beeline for me on Broadway, acting like he’s an old friend: “Hey, why didn’t you call me first? I ain’t seen you in ages.” Most of my dealers were pretty interchangeable. I mean, the transaction is over so quick all you really take in is details like: black dude, Lakers top, red cap. So I could have known him, but wasn’t sure.

Ended up paying $50 for a bundle. I recognized the stamp so I figured it was legit. I got the bags and split. Half an hour later and I’m back home, hands shaking I’m so sick, and I dump the first bag into the spoon. Oatmeal. Fucking oatmeal. You know when you’re that sick you don’t want to believe it: Maybe it’s just this one? I ended up dumping all the bags into the spoon—all oatmeal. I was not a happy bunny, and it was definitely the most expensive spoonful of oatmeal I ever bought.

2.  Sandy, 28, an accountant

Where: Venice, California
Supposed drug: Crack

The area was called Ghost Town. It was a total crack neighborhood. You couldn’t find anything else—no dope, no weed, no pills, just crack. You’d see these zombied-out crackheads walking up and down the street all day and night looking for crumbs that the dealers might have dropped. We used to call them “ghost busters.”

But there’s something about crack that just brings out the worst in dealers. Crack dealers are generally the most unscrupulous bunch of assholes you will meet in the drug game. The worst time was when I went out and picked up some rocks from this dude handing out in a nearby basketball court—big guy, all hollowed out and twitchy. I bought a $20 rock from him and went home. It was great! I mean really good, not all ammonia-tasting and weak like some of the stuff going around at the time. So I went back and laid $160 on him.

When I got back home I loaded the pipe and took a big hit. I nearly puked: I’d just smoked a chunk of Olay soap. I was so desperate I refused to believe it was true and ended up smoking three or four more hits to be sure it wasn’t just some weird crack. Of course when I ran back, the dude was long gone. It was a real bummer, although I suppose my breath was pretty good for a while afterwards.

3. Erica, 46, a PR professional

Where: London, England
Supposed drug: Ecstasy

I’d been buying pills from a friend of a friend for a while. Always decent stuff, and the price was alright. Back in ‘97 he had amazing stuff—Mitsubishi-stamped pills that were just incredible.

Word came down that he had a stockpile of them and wanted to get rid, because he was leaving the country for a while. I think his family were Canadian or something. I’d had a bit of money left to me after a relative passed away, and I decided to invest it in 500 pills. I was big into the club scene then and it seemed like a good way to at least double my money. Everybody knew the Mitsubishis were legit and I had a big circle of friends and acquaintances that did E most weekends, so it was a win-win.

So I put down the money and of course, 90% of the pills turned out to be bunk. I spent the next few months looking for the guy but he just vanished. It was horrible. I went from having a bit of extra cash for the first time in my life to being totally broke again. I kept thinking I was going to see the guy, and for a while I spent my weekends trawling all of the usual clubs in London, ready to confront him. I told everybody about what had happened and got loads of sympathy, but nobody saw him.

It actually resolved itself about four years later when the guy tracked me down on Facebook. Turned out he’d had some kind of religious awakening and wanted to pay me back! Apparently he’d got really in debt with some crack dealers who were going to kill him, so he ripped me off to pay them, but ended up doing a bunk and spunking all the money on more crack. He told me he’d pay me back—he was making his AA amends or whatever—and he actually did, in monthly installments. So in a weird way, it all worked out.

4. Blaze, 37, a DJ

Where: Los Angeles
Supposed drug: Cocaine

The worst one ever was one night I was out at a club called Spaceland. This was around 2000 and I was seeing a local band. I did a liner with this dude I’d seen around the scene a bit and he told me he was selling, so I bought a couple of grams. When I went to do some later that night I knew immediately something was wrong. I became real uncoordinated, slurring my words—honestly, I thought I was dying. The music started slowing down and my head was spinning, and I made it to the bathroom and just basically spent the rest of the night hanging onto the toilet for dear life. My friends found me later and someone had to take me home.

Turned out the fucking idiot had sold me ketamine by mistake. He said it was an honest fuck-up and he gave me my money back, but I never dealt with him again. I mean for fuck’s sake, the moron could have killed me, you know?

5. Rick, 23, a retail professional

Where: Pandora (online marketplace)
Supposed drug: Crystal meth

I’d been using online markets since the early days of Silk Road version 1. When Silk Road went down I bounced around other markets for a while. Pandora was the most stable for a little bit, although nothing was the same once Silk Road closed up shop. Every day when you’d log in, you’d never know if your favorite market was going to be there or not. I still blame that fucking Gawker article for ruining everything.

I bought a gram of meth from a vendor called “ManuelNoriega” (yeah, I know…). The transaction went as usual: I made my payment, got my confirmation and three days later a priority mail package arrived with some white powder in a vacuum seal. However when I snorted some of it, nothing happened. To this day I still don’t know what that powder was, but I ended up snorting the entire gram and catching less of a high than if I took some Sudafed.

So I complained, as did a bunch of the dude’s customers, and he reshipped a second batch. Second time around the stuff was actually dope—not the best stuff, but still it was meth. That’s why I use underground markets—yeah, you have to wait three days for your stuff and the prices are much higher, but you very rarely get bunk—this was my only time in over four years of ordering at least weekly. And if you do, there’s a mechanism in place to either get replacement drugs or a refund. Very different from on the street!

6. Lee, 40, a musician

Where: Manchester, England
Supposed drug: Marijuana

It was my own fault really. I was fucking 16 and clueless. Up until then all I’d smoked was draw [AKA "soap bar," low-grade hash usually sold in Europe]. So this was back in the early ‘90s when it was really rare to see actual buds, not like how it is now where it’s everywhere. I bought a teenth [a 16th of an ounce] and tried to smoke it, and it was fucking horrible, mate!

I got it from some dodgy Jamaican bloke I met in the pub. Never seen him before. He must have seen me coming, that’s for sure. I took it over to my mate’s house and he was pissing himself, because I’d bought—and smoked—catnip. For about a month afterwards my friends would make meowing noises whenever I walked in a room. Funny bastards.

7. Rob, 54, an antique dealer

Where: New York City
Supposed drug: LSD

In the late ‘80s it was just so hard to get decent acid—I was on the club scene and really wanted to get a large supply. I’d put the word out and this kid contacted me through friends, saying he had a little that he was willing to sell. Normally I have a great nose for these types of things, but this kid’s patter was good.

The stuff came in the form of a clear liquid, sold in eyedropper bottles. He did the classic bait-and-switch on me. First time around, he sold me a few doses—not great, but definitely acid at least. When I came back to buy a bigger amount what he sold me turned out to be saline solution.

It was a real pain because I’d invited friends around, and we all did a bunch before we headed out to some club. Imagine our disappointment when absolutely nothing happened. We still got high—clubs were completely awash with all sorts of other stuff then. But personally, acid is my favorite drug so it was a real bring-down. Plus the bastard had taken me for almost $300!

I looked out for him of course. He was a pretty boy, and my friend Andy had been seeing him. Turned out, not long after he ripped me off, he split with Andy, taking him for almost $1,000 in some kind of check scam. Nobody heard from him for a while. Then we heard he’d gotten stabbed to death over a drug deal gone wrong. I’d like to say I was the bigger person and felt bad for him, but to be honest my first reaction was “good riddance.”

8. Michael, 31, a blogger

Where: New York City
Supposed drug: Opium

The only time I got ripped off was basically because I broke the cardinal rules about buying drugs. I’ve always wanted to try opium and you just never see it for sale. So I allowed myself to be convinced that this kid had it and I paid the price. Red flag Number One: I met the guy on Craigslist. I know, I’m embarrassed even as I say it—what an idiot. Number Two: We worked out this elaborate system where I left the money in a public place and we did a switch without even meeting.

Luckily, we did a $50 deal first to test the waters—if he’d actually had opium, I would have put a lot of money his way for a bulk purchase. I left the cash behind a toilet in a lunch place near Times Square. I got the text that the exchange had been made about five minutes later. I came back and there was a Ziploc baggie with something that looked like opium. It in fact turned out to be licorice. The guy’s phone was by then disconnected. I wonder how many other sales he made that day—and was it worth it?

I also wonder why he even bothered with the whole leaving-the-licorice part of the deal. He already had my money, you know? Ripping people off on a drug deal is about the lowest of the low. As drug users we’re already marginalized and persecuted by society. When we start to prey upon our own community that really sucks. Junkies who scam other junkies are, in my opinion, just a half-step above rapists and child molesters.

9. Taylor, 26, a writer

Where: New Orleans
Supposed drug: Heroin

I was visiting New Orleans and met a guy in the French Quarter who said he could help me score. He was definitely a junkie, with a sick, watery nose and eyes. I said I’d sort him out with some if he’d help me out. I’ve done this in loads of place when traveling—most junkies will help you if you offer them some dope for themselves. It’s a community thing. Plus, if you’re in town for a few days they know you’ll keep using them as a middle-man.

But this guy walked me all the way over to the shittiest part of town—at least, the shittiest part that hadn’t been washed away by Katrina—and said, “Give me the money, I’ll be right back.”

I told him, no way. So he points to a shady doorway where a whole bunch of shady-ass looking dope fiends are playing dominoes, and he tells me that the dope man is in there, but there’s no way they’re going to let some strange white guy in. I tell him to get the shit on credit and bring it out. He tells me they don’t do credit. Finally I relent and give him half the money, saying if the shit’s legit, I’ll get the other half straight away.

So he goes, and I’m standing on this corner—the only white face for miles. A cop car prowls past, looking at me. Suddenly I’m feeling real vulnerable, you know? Anyway, the guy comes back and says, “Give me your hand.” So I do and he pours out a little powder and tells me to sniff. I taste it right away; it’s dope. Good dope, too. So I give him the rest, and he leaves again. A minute passes…two…three…

Finally I go up to the door and all these scary dudes are going, “Hey motherfucker, where you think you’re going?” I tell them my friend just went in and they’re laughing and telling me to get lost, so I figure I’ve been taken. Then he finally reappears and tells me off for coming to the door: “They shot people for less!” He has his cut already and he gives me the baggies.

We have a long chat on the way back about the dope game, etc and I make a new friend. Then finally I’m back at the hotel and I go to get high…and not one of those baggies contain dope. Just some flavorless white powder, probably the shit they cut it with.

The next day I go back to the spot I found the guy hustling on—and he’s out there! First he tries to play it off like he got burnt too, but I won’t believe it. Finally he says to me, “Well shit, baby, what did you expect? I’m a dope fiend. You ask me, it’s your own fault for trusting me!” I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible. Not being willing to go to jail for killing the guy, I just left it. I mean, he had a point. I’ve never handed over the money first since.

10. Steve, 34, currently unemployed

Where: Dagenham, East London
Supposed drug: Cocaine and heroin

A regular dealer I used to go to once went away for a bit, and another geezer took over his patch. Nobody liked the new bloke much—he was constantly doing short deals, wouldn’t throw in extras or give credit, nothing. Well this one day I picked up my usual: curry and rice [UK slang for a bag of heroin and a bag of coke], two for £50.

When I got back I knew something didn’t seem right, so I smoked some. It looked a bit funny, but it ran on the foil…but didn’t get me high. It was like 99% bash (UK slang: Bash is a bulking agent, usually acetaminophen, used to cut heroin). The coke was even worse; it was like pure vitamin C or whatever. I called some using mates to see what was up. Turned out all of them had been to the guy that day, and all got sold shite.

Five of us who’d got taken went over to see the guy and get our money back. He basically told us to fuck off. It kicked off and he ended up getting done with a bat. He got properly fucked up. We called an ambulance after we dragged him out to the street, though. Never saw him again. When the usual dealer was back he apologized and shit—even gave us credit to make up for it—and everything went back to normal. At least until the drought hit, in ’09. Then that kind of stuff became an everyday occurrence, unfortunately.

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