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The Borametz Scam

Jon Hanna

On the trial of the mysterious Psychoactive Snake Oil

hand me down a new panacea

I first heard about Borametz in early November of 1996. A subscriber to my publication, the Psychedelic Resource List, mentioned that he was selling an extract called Borametz which was obtained from an obscure Russian evergreen tree. He likened the effects to MDMA and GHB, claiming that the extract produced theta brainwaves and had been shown to be useful in ESP experiments. The extract was apparently used in Russia as a powerful aphrodisiac. Purported to release increased amounts of human growth hormone, Borametz was used by body builders to help increase muscle tissue and lower body fat. My correspondent claimed that there were "no health risks from the use of Borametz." I am skeptical by nature, and this all sounded too good to be true. So, to give it a try, I sent off $30.00 for a one ounce bottle containing seven to ten doses.

As I try to keep up on various psychoactive plants, I checked my library for any mention of "Borametz," hoping to track down the Latin name. Nothing in Pharmacotheon. Nothing in Potter's Cyclopeadea of Botanical Herbs & Preparations. Numerous other books checked also yielded no fruit. Finally, I came across a brief mention in the Reader's Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants. Therein it was reported that Borametz is another name for the Tartarian lamb tree -- a mythical plant, based on a description of the cotton plant by Herodotus (the fifth century Greek historian). This single reference to Borametz fingered it as a mythical tree. This was my first clue that something was amiss.

I asked my supplier for more information about Borametz when I sent off my money. I also found a research ally in Richard Heffern, author of Secrets of Mind-Altering Plants of Mexico and numerous other books on herbs. Richard and I had corresponded a bit about the current legal situation regarding GHB, and he was also interested in the Borametz mystery.

the bottle arrives

My bottle of Borametz arrived -- along with documentation titled "Facts About Borametz Oil And It's (sic) Use" that backed up the claims made for its usefulness as an aphrodisiac and a growth hormone enhancer. The documentation looked like the type of promotional material that a wholesaler sends out to a distributor -- high on claims and low on references. It mentioned a Dr. Vladimer Portnoy, head of the Sexual Dysfunction Department of St. Petersburg General Hospital, and a Lech Polansky, M.D. who had performed the "Borametz Extract Clinical Study," but no contact info was given for either man.

Accompanying the bottle of Borametz was a letter from my source, asking me if I was going to review the product in the PRL to please "avoid [making] comparisons with GHB and statements about [Borametz'] consciousness-altering and theta brainwave effects." My supplier was worried about a possible run-in with the FDA, due to the recent hubbub over GHB.

Cracking the bottle, I took a dose -- 4 ml on an empty stomach. Twenty to thirty minutes later, I was surprised to find that I was becoming more relaxed. Tension and worries slipped away and my mind entered a blank state. The normal noise of my thoughts buzzing around in my head had stopped, and I felt calm and centered. I also felt a little bit dizzy, as if I had drunk a few glasses of wine. The effects lasted a couple of hours at most -- dissipating when I ate dinner. Overall, I felt as if I had just taken 2.5 grams of GHB.

whatever you do, don't mention GHB!

Although my supplier asked me to avoid comparing Borametz to GHB, I couldn't in good conscience honor this request. I called my supplier and told him that, in reviewing this product, there was no way that I could avoid a comparison to GHB; Borametz was simply too similar. My supplier agreed that it was fine if I used the comparison, as he had recently been assured that there would be no problems with the FDA since this was a perfectly legal plant extract. Apparently, the FDA will allow you to sell practically any herb or plant extract as long as no unsubstantiated medical claims are made on the product's label. Indeed, in 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which places the responsibility on the FDA to prove that an herbal product is unsafe, rather than the manufacturer having to prove that it is safe.

the taste test continues

I listed my Borametz supplier in the December 1996 issue of the PRL. However, I felt that I needed to get some other opinions about Borametz. I gave a dose to a friend, who -- when the effects came on -- said that he was almost positive that he had taken GHB. I took a bottle to the Botanical Preservation Corps seminar in Mexico and gave it to one of our instructors, a noted entheobotanist. He tasted an eyedropperful, screwed up his face (Borametz is not too yummy), and said "GHB." This gentleman was of the opinion that Borametz was merely misrepresented GHB. He questioned the fact that the extract was completely clear, stating that in all his years of professionally producing natural products he had never come across a clear plant extract. He later took a dose of the extract and found it to be "just like a medium dose of GHB" in effect.

Now I could see why my supplier might not want any comparisons made to GHB. If the product was simply misrepresented GHB, he could find himself in a whole lot of trouble. However, one piece in this puzzle kept nagging at me -- the Borametz extract didn't have the typical salty taste that GHB has. It had the yucky chemical flavor, but the saltiness was absent. Perhaps the saltiness was masked by the "natural flavor" listed on the bottle's ingredients.

a plant source found?

While pondering whether or not Borametz was merely GHB, I received a reply from Richard Heffern. Richard had tracked down a plausible lead for the Borametz source plant -- Dicksonia barometz, a rare species of tree fern found in Eastern Asia. Richard noted that since the name Borametz was trademarked, it might be a deliberate misspelling of barometz, the plant's possible Latin family name.

Mr. BMZ and the Internet

About this time, posts regarding "BMZ" (Borametz) started to appear on an underground e-mail list related to entheogens. I contacted the individual who had posted about BMZ, and asked him to relate to me whatever information was on the bottle's label. The bottle was produced by the now defunct Phoenix Products, a different company than the one I had listed in the PRL. I was also given the name and address of the distributor who was providing the product. When I contacted this individual, it turned out that he was not selling the product commercially yet, as he was attempting to "minimize its exposure until a large bodybuilding company currently working with a contract [could] release it in further diluted form with sufficient legal backing to fend off the FDA and prevent it [from] going the way of GHB." This individual -- forthwith referred to as "Mr. BMZ" -- seemed to have a lot of information about Borametz. He commented that "The lack of a clear scientific name is a shady attempt at securing the source while still 'revealing' the name and nature of the plant sufficient for labeling purposes." Mr. BMZ also asked me not to make any reference or comparison to GHB. He claimed to be getting his Borametz from the same Russian supplier as my original source.

GHB theory evaporates

Determined to figure out if Borametz was merely tricked-up GHB, I decided to evaporate off a dose and see if a salt remained, as GHB in dry form exists as a salt. First I tried to evaporate off four ml of Borametz by setting it on my stove's pilot light in a glass baking dish. The Borametz was very oily, and after more than two weeks nothing appeared to have evaporated. I decided to apply some more direct heat.

As a control, I mixed 2.5 grams of GHB into 4 ml of water, and evaporated off the water. About 2.5 grams of a crusty caramel colored goo resulted. Next I evaporated off the Borametz. Unlike the GHB, which produced only a slight amount of white smoke when heated, the Borametz produced large quantities of white smoke that smelled similar to Rosco Fog Fluid (the stuff used in fog machines by hard-rock bands like KISS). When it evaporated, I was left with only 1 mg of caramel colored goo. I ate this residue, and it was inactive. This confirmed in my mind that Borametz was not GHB; there was no salt residue left, and the residue that was left was inactive.

the "Borametz plant"

Meanwhile, Mr. BMZ was hitting me with numerous "facts" about Borametz. He agreed that Borametz probably came from the plant Dicksonia barometz. Though I remained skeptical, Mr. BMZ assured me that the Borametz "super-oil is a phytosterol distillate fraction from the fresh leaf." Calling Borametz "a beautiful gift of nature," he again pressed me not to compare Borametz to GHB as he could be cut off from his source if this went too far. Indeed, a pointed plea stated "[Borametz] is not even supposed to be officially on the market yet. A little got out for friends, research and development, etc., and it may yet get out of hand. If 10,000,000 athletes want it they are likely to cause a stir and get it; it helps kids grow instead of shooting steroids, for crying out loud! But if a few blow-it-case ravers laugh at, chuck at, and spill their guts to the wrong people or a few jealous distributors send in samples and complaints to the FDA, or etc., etc., etc., then nobody gets it."

Mr. BMZ also stated that it takes a kilo of the plant to produce a gram of pure Borametz oil. When I read this comment, I remembered that in a prior letter Richard Heffern had expressed his concern about harvesting a rare plant from the wild, and mentioned that he hoped that the plant was being commercially cultivated. I asked Mr. BMZ about this, and he replied that my "concern about wildcrafting is relevant. I'm happy to say the plant in the [wild is] abundant from what I've read and enough [Borametz oil] was supposedly made last year to dose the entire world! And since the vast reserves in Russia seem to be fine (harvesting only the leaves allows the plant to come back the next year) there has been no need to use the abundant amounts of the plant growing in other countries (like China)."

a barrage of e-mail

E-mails continued to be posted to the underground list. Despite the similarities noticed by myself and others between Borametz and GHB, Mr. BMZ claimed that the effects of Borametz are clearly different from GHB, and stated that "Borametz is much easier to handle, to notice at low doses, and harder to pass-out or vomit on than GHB. Borametz is also said to feel more 'gentle, soft, organic, friendly, caring and feminine' than GHB."

friendly, caring, and feminine?

Borametz is more "friendly, caring and feminine" than GHB? What the hell does this mean? The more I read about Borametz, the more I became convinced that it wasn't a plant-based product at all. Its proponents were clearly organophiles, praising Borametz' "natural plant goodness" while eschewing any overt connection to the chemical GHB. There had to be a reason why. Reading a back-issue of HerbalGram (No. 39), I realized that I might have found the reason.

An article titled "'fX': Chemically Adulterated Product Does Not Contain Kava" described an "herbal high" product called "fX" that made numerous people ill at a 1997 New Years rave in Los Angeles. The fX was supposed to contain kava kava as its active ingredient. The American Botanical Council (ABC) had fX chemically tested, and it turned out that there was no kava in it at all. What they did find was 1,4 butanediol (aka butylene glycol), a chemical that the human body converts into GHB! My mind clicked. Since Borametz was clearly not GHB, it struck me as likely that it was actually 1,4 butanediol.

I posted an e-mail to Mr. BMZ, mentioning that I thought that Borametz was actually 1,4 butanediol. I stated my intention to contact the ABC and have Borametz tested. A post quickly hit the underground e-mail list stating that:

"It appears that an effort has been made to suppress knowledge of the biodynamics of Borametz oil (which is probably 1,4 butanediol / fX) an isolated 'chemical' oil fraction found in Dicksonia barometz leaves and purified by vacuum distillation rather than solvents. I personally wouldn't send it in to the FDA or ABC with a letter of complaint (as some people have perhaps already done) because I'm a fan of the stuff and I know they're not. Several names for it are used on the market. Usually the name 'borametz herb(acea) oil' and info on the Borametz page (both given by the Russian source) are used, or some part thereof. Other times (like with fX in L.A.) for financial or legal reasons individuals have entirely mislabled and misused it, not to make a synthetic product look natural or keep it low-key and legal, but to keep the Borametz market to themselves and make money by deceiving people."

After reading the above response to my post, I was convinced more than ever that Borametz was a scam -- a chemical wolf in mythical sheep's clothing. Lancaster Chemical Supply company sells 1,4 butanediol to laboratories for $15.50 per kg. At this cost, if those who sell Borametz were using a chemical source, they would be making a 6400% profit! With this outrageous profit margin, it was even more difficult to believe that Borametz' 1,4 butanediol was extracted from plants, especially if it takes one kilo of plant material to make one gram of oil -- over eight pounds of plant tissue per dose! While it is true that numerous plants contain 1,4 butanediol in small amounts, I have seen no evidence yet that this is a component of Dicksonia barometz.

the "test," the Russian mob, and A geography lesson

Mr. BMZ agreed to have his supplier chemically test Borametz to determine its exact makeup. He also mentioned that another potential importer had actually sent someone to Russia and found the manufacturer, who was visibly paranoid and would not say anything about the production process. Mr. BMZ attributed much of this paranoia to the control of Russian trade by Mafia and secret police. He did think however, that the manufacturer's fear, while understandable was still odd. Odd indeed! Now the Russian mob is somehow involved with Borametz?

My entheobotanist instructor from Mexico noted in a letter to me that the provinces where Dicksonia barometz grows are just west of Hong Kong and just north of Vietnam, nowhere near Russia which has no similar tropical or even subtropical zone. Even geography is at odds with Borametz being a plant extract produced in Russia.

On June 10th, 1997, a post appeared on the entheogen-related e-mail list stating that, "[Mr. BMZ] and several distributors have stopped selling Borametz until this debate clears." Following this, I received a post directly from Mr. BMZ wherein he stated that because he was unsure of the composition of Borametz he had stopped selling it "except to those trusted individuals who want it as a nonconsumable potential petroleum distillate for experimental purposes only." He still asserted that Borametz was probably safer than many actual legal herbal products.

From the sound of the above comments, it appeared as though Mr. BMZ was now convinced that Borametz was not a natural plant extract, even prior to having his testing done. When the "test results" came back, the following was e-mailed to me from Mr. BMZ:

It has been determined that Borametz oil is a chemical cocktail [including 1,4 butanediol and 1,2 propanediol]. The only 'plant extracts' in it are DMSO (from wood pulp), stevia sweetener, and cherry flavor. Most, if not all, sales have long since stopped, the large wholesalers and retailers have been notified, returns have been (and are) refunded, and human consumption is not encouraged.... Borametz should also have been labeled like cigarettes with an additional 'Not to be used during pregnancy or nursing; keep out of reach of children; potentially carcinogenic and mutagenic in humans' on the side.

The statement about 1,4 butanediol being "potentially carcinogenic and mutagenic" gave me pause, so I did some research. A May 1996 statement made by the National Toxicology Program reads, "Éit is the opinion of the NTP that 1,4 butanediol should be considered not carcinogenic in animals and no further evaluation of 1,4 butanediol is needed at this time." [Emphasis added.]

Indeed, more research turned up the fact that 1,4 butanediol has been used as part of a synergistic food preservative for small-particle foods such as grated cheese! A quick call to the FDA turned up the fact that 1,4 butanediol has been approved for use in sausage casings and as a solvent in natural and synthetic flavoring substances. Additionally, it has been used as a preservative in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. A keyword search on the Internet turned up "T'rific! Clarifying Clay Masque," "Skintelligence pH Skin Normalizer," and "Beardsley Conditioner/Beard Shampoo," among others. For more information on the numerous uses of 1,4 butanediol, I encourage folks to check out Vol. 125, 1996 of the Chemical Substance Index, starting on page 3411.

A final report from Mr. BMZ stated their chemical screening of Borametz by an MIT chemist showed that it contained mostly 1,3 butanediol, with only 5% 1,4 butanediol. As 1,3 butanediol is not psychoactive, this statement simply isn't consistent with the amount of 1,4 butanediol needed to produce a "high." With pure 1,4 butanediol, one needs 3-4 ml for an effect -- virtually the same amount as is needed with Borametz. Things just weren't adding up.

I passed a sample of Borametz to a chemist, who tested it via a process called gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GCMS) which was suggest by Dr. Alexander Shulgin. He found the sample to contain 93.67% 1,4 butanediol and 6.33% 1,2,3,4 butanetetrol. He added "The claim that the product contained natural extracts is almost certainly false.... This is tech-grade chemical, in my opinion."

the final chapter?

Were my Borametz suppliers in on this scam from the start? I don't think so. If this had been the case, it is doubtful that Mr. BMZ would have come forth with the test results/ingredients list. And, as Mr. BMZ stopped selling Borametz, the fact that his reported test results were inaccurate suggests that he was being lied to by his supplier. However, when I asked Mr. BMZ for the name of his supplier, he wouldn't give it to me, citing "business ethics" as his reason. While it is hard to argue with this reasoning, it certainly makes it difficult to point a finger at those people who are responsible for this scam, and I can't imagine why Mr. BMZ would want to protect the guilty.

While I have nothing against 1,4 butanediol (indeed, I find it be quite pleasant on occasion), I am opposed to the deliberate mislabelling of products. Borametz is currently still sold on the Internet by a company called Advanced Sports Nutrition. They call it "Promusol" and state that it is "100% pure Borametz extract, a phytosterol oil imported from Russia." Their on-line information is exactly the same as the documentation that I received from my original supplier. This suggests that they are purchasing it from the same source as my supplier and Mr. BMZ did. Another company, Biocopia, is also selling Borametz under the name "Bio Metabolic P.M."

Just as Borametz popped up when those selling fX were shut down, I suspect that 1,4 butanediol may find its way into another mislabled "natural herbal high," when Borametz is no longer available. The game goes on. There will always be some huckster selling ineffective herbal highs, or mislabelling effective synthetics as natural plant-based products.

1,4 butanediol appears to be fairly safe for occasional internal use, however certain precautions should be taken. The appropriate dosage is important. A single dose is generally considered to be 3-4 ml. As with GHB, overdoses may cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, passing out or deep sleep, and dizziness. 1,4 butanediol should not be consumed with alcohol. And of course, it is not wise to drive or operate heavy machinery under the influence of this or any other drug.

As notoriety and popularity of 1,4 butanediol grows, the FDA may attempt to place restrictions on its sale, as they have tried to do with GHB. However, I doubt that it will ever be scheduled or made illegal to possess due to its extensive commercial applications.

Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2001-04-30 00:00:00