Unless you're getting a blood transfusion in a hospital, injecting yourself with someone else's blood is a terrible idea.
Last summer, police in Bucks County, Pennsylvania picked up a man carrying an unmarked vial of red liquid. During questioning, the 33-year-old explained that the vial contained human blood and fentanyl, a painkiller 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The liquid's street name: "BLOOD." (All-caps is apparently the going style for the substance's street name, but we'll stick to "Blood" from this point forward because frankly, using BLOOD over and over again makes this article look like it was written by the Count from "Sesame Street".)
Officers sent the vial, which contained about a half a teaspoon of red fluid, to forensic toxicologist Laura Labay.
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Antique drug ads recommended some questionable things
Antique drug ads recommended some questionable things
UNSPECIFIED - NOVEMBER 14: More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette, advertisement for cigarettes in 1946 (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
Advertisement for Cocaine Toothache Drops, showing two children playing outside, 1890. Courtesy National Library of Medicine. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
Mother with Two Children, Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, Trade Card, circa 1900. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Wilbur's Gall Cure or Cure-a-Cut Poster (Photo by ?? Swim Ink 2, LLC/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) This advertisement from a 1900 magazine juxtaposes two pharmaceuticals which have since achieved distinct images in the public mind: Heroin and aspirin. Bayer introduced heroin in 1898 as a cough suppressant that did not have the harmful effects of other opiates. Heroin is an acetylated product of morphine, just as aspirin is an acetylated product of salicyclic acid. Aspirin was produced in the same Bayer laboratories and released to the public a year later.
1880: An advertisement for Grove's Tasteless Chill Tonic which promises to make 'children and adults as fat as pigs'. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Advertisement: Vin Mariani - The original French coca wine. 1893 Harper's Weekly.
Advertisement for Gilbert & Parsons Hygienic Whiskey, for medical use, 1860. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1900: Maxfield Parrish (1870 ï¿½ 1966) was an American painter and illustrator. He worked on comission on books, advertising campaigns, magazines, and even sculpture. He was famous for his 'girls on rocks' but his work went well beyond that series. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
Advertisement for Allen's Cocaine Tablets, 1890. Priced at 50 cents a box, they are prescribed for hay fever, catarrh, and throat troubles, and promised as a cure for nervousness, headache, and sleeplessness. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)
An advertisement for Ayer's Ague Cure, which is intended to cure fever, ague, and all malarial disorders, shows a woman administering the medication to a a fallen man in a tropical location, 1986. Courtesy National Library of Medicine. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
Advertisement for 'Otto de Rose' cigarettes by Ogdensfrom ''The Illustrated London News'', London, 1892. Photo by: (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)
Advertisement for Altenheim Hair Growth Remedy by the Altenheim Medical Dispensary in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1899. (Photo by Jay Paull/Getty Images)
Poster advertising Parr's Life Pills, 19th century. The 19th century saw a profusion of quack medicines which were claimed to cure all sorts of diseases and ailments. One example was Parr's Pills, which were supposedly made to a recipe invented by Thomas Parr, who allegedly lived to 152 years of age. The pills were claimed to cure both constipation and diarrhoea, and as the poster describes, would 'conquer disease and prolong life'. Friederich Engels reported in 1845 that the British working classes consumed up to 25,000 boxes of Parr's Pills every week, taking them for a whole range of diverse complaints. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
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"It was the strangest thing," she told PopSci. "If you look at whole blood in a test tube, it's thick. This looked like blood but it was more watery." Some sort of fine powder swirled around inside it, and it smelled like cough syrup.
In her laboratory at NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, Labay confirmed that the specimen did indeed contain human blood. But it also carried a lot more than fentanyl.
When drug users shoot up, a bit of blood sometimes backtracks into the syringe. Labay and her colleagues have noticed that sometimes users will let their blood spill into the barrel, then give the needle to another user to sample (or "taste") the drug. But this is the first time they've heard of anything quite like this, where it appears the drug-impregnated blood was distributed for later injection.
Because most of the drugs were present at levels lower than a typical dose, and because the blood contained metabolites that are left over after a body starts to break down these drugs, Labay thinks the "Blood" came from someone who had previously used pseudoephedrine and heroin.
"Somebody must have taken blood out of somebody and purposely added methamphetamine in it," she says. "You can't just be walking around with that much methamphetamine in your blood and be ok."
Labay and her co-author can't say for sure why someone would want to take drugs this way. It's possible that the cocktail of other drugs was meant to heighten the effects of the methamphetamine. Or maybe some people just like the exoticness of consuming human blood. The dangers of doing so should be relatively obvious.
For one, unless the man carrying the "Blood" was lying about its contents, he was unaware of most of the drugs it was laced with, or even the primary ingredient. "People don't know what they're putting into their system," says Labay.
Making matters worse, if the man who bought this vial already has a high tolerance for fentanyl, he might decide to inject a larger dose of Blood to ensure he feels its effects. That could potentially make him overdose on methamphetamine if he has no tolerance built up to the stimulant.
Obviously, infections are another big risk here. Because of backtracking, sharing needles spreads HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne infections. And that's with just a little blood residue. Injecting mysterious vials of blood is an even worse idea.
RELATED: See some of the most bizarre drug smuggling methods
Bizarre drug smuggling methods
Bizarre drug smuggling methods
Stuffed chili peppers and fake carrots
Drug traffickers have mixed legitimate business with their illicit activities, in part so that the former can conceal the latter. Vaunted drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, now awaiting trial in the US, was no exception.
“He opened a cannery in Guadalajara and began producing thousands of cans stamped 'Comadre Jalapeños,' stuffing them with cocaine,” Patrick Radden Keefe wrote in a 2012 New York Times Magazine profile of Guzman, before "vacuum-sealing them and shipping them to Mexican-owned grocery stores in California."
In one instance, according to a court in San Diego, 1,400 boxes of canned peppers, filled with "hundreds of kilos of cocaine," were intercepted at the border.
In January 2016, agents in Texas discovered a shipment of marijuana wrapped in orange tape and a concealed within a cargo of carrots. The bust uncovered more than a ton of weed worth a half-million dollars.
In October 2016, Customs and Border Protection agents stopped a tractor trailer loaded with a commercial shipment of carrots. Among the carrots, agents found 159 packages of 88 pounds worth of what was thought to be meth.
Watermelons, pineapples, and other produce
In February 2014, just a few days before Guzman was captured for the second time, it was reported that authorities in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, seized more than 4,000 cucumbers and plantains stuffed with cocaine.
In another case, a checkpoint in Arizona came across a shipment of marijuana that had been packaged in green plastic with yellow streaks — giving the bundles the appearance of watermelons.
Drugs hidden within food shipments can make it deep into the US. In December 2016, police in Chicago were tipped off to the arrival of a tomato shipment with 54 kilos of cocaine in it — drugs with a street value of almost $7 million.
Bananas are especially popular
Colombia is a major producer of bananas. Colombia is also a major producer of cocaine.
Traffickers have seized on that overlap.
In September, Spanish police busted a 2,000-pound cocaine haul hidden in a commercial shipment of bananas in the southern city of Sevilla.
The bananas don't have to be real, however.
In November, Spanish police in the southern coastal city of Malaga and the Mediterranean coast city of Valencia uncovered 37.5 pounds of cocaine — just over 15 pounds of it concealed in fake bananas made of resin, with the rest hidden in the flaps of the cardboard boxes the bananas were shipped in.
In August 2014, CBP officers at George Bush airport in Houston intercepted nine bags holding 7 ounces of cocaine hidden inside tamales, which were contained in a box of 200 tamales the traveler — a man from El Salvador — didn't disclose to authorities.
In late October, Customs and Border Protection officers at the Morley pedestrian border crossing at Nogales, Arizona, stopped a 62-year-old man from Arizona.
A narcotics-detecting canine found nearly 3 pounds of meth hidden in hollowed-out tortillas the man was carrying.
US authorities aren't the only ones encountering foodstuffs laden with narcotics
In July 2016, Mexican marines in the cartel-war-torn state of Colima intercepted a multiton shipment of cocaine hidden in containers of salsa and bound for Sinaloa state, the home turf of the Sinaloa cartel, from where it would almost certainly be smuggled to the US.
Donuts and cakes
Some time in late 2014 or early 2015, Mexico soldiers confiscated packages of donuts covered not in powdered sugar — but instead "were sprinkled with cocaine," according to BBC Mundo.
In 2009, Mexican marines searching a shipment of frozen sharks in Progreso, Yucatan, found packets of cocaine hidden inside the dead fish — "one of the strangest discoveries" yet made, BBC Mundo noted.
The shipment of doped-up sharks was not the only attempt to conceal narcotics in seafood.
According to Radden Keefe, Guzman also made use of fish shipments, hoping the nature of the cargo would turn away prying eyes and noses. Guzman, the Sinaloa cartel boss, packaged drugs"in truckloads of fish (which inspectors at a sweltering checkpoint might not want to detain for long)."
"The Mexico-US border is like a block of cheese with holes in it, with tunnels across it," author and journalist Ioan Grillo told Business Insider. It's likely that Guzmán is responsible many of those tunnels.
In the late '80s, according to Radden Keefe’s profile of Guzman, the Sinaloa boss hired an architect to construct a short passage running roughly 200 feet from an attorney's house in Agua Prieta in the northwestern state of Sonora to a cartel-owned warehouse in Douglas, Arizona.
Once that first tunnel was finished, Guzman instructed an associate to call their Colombian suppliers. "Tell them to send all the drugs they can," Guzman ordered.
The Sinaloa cartel invested heavily in tunnels from then on, constructing "super-tunnels" furnished with electric lights, motorized carts, and ventilation systems that criss-crossed the US border like veins. Guzman even incorporated tunnels into his various escape routes.
“They've got skilled engineers making these" tunnels, Grillo said, "people who are qualified engineers, who will reinforce that tunnel, make it big, and have it so you [have] rails on them, with trains, electric lights, air vents.”
"The border patrol are constantly filling these up with cement, constantly blocking these things," Grillo added.
The Sinaloa cartel under the leadership of Guzman emerged on the scene in the early 1990s, moving drugs over a single route into Arizona. It soon expanded into shipping by air, moving cocaine on small private airplanes as well as in luggage on larger flights.
“I went to the military base of the Mexican army in Sinaloa, in Culiacan, and they had more than 100 light aircraft they'd seized from drug traffickers … And these were only the ones they'd seized,” Grillo told Business Insider.
“They actually put them in a military base because at first they had them in the regular airport, and the drug traffickers used to go in and take them back,” he added.
According to Radden Keefe, “Cartel operatives … eventually [moved drugs] on their own 747s, which they could load with as much as 13 tons of cocaine.”
Narco subs — either full-fledged submarines or self-propelled semisubmersibles — are one of the most advanced and ambitious methods by which traffickers move narcotics.
Traffickers' first forays into undersea transport were humble.
They had "crude semi-submersibles at first, then fully submersible subs, conceived by engineers and constructed under the canopy of the Amazon, [which were] then floated downriver in pieces and assembled at the coastline," according to Radden Keefe.
"I cannot image what the guys in these submarines are going through, sitting there underneath the ocean in one of these homemade submarines," Grillo said.
Submarines of any complexity are a costly undertaking, but the investment was minimal compared to the profits traffickers like Guzman have reaped from just a handful of successfully delivered cargoes.
"They're investing tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in some of these submarines, which, again, is nothing when you see the profits of the cocaine trade," Grillo noted. "I mean, the cocaine trade makes billions and billions of dollars every year."
The US authorities have thrown up many barriers to the flow of drugs from Mexico. Guzman and other smugglers, in response, just throw their bundles higher.
"We've seen some incredible things, like cartels using big catapults to simply throw drugs over the border," Grillo told Business Insider. "They just put the drugs there and, whoom! — over the border fence, and then somebody picks it up on the other side."
Catapults have been discovered on multiple occasions, and some of them capable of flinging drug packets 100 meters. The use of a centuries-old piece of technology was especially galling for US officials.
"They erect this fence" on the US side, Michael Braun, a former DEA official, told Radden Keefe, "only to go out there a few days later and discover that these guys have a catapult, and they’re flinging hundred-pound bales of marijuana over to the other side."
In February, just a few weeks after President Donald Trump — he of the vaunted border wall — took office, US agents on the border came across another catapult strapped to an existing section of border fence. Two bundles of nearly 50 pounds of marijuana were found near by.
Drug traffickers have taken advantage of the millions of cars and trucks that cross between the US and Mexico every year, and inspectors at border checkpoints have found a variety of secret compartments and stashes in automobiles.
"Classic trap cars," as Grillo described them, "these cars they build up in these workshops with these great hiding places, hiding drugs inside the gas tanks so that the customs people have to cut it open with a blow torch [in order] to check this thing out."
According to BBC Mundo, drugs have been hidden in tires and gas tanks and disguised as parts of the engine. Cars aren't the only machinery used to ship drugs, though.
Mexican officials in Progreso, a port city in Yucatan state, found diluted cocaine in the insulating oil being shipped with electrical transformers. The cargo had arrived from Argentina.
In January, Customs and Border Protection officials in Cincinnati came across a package from Mexico, labeled "Mexican stone crafts." The package contained a concrete decorative snail statue that an X-ray inspection showed had "interior anomalies."
Inside, the agents found just over 53 pounds of methamphetamine. The statue had been sent from Mexico City and was destined for Lawrenceville, Georgia.
CBP agents stopped a 16-year-old attempting to cross into the US from Sonora, Mexico, in mid-September.
A narcotics-detecting canine directed their attention to an Xbox the traveler was carrying, and an inspection revealed 3 pounds of meth worth about $10,000 hidden inside.
An "unusually heavy" pair of sneakers alerted border agents in El Paso, Texas, that a smuggling attempt may have been afoot.
A woman from Ciudad Juarez was stopped on September 5 as she tried to pass through the Ysleta international pedestrian crossing. During an inspection, CBP agents noticed the shoes she was wearing were heavy and that the inner soles were "thick and bulky."
After an X-ray revealed an anomaly in the soles, agents probed them, uncovering a white powder that tested positive for cocaine — 1.32 pounds in total.
The human body
As long as people have been moving illicit cargo, they've been moving it on their bodies.
The best-known modern example is the drug mule. Most mules ingest drug packets — usually tightly wrapped balloons or condoms — by swallowing them and transporting them across borders in their stomachs.
This has huge risks. A 24-year-old Brazilian man on a flight to Dublin from Lisbon in October 2015 became agitated, collapsed, and later died after one of 80 cocaine pellets, holding nearly 2 pounds of cocaine, burst in his stomach.
In another recent case, a Colombian woman flying into Berlin was stopped and searched by airport officials. The woman, who had complained of severe pain, eventually admitted she was carrying 2.2 pounds of cocaine inside recently inserted breast implants.
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Plus, you've got to worry about blood types. If you inject blood that's incompatible with your blood type, your immune system might start to rip the foreign blood cells apart, triggering a cascade of reactions which potentially include blood clots clogging up your veins and killing you.
Popular Science tried reaching out to the Bucks County police department to find out how common cases like this are in the area, but we didn't hear back before this article was published. (If we get more info, we'll be sure to update this post!)
As for Labay, she says it's the first time she's seen something like this, and she couldn't find any other examples on the dark web, either. "I don't know if it's one case in this country, or if this is a common practice. It's just really odd."
Blood has its own street name, which implies this may not be a one-off case—even though it's a bad, bad idea and makes no sense. What will the kids think of next?