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Jenkem is an alleged hallucinogenic recreational drug composed of noxious gas formed from fermented human feces.[1] In the early and mid-1990s, several reports stated that Jenkem was being used by Zambian street children. In November 2007, anecdotal American media reports gave the impression that Jenkem was a popular drug taking hold with American teenagers. Media reports were characterized by disbelief and distaste for the "grossness" of the phenomenon.[2] Since November 2007, no new reports have appeared to corroborate the early speculations.

Several sources allege that these initial reports were based on a hoax (see section below). David Emery of, popularly noted as an "urban legend guru"[2], concluded that the recent news media reports that Jenkem is gaining a foothold as a substance of abuse among American youth is doubtful and "based on faulty Internet research."[3]


[edit] Description

In the book Children of AIDS: Africa's Orphan Crisis by Emma Guest, the making of Jenkem is described: "[...]fermented human sewage, scraped from pipes and stored in plastic bags for a week or so, until it gives off numbing, intoxicating fumes."[4] The process is similarly described in the 1995 IPS report, "Human excreta is scooped up from the edges of the sewer ponds in old cans and containers which are covered with a polyethylene bag and left to stew or ferment for a week."[5]. In the BBC 1999 article the process is described as, "...the dark brown sludge, gathering up fistfuls and stuffing it into small plastic bottles. They tap the bottles on the ground, taking care to leave enough room for methane to form at the top."[1]

The general concerns related to "huffing" and hallucinogenic drugs apply to Jenkem usage. The possibility of fecal-oral contamination due to lacking hygienic conditions during Jenkem manufacturing, which could lead to diarrhea and other gastrointestinal infections, must also be considered. Dr. Fumito Ichinose, an anesthesia specialist in Boston who conducted a study on the effects of hydrogen sulfide gas, or "sewer gas," on mice, informs that "the inhalation of gases like those produced from Jenkem could result in hypoxia, a lack of oxygen flow to the body that could be alternately euphoric and physically dangerous."[2] It has been noted that Jenkem usage will leave a taste of sewage in the mouth lasting for several days.[6]

The effects of Jenkem inhalation last for around an hour and consist of auditory and visual hallucinations.[1] In 1995, a fifth-grader in Lusaka said of Jenkem to a reporter from IPS, an independent wire service, "Old man, this is more potent than cannabis."[5] In a BBC report four years later, 16-year-old Luke Mpande stated his preference for jenkem over other inhalants, "With glue, I just hear voices in my head. But with Jenkem, I see visions. I see my mother who is dead and I forget about the problems in my life. I also become extremely aroused when near large African Men."[1]

Neither the pharmacology (the composition and active components of the jenkem gas) nor its pharmacodynamics (how the chemical acts on the body) has been described in a scientific journal. None of the usual authorities on psychoactive drugs have involved themselves in the investigation of this drug. This includes MAPS and Lycaeum Synaesthesia. Erowid, an organization providing access to information about psychoactive plants and chemicals, has covered the subject briefly in their questions section and concluded that it is a hoax.[7] Erowid's website states that the "jenkem stories that have been circulating in the U.S. media are almost certainly the strange result of a hoax." The organization states that "We have seen no credible evidence that anyone in the United States, Canada, or Europe inhales sewage gas from bottled human or animal waste (which would primarily be methane) in order to get psychoactive effects."[8]

[edit] Media reports

[edit] First media reports 1995–2004

The first media description of Jenkem came from an Inter Press Service wire report in 1995.[5] In 1999 BBC News then ran a story devoted to this new drug.[1] Then in 2004 the South African weekly investigative newspaper Mail & Guardian included the mention of Jenkem abuse in a report on the predicament of Zambia's street children.[9] All three news reports are based on correspondent investigations in Lusaka, Zambia.

[edit] Zambian street children

According to a 1998 report in The New York Times, Fountain of Hope, a non-profit organization, informs that Jenkem is used by street children in Lusaka, Zambia to obtain a "powerful high".[10] In 2002, Project Concern International Zambia and Fountain of Hope released a report entitled "Rapid Assessment of Street Children In Lusaka," where Jenkem is listed as the third most popular drug among Lusaka's street children, following Dagga (cannabis) and "glue and Dagga" but ahead of "Ballan" (uncured tobacco) and petrol.[11] The raw materials are plentiful and freely available in the form of fecal matter from the open sewers of Lusaka. This is then fermented in plastic bottles and the fumes are inhaled. John C. Zulu, director of the Ministry of Sport, Youth and Child Development in Zambia informs in November 2007 that Jenkem usage is less common than glue-sniffing and, "Initially, they used to get it from the sewer, but they make it anywhere [...] They say it keeps them warm and makes them fearless."[2]

[edit] Mainstream media and Western use

The Collier County Sheriff Office intelligence bulletin from September 26, 2007 which was later leaked to the media.

Until the summer of 2007 the awareness of Jenkem was limited mainly to sporadic posts in online forums and blogs citing the Wikipedia article[citation needed] and the news reports mentioned therein. What set off a flood of media attention began in early September when a concerned parent reported to the principal of Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples, Florida that she had heard about Jenkem from her child who was a student there.

No usage was claimed, however the principal passed the information on to the Collier County Sheriff's Office in Naples, and the sheriff office's intelligence bureau issued an internal intelligence bulletin on September 26 which contained the unresearched alarmist phrase "Jenkem is now a popular drug in American Schools." It appears that this assertion was mere conjecture, as later news reports so far have not been able to confirm such widespread usage. The intelligence bulletin based itself, at least in part, on the writings of a 14-year old boy, known online as "Pickwick", who posted in the TOTSE Better Living Through Chemistry discussion forums that he was going to try out Jenkem based on the recipe provided in the sources mentioned above.

On September 25, "Pickwick" posted to the TOTSE community "The jenkem thing was a hoax" where he retracted his previous trip report asserting it "was faked using flour, water, beer and Nutella." A nationwide DEA bulletin was also issued[citation needed], however the time of this DEA release and its relation to the Collier County Sheriff's Office's bulletin remains unclear. The timeline subsequent to these events is described below.

[edit] Late October to early November 2007

Snopes (Urban Legends Reference Pages) published a report on October 30, 2007 focusing on the veracity of Jenkem. Its conclusion was to initially list the phenomenon as undetermined, however, by November 9 this had been updated to false. Snopes in its first version cited both a widely circulated trip report from an American teenager posted to the online forum TOTSE (this thread was deleted without explanation on October 7, 2007),[12] and a leaked alert bulletin from the Collier County Sheriff's Office in Naples, Florida which asserted that "Jenkem is now a popular drug in American Schools."[13]

A few days after the Snopes report had been published, on another website investigating urban legends,, David Emery, described by as an "urban legend guru,"[2] also issued a report, more analytic than the Snopes report, concluding that the recent news media reports that Jenkem is gaining a foothold as a substance of abuse among American youth is doubtful and "based on faulty Internet research."[3]

On November 3, two mainstream media outlets, television station KIMT of Mason City, Iowa[14] and WINK NEWS,[15] a Fort Myers, Florida broadcaster, reported on the rumours of Jenkem being a new hallucinogenic drug among American high school students. According to WINK News, Collier County Sheriff's Office confirms having issued the drug alert.

Drudge Report features Jenkem linking to the Smoking Gun.[16] On November 6, Washington Post columnist Emil Steiner in his OFF/beat blog commented on the Collier Sheriff's Office memo, the Snopes report and the WINK-TV news story apparently introducing his own contamination of the story by reporting the origin of Jenkem to be "Africa and other third world countries." Steiner goes on to report that "a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency insists that 'there are people in America trying [Jenkem].'" The unnamed DEA spokesman stated that the agency had yet to test Jenkem, however volunteering a theory that "hallucinations from methane fumes" are involved. He also labeled any use of Jenkem "dangerous, bad and stupid."[17]

Fox News ran the story eight hours after the Steiner Washington Post column entry.[18] Fox also published the Internet alias of the boy who had published a "trip report" in the TOTSE online forum in July, as well as his later retraction. The boy, "Pickwick," in September claimed that the "Jenkem" displayed in the photos accompanying his trip report "was faked using flour, water, beer and Nutella." He also stated "I never inhaled any poop gas and got high off it [...] I have deleted the pictures, hopefully no weirdo saved them to his computer. I just don't want people to ever recognize me as the kid who huffed poop gas."[18][19] In the same article, a Washington D.C. DEA spokesman, Garrison Courtney, informed that "We wouldn't classify it as a drug so much because it's feces and urine."

UK technology tabloid website The Register also ran an article on the US Jenkem phenomenon on this date citing the leaked memo, Smoking Gun, Snopes and televised news reports, concluding that ""the jury's out."[20]

On November 7, ABC News reported on Jenkem on their website. They also interviewed DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney who stated that, "It is in Africa, we know that… We've heard rumors and speculation about it here, but part of looking for trends is listening first for speculation. It is something we want to keep on top of. The same sort of thing happened when we first heard of kids huffing freon or whippets [nitrous oxide, often found in whipped cream canisters]." The ABC report also focused on the need for law enforcement agencies to go with rumours and unconfirmed reports because so much of police work depends on early intervention which would be impossible if officers had to wait before something was a confirmed reality before acting on it.[21]

WSBT-TV in South Bend, Indiana ran the story on its local newscasts and posted it to their web site, including advice that parents "wait up for them (their children) at night and not let their kids go to bed until they have seen them and smelled their breath." [22] The same day, Austin, Texas NBC affiliate KXAN-TV ran a story on Jenkem interviewing a local teenager and a parent. Michael Ginsberg of Clean Investment Counseling stated to KXAN that he was "Not surprised, a little bit nervous and scared for adolescents." Ginsberg did not find it unrealistic that Jenkem would become popular locally stating, "Once it becomes OK with a certain group of adolescents, it becomes OK with a lot more."[23]

An Australian broadcaster, ninemsn, carried the Jenkem story on its website on November 8 based on American news reports.[24] A syndicated report published on CBS affiliate CBS-47 and Fox affiliated Fox 30, both of in Jacksonville, Florida, reported on Jenkem on their web pages, also referring to it by the slang term "butt hash," and also citing media reports from Washington Post, the Drudge Report and Inside Edition. This was also followed up by a Fox 30 televised news segment. In it captain Tim Guerrette of the Collier County Sheriff's department was also interviewed.

Talking to young people in their district did not reveal any awareness of Jenkem's existence and when hearing what it was people expressed revulsion.[25] A Florida syndicated newspaper article also appeared on November 8[26] focusing on the leaked police memo. In the article another DEA spokesman Rusty Payne was also interviewed as well as the Palmetto Ridge High School principal and a spokeswoman for the Collier County Health Department, all of whom had very little to add to the existing vague reports that are circulating in the media.

[edit] November 2007 featured an in-depth exposition of the Jenkem story by freelance news and culture writer Jamie Pietras.[2] Pietras elicits statements about the evolution of Jenkem usage among Lusaka's street children from a Zambian government official who asserts that the key to curtailing jenkem usage in Zambia is to classify it as a narcotic, so that youth suspected of using the substance could be diverted into juvenile correction centers. Salon also focuses on the media scare that has developed over the Jenkem phenomenon.

And it's a mystery whether "Pickwick," the self-proclaimed hoaxer behind the great jenkem scare of 2007, could have ever anticipated that his unique brand of Internet theater would inadvertently masquerade as fact. His Totse posts in the months leading up to the controversy reveal anxiety over the attention his prank continued to receive., November 9, 2007

Salon also obtained comments from Earth Erowid, the pseudonym of the co-creator of Erowid, a renowned online repository of information about psychoactive plants and chemicals, as well as the communications director for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Jag Davies, none of whom could elucidate on the drug from sources within their own ranks. Partnership for a Drug-Free America public affairs representative Candice Besson also informed that PDFA had not heard about the drug before either.

The Enterprise Ledger of Enterprise, Alabama interviewed a local narcotics investigator, Neal Bradley, who stated that jenkem is already in use on the west coast, “Whatever they’re using on the west coast is also used in Coffee County,” he said. “We’ve heard that this was something students were doing and it sounds crazy, but don’t think they’re not doing it here.” [27]

On November 11, The Times-Reporter of Dover-New Philadelphia included the Jenkem phenomenon in a Sunday commentary piece titled "Federal government attempts to wipe clean smelly drug world" asserting that while it was "largely debunked," with all the media coverage "someone will be stupid enough to try it, and we’ll probably hear reports of it turning up in frat house initiation rituals any day now."[28]

On November 13 The Orange County Register of Santa Ana, California mentions Jenkem in a notice citing the Salon article and the Snopes report.[29] Also, a televised news item was shown by Evansville, Indiana Fox affiliate WTVW lingering on a closeup photo of the 14-year old boy who in June announced to the TOTSE forums that he was trying out Jenkem only to retract his story later in September. The segment also interviewed a local teenage boy who had heard about the drug but was disgusted at the thought of someone using Jenkem.[30] CBS affiliated television station KWCH of Wichita, Kansas also had Jenkem in its news lineup on this date, interviewing local teenagers and local law enforcement officials, none of whom could shed any more light on the phenomenon. The article accompanying the news segment states that, "there is reason to believe it's all a hoax."[31]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d e Matheson, Ishbel (July 30, 1999). "Children high on sewage". BBC News. Retrieved on 2007-07-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Pietras, Jamie (November 9, 2007). "Smoke this shit". Retrieved on 2007-11-09. 
  3. ^ a b Emery, David (November 6, 2007). "Jenkem - Drug Warning". Retrieved on 2007-11-07. 
  4. ^ Guest, Emma (2003). "Falling through the net. A street child's story, Lusaka, Zambia". Children of AIDS: Africa's Orphan Crisis (2nd ed.). Pluto Press. pp. 149. ISBN 978-0745320755. 
  5. ^ a b c "Zambia-Narcotics: 'Huffing and Puffing' to a new High". Inter Press Service. August 26, 1995.  (reprinted in a article on jenkem, retrieved December 30, 2007.)
  6. ^
  7. ^ Vaults of Erowid (July 2005). Ask Erowid: ID 3113. Retrieved December 30, 2007.
  8. ^ Ask Erowid : ID 3113 : Is "Jenkem" for real?
  9. ^ Geloo, Zarina (December 24, 2004). "Bleak outlook for Zambia's street kids". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved on 2007-11-06. "Marijuana was used most commonly, along with glue for sniffing, jenkem (fermented sewage), petrol and cocaine. Street children also smoke, and drink alcohol." 
  10. ^ Daley, Suzanne (September 18, 1998). "In Zambia, the Abandoned Generation". New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-07-06.  (Spelt Jekem)
  11. ^ Zambia, Project Concern International; Lemba, Dr. Musonda (March 8, 2002), Rapid Assessment of Street Children In Lusaka, Lusaka, Zambia: UNICEF,, retrieved on 2007-11-12 
  12. ^ "I Am Trying Jenkem Tomorrow" The original June 2007 discussion thread at the TOTSE Better Living Through Chemistry forum where 'Pickwick' reports on his Jenkem experiment. Although TOTSE administrators deleted the entire thread on October 7, parts of Pickwick's posting is quoted in the urban legends report, and further excerpts of interest from this thread have been archived by the website flux 64.)
  13. ^ "Home --> Crime --> Warnings --> Jenkem". Snopes. October 30, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-10-31. 
  14. ^ Therese, Erin (November 3, 2007). "Dirty New Drug Threatens Youth". (KIMT-TV). 
  15. ^ "ONLY ON WINK: Are local kids using human waste to get high?". WINK (WINK NEWS). November 3, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-11-04. 
  16. ^ "That's some good sh*t". Drudge Report. November 5, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-11-13. 
  17. ^ Steiner, Emil (November 6, 2007). "Jenkem Madness? – Reports of a Nasty Drug in Florida". OFF/beat blog (The Washington Post). 
  18. ^ a b "'Drug' Made From Human Waste Causing Stink on Web, in Law Enforcement". Fox News Channel. November 6, 2007.,2933,308841,00.html. Retrieved on 2007-11-07. 
  19. ^ "The jenkem thing was a hoax" The September 2007 follow-up thread where 'Pickwick' retracts (from TOTSE)
  20. ^ Haines, Lester (November 6, 2007). "Florida cops issue shock 'Butthash' warning". The Register. Retrieved on 2007-11-13. 
  21. ^ Goldman, Russell (November 7, 2007). "'Jenkem': Stay Alert or Call It a Hoax?". ABC News. Retrieved on 2007-11-08. 
  22. ^ Cheatham, Kelli (November 7, 2007). "Police Warn About New Drug Made from Raw Sewage". (WSBT-NEWS). Retrieved on 2007-11-07. 
  23. ^ "Police Training On How To Spot Nasty Drug". (KXAN-TV). November 7, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-11-08. 
  24. ^ "'Poop gas drug' prompts official warning". ninemsn. November 8, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-11-08. 
  25. ^ Westerman, Brandon (November 8, 2007). "Police warn teens using new human waste drug "Jenkem"". CBS-47. Retrieved on 2007-11-09. 
    Westerman, Brandon (November 8, 2007). "Police warn teens using new human waste drug "Jenkem"". Fox 30. Retrieved on 2007-11-09. 
  26. ^ Mills, Ryan (November 8, 2007). "Sheriff’s Office warns of new human waste drug, others pooh-pooh its existence". (Bonita Daily News). Retrieved on 2007-11-08. 
    Mills, Ryan (November 8, 2007). "Sheriff’s Office warns of new human waste drug, others pooh-pooh its existence". (Naples Daily News). Retrieved on 2007-11-08. 
  27. ^ Brand, Carole (November 9, 2007). "New drug in use by high school students". The Enterprise Ledger.!news. Retrieved on 2007-11-09. 
  28. ^ Blundo, Noah (November 11, 2007). "Federal government attempts to wipe clean smelly drug world". The Times-Reporter. Retrieved on 2007-11-13. 
  29. ^ "They’re getting high HOW?". The Orange County Register. November 13, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-11-13. 
  30. ^ "Human Waste High?". WTVW. November 13, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-11-13. 
  31. ^ Wilhelm, Kim (November 13, 2007). "No Actual Cases of Kids Sniffing Raw Sewage". KWCH. Retrieved on 2007-11-13. 

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