He planted a translucent orange bottle on the coffee table before us and said, “The only drug worth doing my friends, is prickles.”

Prickles is the street name of beta-alanine, an amino acid supplement. I hate drugs and drug culture, but as a journalist I knew it was my duty to stuff my bloodstream with as many free substances as I could.

We stirred the coarse powder into glasses of water and toasted to our debauchery.

Minutes later he was mumbling coherently about his scalp being prickly. My lips were burning like they had very mild salsa on them.

“My hands are tingling,” he announced. “How are you doing?” I still felt normal.

Why is beta-alanine available in the first place? It all comes down to carnosine, a dipeptide made of the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine. There’s a lot of carnosine in brain and muscle tissues, but vegetarians have relatively low levels of carnosine, as little as half the levels of omnivores. Since taking beta-alanine increases levels of carnosine in muscle tissue, beta-alanine is popular with some veg athletes. The paræsthesia or “prickles” associated with beta-alanine are caused by the spike in beta-alanine levels in the blood after taking it, which somehow triggers mild nerve sensations.

Five minutes later my extremities began to tingle and itch. “Oh, I think I feel something! Is it supposed to feel like I have eczema all over my body?”

“Yes. Hell yes.”

As the trip went on my symptoms went from slightly interesting to slightly irritating. Eventually the drug-induced pins and needles subsided, and I lay back in the usual tepid euphoria that is sobriety.

For those still wondering why this seemingly pointless drug is sweeping the streets of Worcester, the answer is in its subtlety. Usually one’s experience of itchiness is bound up in the cause of the itchiness, whether lingering too long in a hot shower or your foot being asleep. Beta-alanine, however, creates an itchiness without apparent cause, forcing us to contemplate that sensation in and of itself, providing, at least for a moment, a window into the very nature of human experience. (Shane Capra)

From the January 2013 issue of Happiness Pony. [PDF]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *