Selling 'Natural' Highs

Staying one step ahead of the law, a shop in this quiet eastern town is offering home delivery of herbal ecstasy, organic "designer drugs" and at least 600 other mind-expanding and mood-enhancing substances, including psychedelic mushrooms.

"You might not want to eat them on a pizza because that could weaken the effect, but you can fry them up with eggs or set a pot of tea," entrepreneur Alex Krassenberg said.

Law enforcement authorities in the Netherlands -- where marijuana and hashish, though technically illegal, are widely sold in small amounts without fear of prosecution -- are taking a decidedly mellow approach.

Dutch law doesn't prohibit the sale or use of the drugs sold by Krassenberg, but the government is reviewing its policy while researching the potential health risks.

Although it isn't targeting mushrooms, a government task force recently proposed a ban on four hallucinogenic plants that are fast-acting and potentially poisonous if used in large doses.

"We feel that a few of these substances should be banned, but there is no need for a witch hunt," said Benno Bruggink, a Health Ministry spokesman.

Although so-called "smart drugs" have already become a booming million-dollar business in the Netherlands, Krassenberg's store is the first to deliver to the customer's door.

Most drop-offs are free within 12 miles of Zutphen, but for a small fee Krassenberg closes up shop, hops into his "mushroom taxi" and takes the goods to wherever they're desired.

His establishment, Dr. Paddo, The Natural Drug Store, is frowned on by fellow shopkeepers. Although his wares appeal mainly to the youth of the town's 30,000 inhabitants, he tells of making secret deliveries to middle-aged farmers too shy to visit the small-town shop.

Krassenberg makes up to 10 free mushroom deliveries in Zutphen and surrounding villages a day. Each order costs 30 guilders ($15), and out-of-town orders cost an extra dollar per mile.

Krassenberg, who also sells natural alternatives to popular drugs such as speed, ecstasy and cocaine, encloses instructions and recommended dosages with the products he peddles.

The United States and Britain have taken a much tougher stance against such chemicals by widely criminalizing their use.

Last year, the U.S. government prohibited the sale of ephedrine, one of the most popular extracts used in "smart drugs." The Food and Drug Administration cited "adverse events ranging from episodes of high blood pressure, irregularities in heart rate, insomnia, nervousness, tremors and headaches, to seizures, heart attacks, strokes and death."

Dutch authorities, however, say they haven't encountered any adverse social or health problems linked to the drugs.

Even if authorities wanted to take action against Krassenberg's store, they couldn't because the substances he delivers aren't yet legally classified, said Rijn Brummel, spokesman for the Zutphen police. And whe a product is prohibited, manufacturers often simply alter its chemical structure and reintroduce it under a new name.

"We don't do anything about it because it's uncharted territory...," Brummel said. "But we haven't had any problems and don't see any reason for a crackdown."

Krassenberg insists he's doing the partying public a favor.

"Perfect alternatives like these should have been introduced a long time ago," he said. "They are reliable, non-addictive, and they don't give headaches or hangovers like the real thing."

Written By Anthony Deutsch