The university researchers in New Zealand – the world hub for party pills – conducted a qualitative study on party pills with the aim of exploring young people’s use of and different experiences with legal party pills. The researchers looked into the drug content, function and context of use, different patterns that could be identified, positive and negative effects, and knowledge of safe use, as well as the aspects of marketing and supply. All of the researched young people were high functioning, meaning that they were studying or employed, they were articulate and they behaved in a reliable manner and were punctual.

Of the researched people, all but one reported having had consumed alcohol during the last six months, 22 reported not having smoked cigarettes and 12 reported not using illegal drugs during this period. Of those who had used illegal drugs, the main substances used were cannabis and ecstasy.

Some of the findings from this research on legal party herbs include:

The use of legal party pills, also known as ‘social tonics’, ‘herbal highs’ and legal party drugs, has become a popular activity in Oceania, in particular among young people. It is estimated that 50,000 four pill packs are sold every month and that the industry has sales of $24 million dollars per year. These substances contain chemicals such as benzylpiperazine (BZP) and m-trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP). BZP has been shown to have amphetamine-like activity and effects and BZP and TFMPP have been identified as having MDMA-like effects. Findings from a household survey in 2006 found that 1 in 5 Australians had ever tried legal party pills, with 18-24 year-olds the most likely to have used these substances in the preceding year.

In New Zealand, BZP is currently classified a Restricted Substance under the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005, which means that products containing it cannot be sold or supplied to those aged under 18 years. It also means that advertising is also restricted, and the supply of free samples have been banned.

Legal party drugs were purchased from a range of locations, including dairies, liquor outlets, ‘adult’ stores, specialist outlets, and friends and acquaintances with industry connections. Some young people were using age-related false identification (ID) to access party pills. Requests for aged-related ID were more common in outlets involved in alcohol retail, and in some ‘reputable’ specialist stores, when  compared to others outlets such as dairies (general stores).

Young people confirmed that the easiest and most convenient way to buy party pills was online.

Herbs were often purchased as a group activity with friends, with the cost of the pills shared amongst peers. Young people also accessed pills for free from friends, and sharing pills in this way ways likened to buying a round of alcoholic drinks, and part of the social ritual.

Both young people and informants noted that most party pill use was generally a social activity undertaken with friends, and occurring in the evenings/night time/weekends in a variety of places and contexts. This included bars, clubs, dance parties, and house parties. Other places included use at home or in the workplace, generally for functional use (for example, as a study aid or to alleviate boredom).