KANSAS CITY, MO -- More people are dipping tobacco or marijuana in
embalming fluid and smoking it for a body-numbing buzz and a fiery feeling
in the lungs, drug enforcers say.
During the last year, police have seen the abuse of enbalming fluid or
"dank" spread from hard-core urban cultures to the suburbs. And
morticians are reporting that kids are calling them requesting the liquid
also called formaldehyde.
"I know kids want to have fun, but these kids are really scraping the
bottom of the barrel", said Greg Cullen, an owner of Cullen Funeral Home
in Raymore, Mo., who has taken calls for the embalming liquid.
Statistics of how many people are using dank are not available because
the practice is too difficult to track. But workers at the Adolescent
Center for Treatment in Olathe said 25 percent of their patients abused
Dank users let the cigarettes or reefers dry after they dip them into
the formaldehyde. The liquid, which carries a stench strong enough to
permeate a five-room house, is used professionally to kill and preserve
Cody, a 15-year-old recovering drug addict at the Olathe center, said
dank provides a numbing high called getting "wet" or "stuck".
"You don't feel anything", he said. "Somebody could punch you and you
wouldn't know it. You feel like it's just your head floating around
without your body."
The thought of people smoking embalming fluid makes Overland Park
Detective Mark Meyer shudder. He said it is a volatile chemical that
burns fast and hot, much like gasoline. Some drug users believe it causes
a burning feeling in the lungs.
But some drug experts are skepticl about the reported dank buzz.
Dan McCarty, chief forensic chemist of the Kansas City Regional Crime
Lab, said any high from the drug may only be psychological.
"The rumor is that this obnoxious smelling cigarette is giving off a
high", McCarty said. "But I'm not sure that's true. I think it's just a
But drug experts agree that the substance is dangerous.
William Shaw, director of the Toxicology Laboratory at Children's Mercy
Hospital, said small doses of formaldehyde break down key body proteins.
That can cause lung irritation and spasms of the larynx, which could cause
"I don't know that anyone knows how much embalming fluid a living body
can absorb", Shaw said.
Dank is not new to Kansas City's urban core, where it is called "therm"
or "wet" and often mixed with liquid forms of PCP. The drug underwent a
name change after it became more mainstream.
The chemical poses a problem for police because it is legal. If police
arrest someone, they have to do it because they are possessing an illegal
Only those in the mortuary science business monitor embalming fluid.
Formaldehyde, however, can be special-ordered from drug stores.
Barbara Banks, assistant director of the Olathe treatment center, said
the drug might be too bizarre to become as popular as crack. But she said
its availability and low price might make it more attractive. She said
dank houses are now appearing.
"Kids like to experiment, sure, and this drug gives them a new feeling",
Burks said. "But I hope it doesn't end up being a sensation".
Christopher E. Jones, PhD
DABFT, DABCC, DABFE, FACB