Dead Heads

Chemistry: And you thought 'Six Feet Under' was morbid.

Many drug users flirt with death, but now some are inhaling it. The new craze: marijuana cigarettes soaked in embalming fluid, then dried and sold on the street for $20 apiece.

Shuddering at the thought? So are morticians and drug abuse counselors. Embalming fluid is a compound of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol, and other solvents. It can burn the eyes and nose fiercely. Can it also deliver a high?

Not according to psychiatry professor Julie Holland of New York University. "Embalming fluid is so flammable, it wouldn't survive in a joint."

But though the embalming fluid burns away, it can still make the joint more potent. Many dealers combine embalming fluid with phencyclidine (PCP), a drug that produces a psychotic high. The formaldehyde in embalming fluid helps PCP adhere to the cigarette, says Holland. As a result, embalming fluid and other formaldehyde-laced chemicals are increasingly disappearing from funeral parlors, hospitals, and morgues.
"My goodness," Jane C. Pearson, supervisor of Pearson Funeral Home in Bethlehem, Pa., recently told Death Care Business Advisor magazine. "That is strange."