What is 2C-B?
2C-B is a novel psychoactive substance that was invented by biochemist and psychopharmacologist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin in 1974. Shulgin is known as the “Godfather of Ecstasy” and legally synthesized over 200 psychedelic compounds in a musty lab on his property in the Bay Area known as “the Farm.” Serving as his own guinea pig, he tested all these compounds on himself, and if he found them to be safe and possibly useful, extended the invitation to his wife, Ann Shulgin, as well as to their “research group.” These chemical tales are joyously recounted in the couple’s co-authored books, PiHKAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved) and TiHKAL (Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved). (Tryptamines include the classic psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin, while phenethylamines include 2C-B.)
2C-B, technically 4-bromo-2,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine, is a phenethylamine, a class of organic compounds that includes various psychoactive substances like amphetamines, MDMA, and mescaline. In fact, it was Shulgin’s first psychedelic experience with mescaline in the Fifties that inspired him to begin tinkering with its chemical structure, eventually leading him to invent a variety of new psychedelic compounds—thus, bringing 2C-B and the whole 2C-x family into existence.
Shulgin considered 2C-B to be one of his greatest inventions; it was one of the six psychedelic molecules among his “magic half dozen,” which he thought had the most potential (and five of which he invented himself). He’s also claimed 2C-B to be one of his all-time favorite psychedelics, which is significant for a scientist who’s gone on around 10,000 psychedelic trips. “It is, in my opinion, one of the most graceful, erotic, sensual, introspective compounds I have ever invented,” he wrote in his “Ask Dr. Shulgin” column in 2003. “For most people, it is a short-lived and comfortable psychedelic with neither toxic side effects nor next-day hangover.”
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2C-B stayed largely underground at first, with Shulgin offering it to his friends and some trusted psychologists, who used it with particular patients. According to a 1996 article by “Anu,” therapists found that 2C-B could create a “warm, empathetic bond between themselves and their patients.” The article also speaks to the drug’s ability to “help dissolve the patient’s ego-defenses and inner resistances, thus enabling the person to get in touch with suppressed emotions and repressed memories, thereby helping to resolve psychological problems.”
“It is, in my opinion, one of the most graceful, erotic, sensual, introspective compounds I have ever invented.”
Eventually a German pharmaceutical company called Drittewell began producing 2C-B in 5 mg pills and selling them as “Nexus,” a sexual enhancement drug that could alleviate impotence and “frigidity.” And when MDMA became illegal in the US in 1985, 2C-B quickly rose to the occasion as a legal alternative. By the early Nineties, Americans had become the world’s largest consumer of Nexus, often buying packs at sex and head shops and eating four or five pills (the equivalent of 20–25 mg) for its psychedelic effects. By 1995, 2C-B was criminalized and placed in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, and the US successfully urged other countries to do the same.
However, this “Shulgin molecule” is still quite popular, albeit hard to find. And many who’ve tried it and spoke to me for this story reported that it’s their “favorite psychedelic.” But, why?
2C-B Effects: What’s a 2C-B Trip Like?
2C-B is often described as a cross between LSD and MDMA, although many people told me that’s just the only language they have to explain it, and that really, 2C-B is its own, unique experience. “There’s very different body feelings [than mixing LSD and MDMA],” says Joe Moore, co-founder and co-host of the podcast and media company Psychedelics Today. “[It has] very different waves. Because it’s a phenethylamine, it’s more like mescaline. It’s a really unique thing.”
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When I spoke to Justin Boreta of the electronic music group, The Glitch Mob, he also brought up the similarity he felt in 2C-B to mescaline—that they’re both very grounding substances, especially when compared to LSD or psilocybin mushrooms.
“2C-B completely fucking blew me away,” Boreta tells me excitedly over the phone. “It was so visual. And so beautiful, but I felt grounded in a way that I don’t when I’m that high on tryptamines or LSD. To get to have such an immersive, beautiful visual experience experience on mushrooms or LSD, you really have to take a lot… and to be in public on that much LSD, it’s way too much…. But I didn’t feel that on 2C-B. I felt grounded [like I do with mescaline]. [But] I also felt the relatedness to MDMA, I felt empathetic and a really deep connection with my musical partner who I was with.”
For that reason, 2C-B is popular at music festivals: folks can enjoy slight visuals, while still remaining in contact with reality, and experiencing a deep connection to the music and the people around them. “I had endless energy and love,” said Josh,* who’s taken 2C-B over 25 times. “I couldn’t stop moving or smiling. Music was felt on every surface of my being. I wanted to hug and be with people, even strangers.”
However, many folks also report taking it at home with friends, partners or alone and having really beautiful experiences that were visual, empathetic and euphoric. “It’s an enhancer for our senses and feelings. It amplifies sounds, visuals and touch and it doesn’t feel too toxic nor stimulating,” described Sam,* who’s taken 2C-B nearly 50 times at doses between 10 and 35 mg. “It doesn’t take your awareness away as much as other psychedelics; it’s still very controllable and has a much easier comedown in comparison to MDMA.”
2C-B can be a very visually psychedelic experience, although visuals are unique to the individual and reportedly increase with dose. While some folks didn’t experience any visuals, many people who filled out a survey I created on 2C-B reported both closed and open eye visuals, and many highlighted the intensity of the vibrant colors they saw. At doses in the 10 to 27 mg range, Blake* described their visuals as “electric,” and another participant, Adrian* said, “[It’s] like being caressed by a pink and green glow, submerged underwater in the psychedelic sea with a surprising empathogen emphasis.” Others, like Sam, described the open eye visuals as “seeing additional lights, drifting, and morphing.”
However, not everyone experienced open eye visuals, but reported complex patterning when they closed their eyes and relaxed. “CEV [closed eye visuals] were very reminiscent to LSD in a playful, whimsical manner with an emphasis on pink and green colors. [They were] complex and symbolic with depth and layering,” said Adrian.
Dose may play a large role in whether or not users experience visuals, and at higher doses (20 to 30 mg and above) more than one of my survey participants described the open eye visuals as “cartoonish,” or, as Raquel,* who’s taken 2C-B around 10 times at doses in the 35 to 40 mg range, said, “a bit like LSD meets Scooby-doo.” Similarly, Alex,* who’s taken 2C-B 20 times at doses between 15 and 30 mg said that “high doses were almost like the world was a cartoon, everything had a glowing outline. Closest thing to what media depicts psychedelics to be like.” On reddit, many describe extremely geometrical open eye visuals on higher doses that can be too intense and extremely disorienting.
Properly dosing 2C-B is crucial for having a safe and fun experience, and most folks stay in the 5 to 25 mg range. The experience definitely changes with the dose, with many people reporting manageable empathogenic feelings at lower doses of 5 to 15 mg, and more psychedelic and visual experiences at doses in the 15 to 25 mg range and above.
- Threshold/microdose: 2 to 7 mg
- Effective dose: 5 to 15 mg
- Average psychedelic dose: 15 to 20 mg
- High psychedelic dose: 20 to 30 mg
2C-B can come as a pill, tablet or powder, and if you do receive a dosed pill, try and find out how many milligrams it contains. If you receive 2C-B as a powder, always weigh it out on an accurate scale before ingesting. Every milligram of 2C-B can affect the experience and so “eyeballing” a dose of powder could get you in deeper than you bargained for, which once happened to Boreta.
He told me he’s had very positive experiences at doses in the 10 to 25 mg range, but when he was first getting into psychedelics he eyeballed some 2C-B powder without a scale, took about twice what he was used to (he thinks it was in the 40 mg range), and had a challenging trip. “It was really gnarly. You get this body load sensation, it’s almost like an electric buzzing. It was extremely unpleasant.”
Similarly, in the Shulgins’ book PiHKAL, pleasant experiences are described in the 16 to 24 mg range, but harrowing and more challenging trips were occasioned by higher doses, such as this trip report authored by someone who took a 64 mg dose:
“I found only mild visual and emotional effects at the 20 milligram dose, so I took the remaining 44 milligrams. I was propelled into something not of my choosing. Everything that was alive was completely fearsome. I could look at a picture of a bush, and it was just that, a picture, and it posed no threat to me. Then my gaze moved to the right, and caught a bush growing outside the window, and I was petrified. A life-form I could not understand, and thus could not control. And I felt that my own life-form was not a bit more controllable.”
Therefore, like with all psychedelics, it’s best to take a low or moderate dose for your first experience, and if you find you want to go deeper, experiment with slightly higher doses in subsequent trips.
It’s important to note, the doses mentioned above were all ingested orally, which is the most popular way to take 2C-B. Folks report either swallowing a pill, weighing out their dose and mixing it with water, or “bombing” their dose by putting it in a rolling paper or piece of toilet paper, and swallowing it all like a pill. But nasal ingestion is also done, although many people warn that it is extremely painful—more so than with other substances. However, if you do choose to ingest nasally, doses should be significantly smaller because it comes on faster and stronger, and will also be shorter-lasting.
According to PiHKAL, 2C-B lasts between four and eight hours, and that’s pretty in line with what the 31 people who took my survey reported. Most said 2C-B lasted between four and six hours, depending on the dose, with a notable comedown somewhere between the three and six-hour mark. Moore told me the experience lasted longer than he expected, with a long comedown. Boreta described the length as very similar to MDMA, lasting about six hours.
2C-B Side Effects
The most common side effect people reported in my survey was nausea on the come-up, which led to vomiting in a few cases where heavy foods (like pizza or curry) were ingested in close proximity to the 2C-B. Like with other psychedelics, it’s best to fast for three to four hours before consuming in order to avoid most of the nausea or chance of vomiting. Another common complaint is that the 2C-B come up can be a bit anxious and “itchy” and that the whole experience can be a bit “tweaky” or “speedy,” resembling an amphetamine.
Some other folks reported trouble sleeping afterwards and a slight headache or “fogginess” the next day, which many felt was dose-dependent. In fact, Leland Radovanovic, founder of Conscious Communications Collective, said that he feels an afterglow the day after a dose of 25 mg or below and a hangover after doses greater than 25 mg. “Hangover feels like being drained after a hard trip on LSD or psychedelic mushrooms,” elaborates Radovanovic.
The most common report is that there is practically no next-day comedown or hangover and that the whole experience is much more gentle than its cousins MDMA and LSD.
Interestingly though, the most common report is that there is practically no next-day comedown or hangover and that the whole experience is much more gentle than its cousins MDMA and LSD. “LSD-like visuals but without the ‘head games’ that sometimes comes with traditional psychedelics,” is how Raquel described it. Plus, many say they don’t feel the “serotonin dump” or depressive come-down that can follow an MDMA experience.
Another interesting side effect, or lack thereof, is that many users also report being able to eat and sleep with ease after the experience—something they’ve struggled with after a night with MDMA or LSD. Plus, at low and moderate doses, many report still being able to perform sexually (and really enjoying it), which is pretty famously hard on MDMA without the help of drugs like Viagra.
Could 2C-B Have Therapeutic Applications?
Because there’s so many anecdotal reports that 2C-B has relatively few negative side effects, there’s some speculation that it could be a reasonable choice (or alternative to MDMA) in psychedelic-assisted therapy. And although it was used by some therapists before it was outlawed in the mid-Nineties, the research into its safety and application is scant.
“In order to carry out clinical studies in humans, there must be preclinical safety data for it and there is none,” says David E. Nichols, pharmacologist and chemist, who’s been studying psychoactive drugs since 1969, and founder of the Heffter Research Institute. He explains that Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)–the group that’s been funding research into MDMA–supported preclinical toxicology studies for MDMA back in the late 1980s, thus making today’s MDMA clinical trials possible. “But no one has funded the preclinical toxicology studies necessary to do clinical studies of 2C-B in [human subjects],” explains Nichols. “I have heard that such work might be in the works somewhere, but so far there is nothing.”
I asked Nichols if 2C-B could be a good alternative to MDMA or psilocybin in psychedelic-assisted therapy, and he says that “no one knows.” He explains the pharmacology is different, that 2C-B is actually closer to psilocybin than MDMA, “but [2C-B] might be useful as an adjunct to psychotherapy in the way MDMA is used.” That’s also an idea that Joe Moore also posed to me during our conversation. “You’re getting something like MDMA, but not having a hangover. I think that the therapeutic implications are pretty big.”
When Shulgin was hypothesizing 2C-B’s therapeutic potential, he proposed that 2C-B might be best taken at the tail end of an MDMA session. “It is as if the mental and emotional discoveries [of an MDMA experience] can be mobilized, and something done about them,” he wrote in PiHKAL. Essentially it’s a way of integrating the material that comes up during an MDMA session and bringing participants back “into their bodies” with that grounding, mescaline-like effect of 2C-B.
The combo is now known to psychonauts as the “Nexus Flip,” but back when Shulgin was writing PiHKAL, he really thought it could have a future. “This combination has several enthusiastic advocates in the psychotherapy world, and should be the basis of careful research when these materials become legal and accepted by the medical community,” he wrote.
Is 2C-B safe?
But is 2C-B safe? It seems so for healthy individuals, and there have been no deaths linked to its use. But as Nichols points out, “until there are formal preclinical toxicology studies, however, I think no one can be sure it is completely safe.” If a lethal dose exists, it’s still unknown. And although some reddit users report doses of 100 mg and sometimes more without physical harm, many recommend staying under 35 mg to avoid completely disorienting and possibly frightening psychedelic experiences.
But unlike MDMA, which may leave some feeling the famous “serotonin dump” hangover the next day, 2C-B is a bit different. In fact, Vice reports that 2C-B works by mimicking serotonin, with a low likelihood, if any, of causing long-term damage to the brain.
However, it is important to note there have been deaths linked to other substances in the 2C family (like 2C-T-7 and 2C-I-NBOMe), and one woman suffered brain injury after ingesting an unknown dose of possibly impure 2C-B. What’s more, some reddit users reported experiencing HPPD after high dose experiences, and two of my 31 survey respondents reported seeing some trails in the weeks following their 2C-B trip, although they eventually faded.
2C-B Harm Reduction & Contraindications
While 2C-B in reasonable doses (less than 25 to 30 mg) seems physically safe for most healthy people, folks with heart problems or epilepsy might want to be extra careful with the substance because it can affect heart rate, blood pressure and the central nervous system. And like all psychedelics, those with certain mental health conditions, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, also need to be extra careful because of the increased risk of inducing a psychotic or manic reaction.
Certain poly-drug mixes can increase risks, and it is not advised to mix MAOI antidepressants, lithium, or tramadol with 2C-B. Cannabis and amphetamines are also known to interact negatively, possibly intensifying the experience and increasing users’ anxiety, paranoia and negative thought loops. If you are set on experimenting with the 2C-B and cannabis combination, keep both doses lower than usual and spread out your cannabis intake by at least an hour or more before re-dosing.
Having a sober trip sitter is also a great way to reduce harm and keep you feeling safe and secure especially on doses over 15 mg or for your first time with the novel substance. Not to mention, here at DoubleBlind, we always encourage readers to prepare their set and setting for a safe psychedelic experience. And the last safe use tip we have for you is to test your substances for purity. You can do so using a Marquis Reagent Test Kit; 2C-B is the only substance known to turn the reagent a bright greenish-yellow color according to The Third Wave.
All in all, this novel psychoactive substance that the Shulgins were so fond of seems to have a lot of potential if used in a safe and intentional manner, but more research is sorely needed.
Michelle Janikian is a journalist focused on drug policy, trends and education. She’s the author of “Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion: An Informative, Easy-to-Use Guide to Understanding Magic Mushrooms”, writes a column for Playboy about psychedelics and cannabis and has also contributed to High Times, Herb, Rolling Stone and Teen Vogue.