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The Pink Wave: How Tusi Lost Its Elite Status

From the elite clubs of Bogotá to European festivals, a peculiar pink powder has made waves across the globe. Initially branded as a favourite of the ultra-wealthy, the synthetic concoction of “Tusi” or “Tusibi,” also known as “pink cocaine,” has transcended its elitist roots and is now widely available.

The origins of tusi can be traced back to Colombia, where wealthy people who had travelled to Europe and experimented with 2C-B (also known as Nexus) brought the drug back around the turn of the millennium. However, tusi reached its peak popularity around 2012, after a popular news outlet presented 2C-B as the favourite of Bogotá’s “elite,” claiming it was the favourite substance of models, actors, and even politicians.

The media portrayal of tusi as the drug of the elite played a crucial role in socially constructing it as a high-status and desired substance. This branding tapped into existing social hierarchies and desires for status symbols, fuelling its initial demand and popularity despite the limited availability of the actual 2C-B compound it was so closely named after.


Tusi has a distinctive pink colouring, leading to its description as “pink cocaine”. Source: Échele Cabeza


Market adaptation and changing patterns of use

While demand for 2C-B was high, supply wasn’t: the drug was initially produced in Europe, making it difficult and expensive to import. However, the illegal market quickly adapted to fulfil its demand, producing a fake version of the drug that people desired because of its association with the upper class. While chemically distinct from 2C-B, sellers soon realised that combining MDMA and ketamine produced similar psychoactive effects that could mimic 2-CB while still branded as sophisticated and high-class. Bright pink colouring was added to make it even more visually distinct from other substances on the market.

The construction of tusi as a high-status substance eventually encouraged the widespread adoption of this counterfeit concoction, sold at a high price of around $71 USD according to Échele Cabeza, a Colombian harm reduction project of the Corporation Acción Técnica Social. It quickly disseminated across Colombian cities, and begun to be produced by smaller batch manufacturers. Tusi samples tested by Échele Cabeza highlighted the mixture mainly consisted of MDMA and ketamine, but also methyl salicylate (a numbing compound) and amphetamines.

As tusi became more widespread, cheaper, and accessible to different socioeconomic groups, its connection with elite status diminished. Yet its psychedelic effects and “pink cocaine’ branding remained appealing, particularly among youth subcultures drawn to its exotic image and sensory experience. Échele Cabeza told TalkingDrugs that tusi started to appear at music events around 2013, priced at around $40 per gram. By 2016, it was spreading across all types of social events, especially around reggaeton and guaracha music, due to its psychedelic effects which altered your perception of reality and psychedelic visuals. Ultimately, its wide availability and drop in price meant tusi shifted from an elite drug to one accessible to everyone.

2023 was the year that Échele Cabeza tested the largest amount of tusi samples ever: their analysis recorded that 65% of tested tusi samples contained the mix of ketamine and MDMA. The average recorded price for a gram of tusi was $18.70 per gram across Colombia in 2023, notably lower than its initial price ten years before.

Despite still being roughly three times more expensive than cocaine (which on average costs $6.50 USD for a gram in Colombia), its lower price expanded its consumer base. By 2021, tusi was the third most analysed substance by Échele Cabeza; they noted that almost three-quarters of its consumers (72.6%) were predominantly young people aged between 18 and 29.


Graph showing Tusi’s price decreasing through the years. Data from Échele Cabeza.


While data is limited, Peru is also witnessing an upward trend: speaking to TalkingDrugs, Francesca Brivio from drug checking organisation Proyecto Soma believed that tusi has now overtaken LSD in popularity in the country. However, with a gram there priced at around $10, its association upper classes was never as clear; its introduction was more widespread from the start according to Brivio.


European proliferation

Similar use trends are registered in Europe. “It is difficult to pinpoint the exact timeline of its appearance in Europe, but evidence suggests it steadily gained a foothold across the continent following the first reported seizure in 2016 in Spain,” according to Núria Calzada from Kykeon Analytics, a harm reduction organisation based in Catalonia, Spain.

Its presence has been detected across Europe, albeit in smaller quantities than in Latin America. The Spanish police dismantled a tusi lab in Madrid in May 2022, arresting a Colombian and Spanish man who produced and distributed the drug across Spain. According to the Spanish Drugs Observatory, tusi use is still low: only around 0.5% of the population used it in 2022 (ages of users were not recorded). Tusi was also detected in Italy and at a British festival by The Loop in 2022.

As Calzada told TalkingDrugs: “Qualitative information through the [PWUD] networks suggests that there is indeed a popularisation of [tusi], especially in the younger sector.” She further suggested that while the mix was originally identified in the major Spanish cities, rural areas have also accessed the “pink powder.”

Prices remain high in Europe: in Spain it is reportedly sold at around €80 per gram in Madrid, and around £80 per gram in London – similarly priced as cocaine. While not necessarily linked to upper class use, it is considerably more expensive than MDMA or ketamine; its combination, colouring, and supposedly “new” branding may have led to its higher price-tag.

The social drivers fuelling tusi’s European proliferation appear to mirror those in Latin America: its exotic nature, unique colouring and effects, as well as an unknown understanding of its safety profile may mean a higher prevalence across European scenes.


Ambiguity of content and obstacles to harm reduction

The fact that tusi is a concoction of several drugs creates new challenges in its detection, analysis, and harm reduction. Often, what’s inside tusi is further obscured by sellers trying to market their product as more unique than what it actually is.

In 2023, Échele Cabeza found ketamine and MDMA in 65% of 1,507 tusi samples analysed; other adulterants such as benzodiazepines (in 21% of samples), caffeine and cathinones were also detected. This poly-substance consumption increases the risks of drug use, especially if alcohol or other substances are mixed into it in a party setting.

“There are many myths around merchandising this cocktail,” Daniel Rojas, a psychologist at Échele Cabeza, told TalkingDrugs. He explained that dealers tend to market tusi as the “real deal” coming from Europe; mescaline is also claimed to be in it to market tusi as stronger than other drugs. He highlighted the need for drug checking to minimise risks around it.

In 2021, Energy Control, a harm reduction NGO based in Spain, found ketamine in 76% of tested tusi samples: 40% of all tested samples were a mix of MDMA, ketamine and caffeine. Notably, only a handful of samples actually contained 2C-B.

With sellers potentially differentiate themselves by adjusting quantities and types of drugs in their tusi, there is a unique challenge in reducing harms from use. As Tusi’s popularity and access is likely to keep growing, addressing this lack of clarity is crucial. Without understanding what is consumed, developing public health and harm reduction messages is an uphill battle. Comprehensive data, chemical analysis, and user knowledge about tusi are urgently needed to grasp the prevalence, effects, and potential harms of this enigmatic, evolving substance.

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