Bad trip: The drug 25I — or ‘smiles’ — is becoming increasingly popular among teens

Carol Carlson was home one afternoon late last fall chopping vegetables when her 16-year-old son, Alex, started running up and down the basement stairs.

“His pupils were really dilated, and he was clearly not sober, but his behavior was nothing like being stoned and nothing like being drunk,” remembers Carol. “It was like ecstatic happiness, combined with punching.”

When she questioned her older son, Peter, about what was going on, he confessed that he and Alex had taken a psychedelic drug called “25I.” 

“I had never heard of 25I; I just was told that it was ‘like acid,’” says Carol (the family has been given pseudonyms for this article).

When Carol’s husband, Greg, came home, Alex ran up to him, nearly knocking him over. The teen was frantic, repeatedly shouting phrases such as “Thank you!” and “Get in my belly!”

Greg knew he was in for a long night. “I realized that I was going to have to monitor him,” remembers Greg. “My wife and I knew that in the state he was in we needed to maintain a continual state of calmness and de-escalation.” 

25I, which is in a family of drugs also known as “n-bomb” and “smiles,” is part of a new wave of synthetic street psychedelics that have been gaining in popularity among young, white Madisonians. Lt. Jason Freedman, a Madison police officer who is part of the Dane County Narcotics Task Force, says that in coming years these drugs may overshadow heroin as the focus of his unit.