Brazil has seen its fair share of new synthetic drugs, but the latest hit, known as “love honey,” could be the strangest. And despite being a cultural sensation, little is known about the drug’s ingredients, origins and effects.
In recent weeks, authorities have become alarmed at the lack of knowledge of love honey, or "melzinho do amor," which is a sexual stimulant and is becoming a favorite among partygoers at funk dance halls across the country. On July 1, Brazil’s health regulation agency banned the production, sale and advertising of the southern state of Santa Catarina sounded the alarms. Websites selling it have been shut down, and companies threatened with legal action.
The substance, reminiscent of honey, is being marketed as an all-natural sexual stimulant for men. Its purported effects include increased energy, sexual desire and sexual stamina. Packets of love honey have been found online and in convenience stores, costing anywhere from 20 to 80 reais (around $4 to $16). The federal ban on July 1 targeted three different brands of love honey, but up to six different ones have been identified, several of which have been imported from Lebanon and Malaysia.
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Like many other synthetic drugs, the ingredients inside love honey are unknown and likely varied. Social media posts selling the drug have listed an eclectic range of ingredients: honey, cinnamon, guaraná, caviar and tongkat ali, an Indonesian plant popular in herbal medicine. There is little evidence to date to suggest whether this chemical composition is true or not.
However, critics are more concerned about the dangerous quantities of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, present in love honey.
It has rapidly become popular among Brazilian nightclubs, where drug traffickers have been arrested selling it alongside cocaine and crack. Brazil’s consumer protection agency stated that love honey contains unspecified quantities of sildenafil, which can be deadly at certain levels.
But the popularity of love honey may be more difficult to contain. Funk artists have tapped into the trend, lauding love honey in their songs and writing dedicated tracks about the drug. Popular influencers have even filmed themselves trying the product, and celebrities have publicly discussed their own love honey experiences.
While consumers are drawn by the “sexual stimulant” aspect of love honey, many may not know it contains perilously high doses of sildenafil. Even those buying online and not in funk clubs are told that it is “100 percent natural” and “without chemicals or risks.”
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Brazil’s synthetic drug scene is ever-changing, with manufacturers and traffickers staying ahead of regulators by routinely changing the chemical composition, color and name of their products.
But love honey represents a significant innovation in important ways.
The first is geographical. Much of the ecstasy and ketamine present in Brazil comes from Europe, especially Belgium and the Netherlands. But love honey appears to originate in the Middle East and Southeast Asia before being imported to Brazil.
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The second is its price point. Whereas synthetic drugs are usually marketed to appeal to wealthier clubbers, love honey is affordable and has found a niche among funk clubs. Brazilian health officials are trying to educate the public on the dangers of the drug to combat this, but this alone is unlikely to make a real difference.
Love honey follows a common trend in Brazil and other popular synthetic drug markets in the region, such as Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica, which frequently see a slew of new party drugs marketed in innovative ways. One comparable craze to love honey was “pink cocaine,” a hallucinogenic drug, similar to MDMA, that gained ground in Argentina and Uruguay in 2018 and 2019.