Bearing the same name as the famous Japanese miniature trees, bonzai sounds "organic" as drug peddlers would claim. Yet, this drug, which recently emerged in Turkey, accounts for the majority of drug-related deaths. A report by the Turkish police directorate says at least 564 people died from bonsai use last year. The report also highlights a rise in drug-related deaths in 2017.
Bonzai, described as synthetic cannabis, has similar characteristics to marijuana but is more destructive to the metabolism as it consists of synthetic materials. It causes rapid brain damage, with symptoms including schizophrenia-like behavior. The drug is also blamed for sudden heart failures. Doctors say that regular bonzai use often leads to kidney and liver failure within two months.
The police report said that some 941 people died from drug use last year, and 909 of them were men. The average age of victims was 31.98 and most of the deaths were in the age group of 25 to 34. The oldest person to die of a drug-related death was 78, while the youngest was 14. The report says 36 deaths were from volatile substance abuse such as paint thinners and similar substances.
Drug-related deaths increase every year, the report shows. Some 232 people died in 2013, but that figure jumped by 114 percent to 497 in 2014. It was 590 in 2015 and 920 in 2016. Tightened measures, especially counter-narcotics operations, were credited for slowing down the increase in deaths. According to the report, most deaths were caused by the use of multiple drugs.
As for bonzai, the report says of 564 deaths, 247 were solely caused by the drug, while the rest were due to factors accompanying the drug's use.
Bonsai, which has 200 different types, is better known as phenazepam in the rest of the world and believed to have first been developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.
The police report says it is smuggled into the country from a number of countries, including China. In Turkey, producers of the illegal drug add pesticide and similar substances to the drug to accelerate its effects. Thus, drug users face the risk of potentially fatal poisoning.
The report says drug dealers do everything to show that bonzai is "organic" by combining it with sage, thyme, henna and cumin. Bonsai was classified as a recreational drug in Turkey and banned in 2011. Due to its cheap price, it has been popular among youths in particular. The authorities have stepped up the crackdown on bonsai dealers after images and videos of petrified-looking users of the drug on Istanbul streets made headlines in the past two years. In the first seven months of this year, 521 kilograms of bonsai were seized by counter-narcotics police. Since 2014, when the country implemented a comprehensive action plan to escalate the war on drugs, Turkey has been fighting on multiple counter-narcotics fronts. It targets addicts through better rehabilitation and awareness campaign. It also targets smugglers and small-time dealers with more operations carried out by newly-formed "narco teams" that especially focus on operations around schools and other places where youths, the most vulnerable targets for drug peddlers, go.