Vice: Synthetic Drugs / Transsexuals of Iran

In the course of one week in last spring, more than 100 teenagers in Dallas overdosed on a drug called K2. In August, the governor of New Hampshire declared a state of emergency because of 44 overdoses linked to the bubblegum flavor of a drug called “Smacked.” This is the world of synthetic drugs, manmade chemical compounds often engineered to skirt narcotics laws—and some of the most frequently abused substances in American high schools.

The makers of these drugs race to keep head of law enforcement by making incremental changes in the compounds’ molecular structure, even though the effects of those alterations can turn out to be dangerous. VICE correspondent Hamilton Morris tracks these chemicals back to the Chinese factories where many are made, and meets the godfather of modern synthetic drugs at his remote lab in New Zealand.

Then: post-revolution Iran is notorious for its religiosity. When Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979 he enforced strict Islamic custom that made homosexuality punishable by death. Surprisingly, though, the state treats transsexuals differently, allowing sexual reassignment surgery and in some cases even paying for it. It’s become so widespread there, in fact, that Iran is now one of the world capitals for the procedure.

But the fatwa allowing the surgery has a grim drawback: families, therapists, and the state see gender reassignment as a solution to the “illness” of homosexuality—not understanding the risks of forcing the long, life-changing process of a sex change on someone who wasn’t born wanting it. Gay Iranians now face the agonizing choice of fleeing their communities or permanently changing who they are.

VICE follows the stories of homosexuals and transsexuals in Iran as they navigate this terrifying cultural landscape.

VICE returns on Friday, February 5 at 11PM, exclusively on HBO

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