The zombie drug kush leads to grave looting in search of bones

The zombie drug kush leads to grave looting in search
National emergency in Sierra Leone




full screen A man rolls a kush joint in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo: John Wessels / AFP

They fall asleep in the middle of a step, bang their bloody heads against a wall – or run straight into traffic.

The zombie drug kush is killing more and more young, unemployed men in Sierra Leone and thousands are in need of treatment.

The drug is said to contain human bones – now the capital’s graves are guarded by police.

  • Sierra Leone is grappling with an explosive spread of the “zombie drug” kush, and the country’s president Juilus Maada Bio has declared a national emergency.
  • The drug, which is cheap and readily available, produces zombie-like effects and contains cannabis, fentanyl and tramadol as well as, according to some claims, human skeletal parts.
  • At least two people a week die from the drug, which is most popular among young, unemployed men between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • ⓘ The summary is made with the support of AI tools from OpenAI and quality assured by Aftonbladet. Read our AI policy here.

    Show more


    It’s like smoking poison.

    Both figuratively and literally.

    The cheap zombie drug kush is now spreading explosively in West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone.

    The situation is so serious that the country’s president Juilus Maada Bio has gone out and declared a national emergency.

    He calls the new drug a “death trap”.


    full screen President Juilus Maada Bio has declared a national state of emergency. Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP

    A national working group – involving all sectors of society – is to be appointed to create a five-step strategy for “a drug-free future”.

    Herbs and disinfectants

    The synthetic drug, which first appeared six years ago, contains a mixture of cannabis, fentanyl, tramadol, formaldehyde in the form of a disinfectant, herbs, shoe polish and – according to some – human skeletal parts.

    Graves in the capital Freetown are said to have been dug up in search of bone parts to manufacture the drug – something that has led to police now guarding the grave sites at night.

    According to local media, several have been arrested for grave looting, although this has not been able to be verified.


    full screen Veterans Cemetery in Freetown. Now there is concern that the graves will be looted. Photo: Austin Merrill/AP

    The key to the explosive increase in kush abuse is that the drug – compared to other drugs – is very cheap and readily available.

    A joint, which can be shared between two or three, costs only two or three kroner and makes the drug available to everyone, especially disillusioned young, unemployed men between 18 and 25, who want to escape their grim and seemingly hopeless reality in a country, tormented of poverty.

    Acting like zombies

    – Kush takes you to another world, where you don’t recognize yourself, says a person who has seen the effects of the drug, to BBC.

    Even if the joint is cheap, those who abuse smoke maybe 40 a day – instead of eating. And the effects can last for hours.

    They act like zombies and can fall asleep walking or sitting anywhere, roll right out into the street without looking over and over and over again banging their heads on something hard or otherwise harming themselves.

    At least two people a week die from the drug, either from their organs failing or from being injured in some other way.

    Thousands and thousands of affected young people are in need of care and rehabilitation – but those resources do not exist today.

    Despite seeing their friends die, they continue to use the drug to escape from reality.

    “Ruined my life”

    Young men, sitting on street corners with legs swollen from the drug, are a common sight in the capital.

    – Kush ruined my life, says Tejan, 21, to The Guardian.

    – I smoked it to relax, but it made me lose myself.

    He used the money he got from his parents to buy lunch at school to buy kush instead.


    full screen A group of men smokes the drug kush in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo: John Wessels / AFP

    It was easy – there was a langur behind his house, just like there is in all of Freetown, which is the worst affected by the deadly drug.

    Now he is in a rehabilitation center in one of the mountainous suburbs of the capital – the only center that exists. The hundred beds are not enough.

    Admissions to the country’s only psychiatric hospital – a holdover from the British colonial era – have increased by 4,000 percent between 2020 and 2023, to 1,865, according to the BBC.

    Sulfur in the bone remains?

    It is not only in Sierra Leone that the drug has increased, also in the neighboring countries of Liberia and Guinea, the use of kush is increasing in the cities.


    full screen Freetown in Sierra Leone. Archive image. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

    The drug is mixed by local criminal gangs, but the drugs included come from outside. Cannabis is grown in Sierra Leone, but fentanyl and tramadol, which make users drowsy and “sedated”, are illegally manufactured in China and other parts of Asia and shipped to West Africa.

    Formaldehyde, which is part of the drug, can cause hallucinations.

    Why human bones are used in the drug is unclear.

    One explanation could be the sulfur in the bone remains – smoking sulfur can lead to highly toxic sulfur dioxide being produced and inhaled – but the sulfur content in the bones is very low.

    Whoonga and “white pipe”

    Another reason could be that those whose bodies are exhumed used fentanyl or tramadol, but even those levels in the skeletons must be too low to produce any psychological effects.

    Other compound drugs that appeared in Africa are nyaope or whoonga, as it is also called. It consists of tobacco and cannabis mixed with heroin and medicine used against HIV and hepatitis B.

    “White pipe” is another mixed drug that consists of cannabis, tobacco and the party and sex drug Mandrax, a sleep aid that was common in the 1970s.