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Ya ba (Thai: ยาบ้า, Lao: ຢາບ້າ, literally 'mad drug'), formerly known as yama (Thai: ยาม้า; literally 'horse drug'), are tablets containing a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine.[1][2] The illicit use of this drug combination has been widespread, particularly in South and Southeast Asian countries.[3]

Alternative namesEdit

From ya khayan ('hard-working pill') in its early days to ya maa ('horse medicine'), the drug was named ya ba ('crazy pill') in 1996.[4] It was given to horses when pulling carts up steep hills and for other strenuous work in Shan State in Burma. The slang terms for ya ba in Burma are kyethi (literally, 'button'), athi, and palarkar.

In Malaysia, ya ba is known in Malay as pil kuda (literally, 'horse pill'). It is commonly found in the state of Kelantan, on the border with Thailand. The name commonly used for it in the Philippines and Indonesia is shabú. In north Thailand it is often referred to as chocalee due to the somewhat sweet taste ya ba leaves in the mouth and its strong chocolate smell.[5] The name commonly used for it in China is ma-goo or ma-guo. In Bangladesh, it's colloquially known as baba, guti, laal, khawon, loppy, or bichi. Ya ba is sometimes called bhul bhuliya in India.

Appearance and useEdit

Ya ba is typically produced in a round pill form. There are many different versions of ya ba, and the most common are red, orange, or lime green in color and carry logos such as "R" or "WY". They are small and round, roughly 6 millimetres (0.24 in) in diameter, which means they can be packed inside a plastic soda straw for easy transportation or in a reusable "mint" container.

Ya ba tablets typically are consumed orally. Users also place the ya ba tablet on aluminum foil and heat it from below. As the tablet melts, vapors rise and are inhaled ("chasing the dragon"). The drug also may be administered by crushing the tablets into powder, which is then snorted or mixed with a solvent and injected.[1] When swallowed in pill form the duration of the drug's effect is between 8–16 hours, as compared to 1–3 hours when smoked, while the intensity is considerably reduced. The peak of the drug's effect is followed by a comedown period lasting 6–10 hours, during which the user may have difficulty sleeping or eating. Many users report that it takes them up to 24 hours after consumption to be able to fall asleep.

Ya ba is not commonly injected as many intravenous users prefer the pure product instead (methamphetamine, called "ice" in Southeast Asia). This illegal drug is especially popular in Thailand, where it is imported from Burma or Laos even though it is sometimes manufactured locally in Thailand.

Typical ya ba users are working males, aged 16–40 years old, and its use is not uncommon among both female and male sex workers in Thailand and Cambodia.


Burma (Myanmar) is the largest producer of methamphetamine in the world, with the majority of ya ba found in Thailand being produced in Burma, particularly in the Golden Triangle and northeastern Shan State, which borders Thailand, Laos, and China.[6] In 2010, Burma trafficked 1 billion tablets to neighbouring Thailand.[6] Ethnic militias and rebel groups (in particular the United Wa State Army) are responsible for much of this production; however, the Burmese military units are believed to be heavily involved in the trafficking of the drugs.[6][7]

Ya ba use around the worldEdit

Rise and fall in popularity in ThailandEdit

Ya ba tablets were formerly sold at gas stations and were commonly used by long-haul drivers to stay awake. After many horrific long-distance bus accidents, they were outlawed by the Thai government in 1970. The deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's campaign from 2003 to eliminate drug-trafficking further helped to curtail widespread use. In particular, use of the drug by bus drivers and truckers is not as widespread as it was in the 1980s.[when?]

As a result of the Thai government crackdown, restricted supply has had an effect on prices, further curtailing the popular use of ya ba. In 1999–2000, when buying a straw-full (around 20 pills) in Chiang Rai Province, north Thailand, ya ba was sold for around 10 baht per pill and commonly used on the go-go circuit and by young "MTV" clubbers. Retail prices have risen[when?] from 100–150 baht (US$3–4) to 250–450 baht per pill as a result of the crackdown, though it remains a popular party drug.

In 2000, ya ba was smuggled across the porous border with Myanmar and from the neighbouring Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai Provinces of Thailand. Illegal traffickers often marketed or promoted their product by claiming that the pills contained up to six percent heroin. Rumour suggested it was produced by corrupt personnel of Wa State Army in Burma.

In 2014, it was reported that Thailand's northeast provinces have seen a 700 percent increase in the number of people arrested for meth since 2008, according to data from the Narcotics Suppression Bureau.[8] In 2013, authorities counted more than 33,000 meth-related arrests in the northeast. The rapid growth of ya ba use in Isan mirrors that which is occurring across Asia, which now[when?] accounts for more than 50 percent of global amphetamine-type stimulant users.[8]

On 16 June 2016, the National Council for Peace and Order, the military junta ruling Thailand, stated that it was planning to decriminalise ya ba.[9][10]


In 2006, ya ba consumption became fashionable for the well off. Although the extent of ya ba abuse in Bangladesh is not precisely known, seizures of the drug by authorities are frequent.[11][2] It is also believed those who use it on a regular basis are frequently involved in the distribution of the drug, either directly or indirectly.[12][13]

Some Rohingya refugees are hired by Burmese drug dealers to smuggle ya ba from Myanmar into Bangladesh.[14] In 2016, 359 Rohingyas were arrested on ya ba-smuggling charges, and up to US$29 million worth of ya ba was seized by the Bangladeshi authorities.[14]

In October 2018 Bangladesh government drafted a law which punishes a person up to capital punishment who carries a minimum 200 grams of ya ba.

Other countriesEdit

In February 2010 it was reported that increasingly large quantities of ya ba were being smuggled into Israel by Thai migrant workers, leading to fears that its use would spread to the Israeli club scene, where ecstasy use is already common.[15] In recent years, in the United States it is occasionally also used as a club drug replacing ecstasy.


  1. ^ a b "Yaba Fast Facts". US National Drug Intelligence Center. National Drug Intelligence Center. Jun 2003. Retrieved 2014-11-13.
  2. ^ a b Pressley, Linda (25 April 2019). "Yaba: The cheap synthetic drug convulsing a nation". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Glahan, Surasak (21 Jun 2016). "Time we shook off meth's criminal stigma". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  5. ^ "Drugs Inc. Bangkok Ice" S7/Ep19 (2015)
  6. ^ a b c Thornton, Phil (12 February 2012). "Myanmar's rising drug trade". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  7. ^ "Fire and Ice: Conflict and Drugs in Myanmar's Shan State" (Report Number 299). International Crisis Group. 8 January 2019. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  8. ^ a b Presser, Lizzie (2014-12-01). "Drug Addiction Grows on Thai Rubber Farms". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2014-12-02.
  9. ^ "Justice Minister: ya ba should be excluded from list of narcotic drugs". Thai PBS. Bangkok. 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2016-06-17.
  10. ^ Winn, Patrick (8 September 2016). "Thailand is moving closer to decriminalizing meth". Public Radio International (PRI). Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  11. ^ Sanaul, Islam Tipu (2013-06-03). "Bail rejected, 'Yaba king' Amyn Huda in jail". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 2014-11-13.
  12. ^ "Smuggling of Yaba tablets increasing day-by-day in Bangladesh". 2011-12-04. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
  13. ^ Kunnen (24 February 2009). "Newsletter_Feb232009_final.pdf" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-05-31.
  14. ^ a b Kullab, Samya (23 February 2017). "The Trouble With Thengar Char". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2017-02-25.  – via Foreign Affairs (subscription required)
  15. ^ Lappin, Yaakov (2010-02-02). "'Nazi speed' smuggled in huge amounts". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2014-11-13.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit