"When I bought it this last time, I split it with a couple of friends," says Brian, who is smoking out Stella as she lies back on the red velvet couch. "One of them hated it. He really liked blow, and this wasn't enough RPMs for him. The other friend I gave it to lives in New York, and he said, 'When I'm in the mood to get high, I just want to get high.' But with opium, there's like an hour of start up time. So he'd smoked about half of it and I bought back the rest.

"It's not fast food," he continues. "It's almost part of the slow-food movement. And I like the communal aspect of it. I like drugs with a smooth takeoff and landing."

Brian cruises around the room, running the hot skewer along the tiny cylinder until everyone's had his fill. "God, it tastes so good," says Stella. "It's like the good-Chinese-food version of drugs. It tastes like plums and tea." Now she's sharing a Danish modern armchair with James. Steve has even mellowed out enough to decree a new house rule: For the rest of the night, cigarette smoking will be allowed inside.

"I've reached cruising altitude," Brian says to no one in particular, doing a little dance to the chill-out music as he takes his last turn. "So, does everyone feel like it got them where they needed to go?"

"That was lovely," says Stella. Then Brian puts the rest of the opium back into the pouch, like some strange magical herb, where it will await the next soiree in a special humidor. The room looks languid and satisfied.

"I could really go for some cucumber water," he says.