How the "legal high" industry stays one step ahead of governments


Mind Hacks reports on a study published in Forensic Science International about "legal highs" that contain synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of marijuana. Apparently, these drugs are made by a "highly organized neuroscience-savvy industry" that stays one step ahead of governments that outlaw the designer drugs. As soon as one analog is outlawed, another one appears for sale almost immediately.

Two things came to mind when I read this. One, the US has laws that outlaw drugs that are chemically similar to illegal drugs, so I don't see how these "legal highs" can be sold legally in the US. Two, who knows if these analogs are safe? I keep thinking of that NOVA episode, "The Case of the Frozen Addict," about the guy who destroyed the part of his brain that produced dopamine after he took some kind of Demerol analog he'd cooked up. It turned him into a living frozen statue.

[D]rugs like speed, heroine, cocaine and ecstasy require legally controlled raw materials but the processing stage is low-tech. That's why some types of speed are called 'bathtub crank', because some of it is literally synthesised in a bathtub, as images of meth lab busts illustrate.

But this is not the case with cannabinoids which require a complex and careful lab process with many stages and sometimes the separation of mirror image molecules (enantiomers) from each other as only one of the 'reflections' is desirable.
These are not trivial process. They can't be done in back rooms and they can't be done by amateurs.

What's more, these aren't just copy-cat syntheses done by your average underground lab who know the illicit process and just want to recreate it. These are new compounds, perhaps reported only a handful of times in the scientific literature and selected for their specific effect on the brain.

Spice flow: the new street drug pharmacology

(Image: Spice drug.jpg, GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons)