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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

New Designer Drugs Are In Legal Gray Area



A new wave of synthetic drugs has emerged, according to reporting by Vanessa Grigoriadis, a contributing editor at New York Magazine.

The people who seek out these drugs, who call themselves “psychonauts,” search researchers’ published papers and patented formulas for compounds that have psychoactive effects.

Sometimes the psychonauts alter the compound to create a psychoactive effect.

“It’s a kind of weird geeky subculture, but very easy to access.”
– Vanessa Grigoriadis

Reasons for concern

“Some of these drugs could have neurotoxic or even physiologic effects. They’re never tested on humans. Maybe some of them are tested on rodents,” Grigoriadis told Here & Now’s Robin Young.

The phenomenon is also making medical research more difficult, she said.

“Nobody wants to have the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] looking over your shoulder while you’re trying to make cancer drugs that just happen to hit the same neurological receptor as cannabis,” Grigoriadis said.

The synthetic drugs are technically not illegal because they don’t fit the roster of compounds that the Department of Drug Enforcement has categorized as illegal.

Growing numbers and varieties

There has been a surge in the prevalence of new synthetic drugs, because some psychonauts are having them manufactured in China and shipped to the United States, “right to your PO Box,” Grigoriadis said.

pictured on the website erowid.org, which documents “the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives.” (erowid.org)" href="http://media.wbur.org/wordpress/11/files/2013/06/0604_synthetic-drug.jpg">JWH-018 powder, a synthetic cannabinoid, is pictured on the website erowid.org, which documents "the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives." (erowid.org)

JWH-018, a synthetic cannabinoid, is pictured on the website erowid.org, which documents “the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives.” (erowid.org)

They use a labeling loophole and stamp the words “not for human consumption” on the packages of synthetic drugs to avoid detection, she said.

One novel drug that received a great deal of attention is known as bath salts — similar to an amphetamine — that has caused psychosis in some users.

Other drugs include the “M-bomb series” which induce an effect like LSD, except they have a shorter duration. There are also synthetic cannabinoids which have names like UR 144 and PB 22.

“Some people have called all of these drugs, ‘alphabeticals,’” Grigoriadis said.

Legal gray area

It’s been a legal nightmare to prosecute, even though the DEA is aware that it’s a problem in the United States.

It is hard for juries to pass a judgment on a “weird compound that a professor in Berlin made ten years ago, and now somebody is manufacturing it in China and shipping it to the U.S. And it’s not chemically similar to the drugs you already know,” Grigoriadis said.

The Obama administration has made a number of synthetic cannabinoids illegal, but there are many more chemical compounds out there waiting to be discovered.

A small subculture

The users themselves, Grigoriadis says, cannot number more than 20,000 people. Most use the drugs as thrill seekers, for the novelty of it.

They find each other online, and there are bulletin boards and encyclopedias dedicated to meticulously describing the effects of these drugs—called “trip reports.” Researchers at UC Berkeley are actually using these reports to understand the drugs and their effects.

“Many people who get into sharing about their drug experiences on the internet also become really enamored of taking new drugs, just by virtues of it being new. They are fascinated, and they want to know what it’s like,” Grigoriadis said. “It’s a kind of weird geeky subculture, but very easy to access.”


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  • Sherpadoug37754

    Please be advised that Robin’s casual reference to “that naked guy in Florida” (presumably the guy who chewed the homeless guy’s face)  in relation to people high on synthetic marijuana– be advised that that aspect of the face-chewing story is an urban myth. Spice, K2, synthetic marijuana, bath salts, etc. were NOT found in the assailant’s system. If memory serves, he tested positive for marijuana only (and marijuana is detectable for >30 days after use).

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      so many false statements in this article i wonder what the point of this article is

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    there are so many factual mistakes in this article i dont know where to begin

  • Gabrielmundez

    This article stigmatizes “psychonauts” as Research Chemical users seeking a thrill from the novelty of taking new and never before used drugs.  “Most use the drugs as thrill seekers, for the novelty of it.”, this assumption is further from the truth. It is the war on drug users that pushes new legal highs to be created. It is simple, people want to use drugs, we always have and we always will. We are tired of tobacco and alcohol being the only state sanctioned drugs. We want to smoke Cannabis, we want to eat mushrooms. We don’t want to take weird chemicals from China. It is only a matter of time before drug laws change and people reclaim their sovereign right to their own body chemistry. 

  • Audiologic

    I do not use LSD, MDMA, cocaine, psylocybin, or any other Schedule I substance. I also do not abuse prescription drugs (and keep in mind as scary as “amphetamine” sounds, both amphetamine AND methamphetamine are Schedule II – yes, they manufacture prescription meth, called Desoxyn). I’m not a psychonaut, and I also do not consume alcohol. 

    However, regardless of your stance on drugs, spreading misinformation (or leaving out details) isn’t a good way to get your point across. Note that the ONE case of psychosis you illustrated was found in someone “with a previous psychiatric history”. So…a drug produced psychotic symptoms in someone who is possibly psychotic to begin with? What a surprise.

    I also do not advocate bath salts or the intake of other potentially harmful substances. I ALSO do not prohibit educated, ethical research. The gun is not the problem – the gun in the hands of a child is the problem. Unfortunately, we’ve got quite a few children running around. But less than 20,000 users? That might be Grigoriadis’ official statement, and MAYBE he’s that dull, but my guess is he’s trying to cover up what he’s afraid of. 

    When speaking to the DEA directly, they admitted that Erowid “has a wealth of good information”. Erowid does not promote civil unrest and uneducated consumption, but accurate, unbiased information. If you want to know the pharmacological components behind any well-documented legal OR illegal drug, it’s a great place to start – you’ll find research articles, legal status, experiences from users (long term health benefits, hazards, results of abuse, etc.), as well as a plethora of additional information.

    So, from someone who is not a “psychonaut”, or abuser, or USER, I would advise you look for what really matters – the truth. The truth is hard facts, data, experience, numbers (and not from those biased for OR against usage), and so forth. Sensationalist propoganda is a mark of ignorance, and while the educated have a right to take a stance, those on the fence have long fallen in line with the same fear tactics you have succumbed to.

  • Rfeeback

    M-Bomb really. Its Nbome (as in 25c-nbome, 25i-nbome). So many factual mistakes in this artical I wonder if the journalist did any research at all.

    Oh and by the way, nobody would be taking research chemicals from china if the DEA didn’t prohibit all the more well known drugs. We have now reached the point where prohibition has caused 100% of the problem. It should be painfully obvious now that our prohibition policies are unsustainable.

  • Seth Gung-e

    i think its some fuzzed up thing trying to scare the dumb people to make the complaint…and in doing so its passed through congress or watever to be banned because of bull crap people here about stuff…like look at the 60s…have you seen how rediculouse the commercials on tv where about drugs…?its total bull crap…its not a war on drugs,its a war on personal freedom…its about global control…illuminati stuff man…

  • Seth Gung-e

    oh…and read terrence mckenna’s book food of the gods…he explains that we are stoned apes in adaptation…that we have a symbiotic relationships to mushrooms…idk,seems weerd but it actualy makes sense…

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