PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, June 4, 2013

New Designer Drugs Are In Legal Gray Area

(zhouxuan12345678/Flickr)

(zhouxuan12345678/Flickr)

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.

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.”

Guest:


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Spotlight

Peter O’Dowd follows the route of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train 150 years ago, to look at modern-day race relations and Lincoln's legacy.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

May 25 Comment

Father’s Love For Fallen Son Inspires Memorial Day Tradition

In what has become an annual tradition, volunteers join Paul Monti, whose son died while serving in Afghanistan, to plant flags at each gravestone at the Massachusetts National Cemetery.

May 25 3 Comments

An Ordinary Day At Arlington National Cemetery

Official ceremonies will be held at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate Memorial Day. Here & Now's Lisa Mullins has this report of an ordinary day at the cemetery.

May 21 7 Comments

YouTube Sensation Publishes Her First Cookbook

Maangchi's career was born when her son suggested she start making videos of herself cooking Korean dishes.

May 21 17 Comments

UC’s Napolitano Speaks Out On High Cost Of Public Ed, Anti-Semitism On Campus

Janet Napolitano talks about a plan to freeze in-state tuition, and campus protests against Israel's occupation of the West Bank.