Getting a Handle on Synthetic Drugs Is a Lot Tougher Than Getting Them

By Sophie Bushwick | July 17, 2012 8:30 am

synthetic marijuana
The synthetic marijuana product Spice

Synthetic, or designer, drugs are chemical compounds that imitate the effects of marijuana, stimulants, and other recreational drugs. Unlike illegal substances, synthetics are easily accessible to users who want to get high without risking legal repercussions. Although the Federal Analog Act of 1986 prevents the sale of chemicals with structures that are “substantially similar” to those of illegal drugs, it only applies to drugs intended for human consumption. Manufacturers easily leap this hurdle by labeling their synthetic drugs as non-ingestible products such as incense, potpourri, or bath salts. Taking a different tack, the government recently passed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, which makes some of the popular designer drugs illegal. But did this really make synthetics less available?

The act’s long list of now-illegal chemical formulas may not be long enough: chemists can tweak the molecular structure of a compound to make it different enough to circumvent the ban, but similar enough to cause the same effects. Because manufacturers keep creating new formulas each time the old ones become illegal, synthetic drugs are incredibly difficult to regulate. And this is dangerous because on top of getting users high, synthetics can have unintended effects.

One type of synthetic stimulant called bath salts entered the common vernacular after being linked to hallucinations, suicides, and violent attacks. And as 80beats reported in 2011, synthetic marijuana may have given several teens heart attacks. And months after that post was published, its comment thread continues to grow as people share their experiences with synthetic products. Anecdotes describe pounding hearts, intense panic attacks, loss of bodily control, and feeling certain that death was nigh. “I thought I was going to die, my heart was racing and it was pounding so hard it was affecting my breathing like when you pound on your chest when you talk. I have had panic attacks before and this was the mother of all panic attacks,” wrote one commenter. According to another, “I felt weak, I felt an impending sense of doom, I thought I could be having a heart attack.” Others vomited heavily or lost control of their bladders. Even hours after taking the drugs, sensations of illness and anxiety remained.Easily evaded regulations mean synthetic drugs that cause these reactions will remain on store shelves, despite the government’s best efforts to pull them out of reach.

[via Wired Science]

Image courtesy of Cvdrei / Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • Jake

    Worst idea ever – this just incentivizes the production of even more varieties of designer drugs with unknown and possibly lethal consequences. If we keep going like this someone will open Pandora’s box, leading to more addictive and destructive drug than ever before.

  • JimmyDean Breakfastsausage

    The government needs to move away from its current drug prevention model and move to one based on science and harm reduction.

    It makes no sense to toss people in prison for marijuana possession. The record and being in prison will cause them far more harm then the marijuana ever could.

    Current laws place marijuana on par with heroin, crack and meth. Prisons are full and an entire industry has been built around arresting citizens and putting them in jail for ingesting substances no worse then tobacco or alcohol. And as the article says, all some chemist has to do is change the drug in some small way and its a different chemical. And perhaps much more deadly. No doubt they would be happy if they were highly addictive. The makers and pushers don’t care if a few die and they are willing to sell to minors.

    Meanwhile the prison industry lobbyists are now helping to write legislation making it easier to take away citizens freedoms and lock them up. In private for profit prisons, private for profit faith based rehab centers, private for profit youth detention centers. Judges, lawyers and prosecutors have been caught railroading innocent people into for profit prisons and youth holding centers and providing kickbacks to the same authorities.

    People should be frightened.

  • TommyGreenJr

    legalize marijuana.

  • Aaron

    As a regular user, I haven’t had any serious side effects; just some bad anxiety the first few times as I got used to it. A lot of people hit it too many times; the stuff is strong and and it only takes one the first time (although your body quickly builds a resistance to it).

    If the government would just be willing to accept the devil they know (marijuana), then maybe fewer people would be getting their faces eaten off by the devil they don’t (anything made just to get around the illegality of certain drugs).

  • Iain

    Prohibition doesn’t work, it just puts money in the hands of the unscrupulous.

  • Robby

    This is a great argument for the legalization of marijuana. Legalize pot, all of these synthetic drugs that are hundreds of times worse for the body no longer have a market.

  • David

    It’s weird that we as a society have no problem with people having fun, but we’re so spooked by people using chemicals to have fun. It’s not a question of safety; extreme sports, boxing, tackle football and even ordinary skiing will statistically cause far more brain damage than marijuana, even on the most pessimistic models.

    We just don’t like it when people are using chemicals to have a nice time. Are we worried that they will escape from reality into some blissful drop-out land? But so many people are highly functioning though they use recreational drugs on the occasional weekend, and Facebook causes a far greater loss of collective productivity and grip on reality.

    Maybe it’s time we get over this weird phobia that fun shouldn’t happen if it’s induced by chemicals. Then we could have the important debate about how to do it to achieve the highest safety as well as the highest entertainment value.

  • Paul

    Wouldn’t it have been much easier to legalize marijuana so people are not tempted buy its untested, newly engineered brothers? At least marijuana has been in testing for a few decades already and we know about its adverse effects and how to deal with them. Alcohol is legal after all even though it is not exactly healthy (and as some studies say even unhealthyer than marijuana).

  • Ryan

    I tried the synthetic stuff a few times and that shit is scary. The final time that I did it, I took about 4 hits of it and it was alright at first and then it was way too much. Eventually I tried to sleep but would have these crazy weird dreams. At one point I could hear loud yelling even though no one was yelling. Eventually it got so intense I threw up. Never again after that.

    I can smoke as much weed as I like and the worst that will happen is I’ll get sleepy. Shit like this would never exist if people could just have weed without worrying about repercussions.

  • Georgia

    My 24yr old son tried spice and after throwing up for 6 hours went into cardiac arrest. His heart stopped 3 times and he was in critical condition for 10 days. The first 5 days he was in a coma and not expected to survive. No one should mess with any form of spice. From what I have read different people use different chemicals to make it and you never really know what you are going to get or how it is going to react in your body with your metabolism. It is not worth the risk. Stay away from it.

  • dmac

    As a now clean “crackhead” who has been to prison for our Draconian drug laws, the U.S. drug laws just don’t work. Supply side drug interdiction will never work. If we spent a fraction of what is currently spent on interdiction and incarceration on education and treatment the lives and money that could be saved is substantial. Like Jimmy Dean says above, the private treatment, prisons and rehabs are what needs to be looked into and exposed. I wonder how much stock in these corporations is owned by the people responsible for putting people there? The drug treatment program in prison (Az DOC) is a joke and just another money grab. When will people wake up to what is happening in this country. Get informed and vote the bastards out.


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