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How Chemistry Stymies Attempts To Regulate Synthetic Drugs 364

Hugh Pickens writes "Brandon Keim reports that the war on drugs has a new front, with chemists fabricating synthetic mimics of marijuana, dissociative drugs and stimulants. So far lawmakers appear to be a losing the war, as every time a new compound is banned, overseas chemists synthesize a new version tweaked just enough to evade the letter of the law in a giant game of chemical Whack-a-Mole. 'Manufacturers turn these things around so quickly. One week you'll have a product with compound X, the next week it's compound Y,' says forensic toxicologist Kevin Shanks. 'It's fascinating how fast it can occur, and it's fascinating to see the minute changes in chemical structure they'll come up with. It's similar, but it's different.' During the last several years, the market for legal highs has exploded in North America and Europe. While people raised on Reefer Madness-style exaggerations may be wary of claims that 'legal high' drugs are dangerous, researchers say they're far more potent than the originals. Reports of psychotic episodes following synthetic drug use are common and have led to a variety of laws, but so far the bans aren't working, as the drugs can be subtly tweaked so as to possess a different, legal molecular form. One obvious alternative approach is to ban entire classes of similar compounds; however this is easier said than done. 'The problem with that is, what does "chemically similar" really mean? Change the structure in a small way — move a molecule here, move something to the other side of the molecule — and while I might think it's an analogue, another chemist might disagree,' says Shanks. 'That's the crux of the entire problem. The scientific community does not agree on what "analogue" essentially means.""
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How Chemistry Stymies Attempts To Regulate Synthetic Drugs

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  • Legalize it all. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @09:41AM (#40200609)

    All of it.

    Some junkies will kill themselves... but that will taper off quickly. Some kill themselves. Some don't. Some never touch the stuff. If people want to destroy themselves... let them.

  • by wwwrench ( 464274 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @09:43AM (#40200615) Homepage
    What this means is that the drugs which are legal, are potentially more dangerous than the ones which are banned. Marijuana, mushrooms, LSD have been around long enough that they've been well studied, and we know the risks are minimal. But the latest synthesised version of them has not been studied, and might be dangerous. When will we learn that the war on drugs is just making things worse?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 03, 2012 @09:48AM (#40200645)

    Of course not. We've injested billions of different molecules from nature since the dawn of time, and until very recently we haven't had the scientific know-how to test them.

  • by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @09:49AM (#40200653)

    Not if the chemical isn't marketed as being meant for human consumption, obviously...

    The synthetic weed that they're selling at headshops and shit nowadays is sold as incense, some of them are sold as bath salts. They say right on the side "not safe for human consumption", but then again, so do cans of spray paint and duster and there are thousands of people out there huffing that shit.

    Just more stupidity all because the government refuses to legalize a plant that grows wild all over the damn world.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 03, 2012 @09:59AM (#40200717)
    Same reason should be used to ban alcohol,cigarettes and fossil fuels then
  • Re:Whitelist (Score:5, Insightful)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:04AM (#40200743) Journal

    Blacklisting is always going to be running behind the curve. I think whitelisting allowed recreational mood/thought-altering substances (currently: ethanol, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, fat, others?) might work better. Simply make it illegal to sell or distribute new substances to the general public without permission from the FDA.

    One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
    And the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all.

    The FDA is never going to whitelist anything potent for over-the-counter recreational use.

  • by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:05AM (#40200753)

    If only there existed relatively safe plant [wikipedia.org] that people could smoke instead and not turn into fucking flesh-eating zombies after use...

    Oh well, I'm sure Big Pharma will come up with something to combat these cravings at a very reasonable price per dose, because Big Pharma cares...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:09AM (#40200777)

    I've no experience of "bath salts" (besides actual bath salts) but I'd take reports that it contributed significantly the the cannibal's antics with a pinch of salt.

    I'm probably being too cynical, but it sounds more like a newspaper going for moral outrage. It's also interesting that you mention Spice, which I have tried myself; it's meant to be a legal version of pot, and that tends to dampen violent tendencies rather than amplify them. The guy you mention may well have been smoking the stuff before the assault on his adoptive family but I'm very skeptical that one led to the other, but of course the papers will take this as a cue to stir up a campaign to ban it.

  • by Higgins_Boson ( 2569429 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:14AM (#40200797)

    You've prompted my first ever Slashdot comment.

    The problem is that people using this stuff are killing innocents. Look at the Florida cannibal (repotedly on bath salts) and the guy a mile from my house in Farmington Hills, MI who killed his adoptive father and beat his adoptive mother & brother to within an inch of their lives on K2/Spice.

    By the way, it hurts a lot of people a lot when a user ODs. A lot more than I thought it would.

    Except you forgot things like this [huffingtonpost.com], which totally refute your small area claims of increased crime.

    Just because 10 crimes out of 1,000 people happens does not mean you have an increase in problems. It just means you are falling into the media's fascination with only reporting bad things.

    Decriminalize/Legalize all but the most harmful and that may be a step in the right direction. Or simply take the exact approach Portugal took.

    However, this being /. and all, I do not fully expect you to actually read what I've linked for you.

  • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:17AM (#40200807)

    Just more stupidity all because the government refuses to legalize a plant that grows wild all over the damn world.

    If the government legalized it and even limited to purchase in gov only stores, they could at least kill off most of the issues related to the drug trade, in one fell swoop removing pushers, drug runners, mules, and cartels. Granted, at this point they'd also have to sell cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and heroin for less than street value, but that's purely attributable to the stubbornness of the "war on drug" folks who've now created this entire underworld subculture. Apparently those "war on drugs" people were incapable of learning from history and what occurred the last time they declared "war" on a common and highly desired item (prohibition). At least they seem to have learned their lesson with tobacco.

  • by gstrickler ( 920733 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:18AM (#40200813)

    Precisely. Prohibition didn't work in the 1920's, it just made drinking more dangerous and added to the crime rate and violence. The "war on drugs" is simply prohibition revisited. Stop trying to make prohibition work, it will never work. Legalize it, tax it, and regulate it, just like we do with alcohol and tobacco.

    There may be a few drugs that are too dangerous and need to be restricted, but if the majority of them are available, the demand for the most dangerous ones will drop dramatically, whether they're legal or not.

  • by Savantissimo ( 893682 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:30AM (#40200883) Journal

    "Doesn't every chemical have to go through thorough tests before deemed safe for human consumption?"

    No, because we used to be a free country where everything was considered legal until proven otherwise. Back in the early 20th century, it took a constitutional amendment to ban a substance. It was understood that that was not within Congress' powers to do so otherwise, which gave rise to all sorts of dodges such as calling the ban an "excise tax", with outrageously high duties.

    We have slid down the slippery slope to the point that agencies such as the BATF, DEA and FDA can ban substances by totally discretionary administrative action - and anyone with molecules vaguely similar can have all property seized, be prevented from making any effective legal defense and sentenced under draconian mandatory minimums to decades in prison. But they still like to pretend that they are still exercising their authority with some authentic legal basis, so they'll do a bit of hand-wringing while actually prosecuting anyone with any potentially mind-altering material, or "precursors" or even just for possessing glassware without license from our masters.

    I say they never had the authority to ban anything, nor to even tax anything to a level that would remove it from regular commerce.
    When they try to use their power to do so, they are acting outside their delegated auhtority ultra vires, they have lost their immunity, and so are entitled to even less deference than any other band of armed thugs that invades homes, steals property and kidnaps, terrorizes and kills citizens.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:34AM (#40200903)

    The problem is that people using this stuff are killing innocents.

    So is the war on drugs. It's killing roughly 10,000 people a year across the border in Mexico (which in itself is almost as numerous as are killed by drunk drivers, the most common case of innocents killed by drug users. It's killing people who are imprisoned for using drugs (there are hundreds of thousands if people jailed each year in an unhealthy environment, do the math). It's killing people due to increased government power and reduced freedom. It's killing people due to a massive misallocation of society's resources.

    By the way, it hurts a lot of people a lot when a user ODs. A lot more than I thought it would.

    How about when that user spends a few years in jail? I bet that hurts a lot of people too.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:36AM (#40200919)

    I mean, THC is ranked as having a higher abuse potential and danger than cocaine.

    This is not 100% accurate; Schedule II drugs are supposedly drugs with a high potential for abuse, but which have legitimate medical uses; Schedule I are those with a high potential for abuse, but no legitimate medical uses. Cocaine has use as an anesthetic, and amphetamines have use in treating narcolepsy, ADD, and obesity.

    The problem with these schedules, of course, is that things become political hotbuttons. Law enforcement officers want to be able to arrest anyone who possesses marijuana, without having to listen to a story about having a prescription; they view placing marijuana in Schedule II as conceding defeat. MDMA was put in Schedule I despite legitimate medical uses as well, because cops wanted to crack down on hippies, punk rockers, and other subcultures. The war on drugs is more about increasing and maintaining police power than about public health.

  • Propoganda (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:36AM (#40200923) Homepage
    I've got news for you. If the guy beat his adoptive mother and brother to within an inch of their lives on K2, then they should thank their lucky stars he was on K2, or they would be dead right now.*.

    Disclaimer:I've actually tried K2 and know what I'm talking about.

    Perhaps you were unaware of this, but when the government wants to make something illegal, they are often not truthful. Furthermore, correlation doesn't equal causation. If one smokes a joint and then goes and kills someone, they didn't kill someone because they smoked a joint; they killed someone because they are a murderous person.
  • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:48AM (#40200983)

    I don't think anyone has ever eaten some guy's face after smoking a cigarette or filling up their car with gas, so no... the same reason shouldn't be used to ban cigarettes and fossil fuels.

    There are rational arguments for why you might want to ban either (and arguments for why you shouldn't), but the one you're presenting here makes no sense whatsoever.

  • by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @10:58AM (#40201043)

    Yep, it would put cartels and the mafia out of business overnight, leading to less crime and a marked improvement in living conditions and health for everyone, which is why its unlikely to ever happen. Politicians know its good to have a boogeyman in your back pocket to scare the electorate, like wartime presidents never losing office. Law enforcement knows their budgets would be slashed without much crime, and the increasingly paramilitary tactics they are adopting would become unneccessary. In short, those in power would lose control.

  • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert@slashdot.fi ... NBSDom minus bsd> on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:02AM (#40201057) Homepage

    Bath salts are a legal substance being abused...

    Do you think people would resort to taking bath salts if marijuana and other such drugs were available legally? As the article points out, as more substances are made illegal they are creating ever more dangerous substances in order to achieve similar highs. This wouldn't have happened if drugs were legal, if anything research would have been performed to create safer versions.

    Also if drugs are sold legally, you can better keep track of who is taking them...

    And people kill innocents all the time, wether on illegal drugs, legal drugs like alcohol or prescribed medicine from a doctor, or on no drugs whatsoever... Just because someone had taken bath salts at the time he tried to kill and eat someone, doesn't mean the bath salts had any influence over his decision to commit such an act.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:03AM (#40201063)

    I don't think anyone has ever eaten some guy's face after smoking a cigarette

    Has someone eaten some guy's face after using marijuana? What kind of non sequitur are you pushing here?

    The truth is that plenty of people die because of tobacco. Children get asthma because of tobacco. Second hand tobacco smoke can cause cancer. Tobacco smoke is far more dangerous than marijuana smoke (yes, really -- marijuana smoke does contain carcinogens, but even heavy marijuana smokers do not show an increased risk of cancer).

    or filling up their car with gas

    Cars kill tens of thousands of people per year, and I can assure you that people's faces have been torn off by cars.

    The fact of the matter is that the war on drugs has nothing to do with public safety. Making methamphetamine illegal for recreational use (it is certainly legal by prescription) has actually created a much greater risk to the general public: illegal methamphetamine production. I have never seen a crazed methamphetamine user (I am sure they exist, I have just never seen one), but I have seen a house burn to the ground after the byproducts of methamphetamine production caught fire. Mobile production facilities create major chemical hazards on the sides of highways. I would rather have a legal, regulated chemical plant producing methamphetamine for people to buy over the counter than the system we have today.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:09AM (#40201109) Homepage Journal

    You can add up every single murder and suicide committed under the influence of illegal drugs, every death by overdose, every death due to organ failure caused by years of addiction ... and you still won't come close to the number of deaths and the amount of damage caused by the "War on Drugs" rather than the drugs themselves. If you don't think the argument makes sense, that's your problem for not paying attention.

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:13AM (#40201139) Homepage Journal

    These synthetic drugs aren't mimicking the effects of marijuana, or of LSD. They just change your perceptions or ideas. They aren't mimicking the effects of valium, either, but nobody ays that they are. Because "mimicking valium" isn't scary scary scary. Because the corporate mass media isn't trying to scare people about valium. Because valium is actualy Valium, a brand name drug sold by giant pharmacos that advertise on TV. Marijuana and LSD are sold by independent operators who don't pay TV corps $billions a year to make them sound friendly. That's why they're illegal. Even though they're not anywhere near as scary as valium, which is actually addictive.

    But that doesn't stop Slashdot from saying these drugs "mimic marijuana", or the Miami cops telling the corporate mass media that bath salts are "a new form of LSD" when some idiot turns themself into a flesh eating zombie possibly by smoking some. Because there's no corporate PR pushback to protect the brand, any kind of inane lie will fly around the media if it appeals to fear of drugs.

    The fact that in 2012 the mass media is quoting cops saying bath salts are "the new form of LSD", and Slashdot is pimping the idea that some arbitrary drug "mimics marijuana" shows that the only victory in the Drug War is the first casualty of any war: the truth.

  • You're cherry picking. The religions you describe represent less than 5% of all religious people on the planet. The other 95% are exactly in line with what GP said.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:17AM (#40201171) Homepage Journal

    How about you just leave us alone with whatever we want to do with our protein receptors?

    Criminalize actual acts that actually harm someone else, regardless of the cause. If you want to make an aggravated crime out of doing harm as a result of doing something else that's known to be risky, especially on a second or further conviction, that's got some merit.

    But criminalizing people self-stimulating (or inhibiting) their own bodies is tyranny. It has failed over and again, every time, creating far more damage than the drug consumption ever has. While failing to stop the consumption. And destroying both justice itself and the people's ability to trust it, atop the rubble of everything else the prohibition touches.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:32AM (#40201253)
    Don't forget the for-profit prisons. They have a vested interest in high crime and recidivism rates. Also I recently found out that they make prison population projections from third grade reading skills, so the for-profit prison industry also has a vested interest in harming education. That there is such a thing as a for-profit industry is a clear sign of a sick society.
  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:53AM (#40201361)

    "Thus explaining why Jews are required to drink wine every week and are required to drink four glasses (definitely enough for almost anyone to at least get a buzz) on Passover. You also forgot about the numerous religions that use psychedelic mushrooms as part of their ceremonies. Religion is not the problem here."

    You just confirmed my point regarding ____CONTROL____. Now note that CEREMONIAL use is ____CONTROL___, and note your reference to Jewish ___REQUIREMENTS___ in your post.

    Stop defending religion. It's not defensible. It's superstitious nonsense designed for Shamans to CONTROL those who are not, and to EXALT Superstitionists above those not sharing their delusion.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @11:57AM (#40201395) Homepage Journal

    the person I responded to said that you might as well use the same argument to ban cigarettes and gasoline. That's a stupid argument because cigarettes and gasoline haven't ever been implicated in violent, cannibalistic assaults.

    Actually, the person you responded to said:

    Same reason should be used to ban alcohol,cigarettes and fossil fuels then

    I note you deliberately left off alcohol, which is most certainly a factor in a great many violent assaults. And the point of the entire thread isn't the specific nature of the harm these various substances do, but the fact that they are all demonstrably harmful to people other than those using them; the question at hand is whether or not this harm is sufficient cause for banning them. If you want to engage in obvious cherry-picking, go ahead, but be aware that it's really not helping you make your case.

  • by ks*nut ( 985334 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @12:40PM (#40201693)
    There are lots of people getting rich because of ludicrous drug laws in this country. How do you think the CIA finances its nefarious adventures? They'll keep the war going in Afghanistan going just long enough to tidy up the fortunes they're making on the opium trade and then shift their attentions elsewhere. Thousands of lives are shattered each year through the use of a legalized drug - alcohol, yes, damnit, it's a drug and we're still throwing people into jail because they're smoking a weed that turns into a flower in their minds. Stupid country.
  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @01:15PM (#40201953) Homepage Journal

    And the only reason the 'bath salts' even exist is that the far more desirable cannabis is illegal.The longer cannabis is illegal, the more crazy dangerous legal substitutes will be made. Had cannabis been legal, the guy would have been way too busy trying to carve a walnut into a pipe to eat anyone's face.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 03, 2012 @03:16PM (#40202785)

    First, I'm going to call bullshit on your rant about drug users. I can pass the drug test - I've done them all. :)

    I have used marijuana almost every day since I was about 15 - now I'm 50, successfully had a career as an Electronic Design engineer, both hardware and software. I own my own house and car, both paid off. I had to retire early due to side-effects from cancer, but in my lifetime, I have never stolen anything from anyone to finance my drug-use. Neither has anyone else I know that does drugs.. If I didn't have the money, I went without.

    If someone is so out of control they have to resort to crime to support their habits, then yes, they have a problem. THEIR problem, not a problem with drugs, or society, they have a mental or chemical issue that makes them susceptible to addiction. Separate from that they have a MORAL problem that allows them to steal or commit major crimes to further their habits. If not drugs, they would seek other self-destructive addictions, sex, gambling, whatever. The moral issue means they would commit crimes to finance their eating habits or their habit of living in someplace with a roof. This is not a drug related problem at its core.

    That said, I would keep some drugs controlled - Opiates and Cocaine, while fun, are ripe for abuse due to their addictive potential. So does alcohol. Pot, Hash, LSD, Mushrooms - these are fine - they are not physically addictive and are more or less self-limiting in that the end of the high doesn't result in a massive desire to do MORE of it. If someone has the chemical imbalance to make them prone to addiction, coke, alcohol and opiates aggravate that tendency greatly.

    Legalizing drugs would eliminate the "forbidden fruit" aspect of doing drugs - it wouldn't be so attractive for rebellious teens to do just to piss off society and make them nothing special. This also would eliminate the curiosity aspect (they say it's bad, but the arguments don't make any sense, WHY? Let me find out...).

    I will agree education will help things. That, and making drugs safe and legally available to make them commonplace and mainstream will go a long way to eliminating the attractiveness of them for abuse, as well as profitability for illicit sales.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @03:23PM (#40202829) Homepage

    If we're going to rag on drugs, we should start with alcohol. Ask any policeman, fireman, EMT, ER staffer. We have entire ER wings devoted to that one particular drug.

    Since we, as a country, decided that it was OK to pickle ourselves into oblivion while simultaneously plastering bystanders to the concrete, then getting all high and mighty about pretty much any other 'recreational' substance is the height of hypocrisy.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @06:12PM (#40204029)

    Yep, it would put cartels and the mafia out of business overnight, leading to less crime and a marked improvement in living conditions and health for everyone,

    No it wouldn't. You kill the drug market but leave the players behind, you end up with a ton of violent criminals looking for new profitable crimes to commit. That's what happened with prohibition - it basically created organized crime in the US and once liquor was relegalized they didn't just get regular 9-5 jobs, they branched out.

    If drugs are legalized in the US, we should be prepapred for the violence to get worse before it gets better.

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @07:29PM (#40204499)

    It's between parents and their children, if the potential parents want to take thalidomide after it was shown to be dangerous to unborn children, then it's between the parents and children and government has no right to meddle with that either.

    This post is so stupid I am strongly tempted to reply as AC a long screed about how it fits into the GNAA agenda, but even the GNAA is appalled by your post.

  • by amRadioHed ( 463061 ) on Sunday June 03, 2012 @08:15PM (#40204749)

    If drugs are legalized in the US, we should be prepapred for the violence to get worse before it gets better.

    I'm pretty sure that's not what happen after alcohol prohibition.

The road to ruin is always in good repair, and the travellers pay the expense of it. -- Josh Billings