Having to keep saying this at the front of these posts gets tiresome, but I’d rather subject the reader to a few sentences of disclaimers than received concerned calls and anxious emails from friends, family, or colleagues. Do not interpret anything here as an invitation to engage in legal or illegal drug abuse. I like what I like and what I like is studying the psychological, sociological, political, and economic(al) impact of drug use, misuse, legalization, decriminalization, distribution, and harm reduction.
First off, let me gripe for a second… The limitation of academic research is readily apparent when studying the ever-changing landscape of drug abuse. While scholars must deal with Institutional Review Boards (IRB), funding, the validity and reliability of their sources, and (often) teaching classes, journalists can get down and dirty, miring themselves in the internet’s seedy underbelly as they dig through Bluelight and conduct interviews with darknet market administrators. Is the journalist’s information anywhere near as reliable as those academicians? Not by a country mile, but things are happening at such a fast pace that scholarly research is often outdated before it’s ever published. NBOMes, mephedrone, methylone, and Spice? 2015 designer drugs? Are you serious? First off, Spice is a marketing term that covers all cannabinoids. Second, mephedrone is almost nonexistent thanks to the availability of legal alternatives. Third, almost all the people purchasing methylone or NBOMes are dealers trying to pass them off as ecstasy or LSD, respectively. The majority of actual users want neither. Sorry, academia, you’re way behind.
The cutting edge literature is coming from investigative journalists like Mike Power. I just wrapped up Drugs Unlimited: The Web Revolution That’s Changing How the World Gets High and damn was it a good read. Now, to be fair, many of the chemicals in Mike’s book are now scheduled, but here’s the beautiful thing: Mike focuses on the how these things became widespread rather than the things that became widespread.
What I enjoyed most about this book is it almost spent more time discussing the legal highs than the illegal. Fast fleeting are the days of getting high off dextromethorphan cough syrup and morning glory seeds, both of which possess additives or pesticides that make the experience less than ideal. Now, there are scads of hallucinogens, psychedelics, dissociatives, stimulants, cannabinoids, and opioids (this last class is really scary when you see most of the drugs being abused are fentanyl analogues, a drug very easy to overdose on and that I previously discussed). When the UK or US schedule these chemicals, chemists are popping out alternatives at breathtaking speed.
Recently, government tried something a little different: stop the production at the source. In actuality, I don’t know if it was the US/UK pressuring China to stop production of a long list of much-abused substances, but the idea isn’t farfetched. Within days of the ban, prices on these chemicals jumped as their middlemen suppliers capitalized on the end of an era (people ordering from Chinese labs are purchasing amounts that far exceed personal use), jacking up the prices of much loved study drugs like 2-FMA, empathogen-entactogens like 4-FA, and probably the most popular dissociative of the last few years: MXE (in all fairness, MXE had already become scarce and the batches that did exist were often heavily cut [I imagine this had to do with China putting stricter controls over precursors, but I honestly don’t know enough to speak on that with confidence]).
What happened as a result of the ban? The same thing Mike Power said happened after mephedrone was banned: new chemicals entered the scene. If you want to find out what, spend some time familiarizing yourself with Bluelight or the research chemical subreddits. I pity the medical professionals and police officers who have to deal with overdose cases of substances they know nothing about and, frankly, the user knows just as little.
The old method of controlling drug abuse no longer works in an Internet world.