How To Make Your Own Designer Drugs

US Navy 010717-N-1350W-002 Drug screening lab prepares samplesMike Power says that designing your own narcotics online isn’t just easy — it can be legal too. How does he know? He did it himself and describes the results at Medium:

…Most of the innovation around legal highs in recent years has come out of the UK. With the law now over 40 years old, it has hundreds of amendments employed to try and catch an ever-growing list of narcotics. There are currently more than 150 in its most heavily controlled category alone. The law is now caught in a race with runners half its age, who understand chemistry and technology as well or better than the people who wrote the statutes and implement them, and whose aim is specifically to outrun and outsmart the law in order to enrich themselves.

Many of those who design drugs do so merely to push the boundaries: these “psychonauts” as they are sometimes known, are early adopters of new drugs. Some share their knowledge freely and collaboratively; some are intensely geeky; some are pretentious and elitist chemical grandstanders, eager to be the first to try and document any new drug. Many psychonauts are extremely cautious, and fastidious in dosing and documenting a drug’s effects. Others still are reckless risk-takers—people who will try anything for a kick. One user I spoke to enjoyed his experiences with mushrooms so much that he began to seek out all the new hallucinogens he could find. He is a passionate advocate for psychedelics: “In life, you’re battling through the undergrowth and every so often it’s good to climb a tall tree to get your bearings. This is what psychedelics do for me.”

One of the most influential underground chemists is a British man known to me as Karl. In 2010, Karl conceived the recipe for methoxetamine, the drug that David Caldicott spotted in Wales and Australia. I met him first on a bulletin board five years ago, then in person recently. His design for MXE was more potent than its parent, ketamine, which is generally used as an anesthetic but is prized by users for its ability to deliver an out-of-body experience. A legal highs firm took Karl’s design, and had it synthesized by a legitimate Hong Kong lab. It went on sale first in Britain in 2010, before spreading across the world. The drug is now illegal in the UK.

Karl is far from alone. David Caldicott has met many of the web underworld’s chemical designers in an attempt to understand what it is that he is seeing.

“I was led to meet one once and I had to wear a blindfold,” he says. “These are hugely secretive people.”

“There’s a misguided assumption that the guys running clandestine chemistry labs have bad complexions and wear plaid shirts and that they are slightly dim and just follow cookbook recipes. That’s a mistake. These guys are incredibly bright. They are head-and-shoulders—intellectually, certainly—above some of the politicians who are attempting to legislate against them.”…

He goes on to describe how he goes about the manufacture of his own drug:

I phoned a contact with expertise in chemistry and asked if he could think of a simple molecular tweak that would produce a new version of phenmetrazine that would be totally legal. Yes, he said. The change would be trivial. What might its effects be? “A fantastic anorectic if you want to lose weight, and an effective stimulant.”

The search began for a laboratory that would make a one-off sample. I decided that I would present myself as a legitimate broker for a UK-based pharmaceutical firm. Taking on my new identity, I posted a buying request for the drug on various public websites that broker deals between individuals and small pharmaceutical manufacturers. Dozens of emails came back. Not all of them were genuine.

Some of these early responders were blatant scammers: Cameroon and Ukraine do have chemical industries, but those who work in them tend not to be able to offer large amounts of totally new, extremely rare drugs the very next day. My search headed to India, where three firms offered to synthesize the drug for me. On closer examination, though, none of them seemed up to the task—and they were all asking for very large sums of money, well beyond the actual value and difficulty of the compounds we were requesting. One priced the job as high as $10,000.

After weeks of constant searching for a decent lab, one of my contacts sent me the URL of a site in Shanghai that, on the surface of things, has nothing to do with legal highs, analog drugs, or any gray-market activity. They sell organic chemicals on international markets to people in many industries, and offer pharmaceutical drugs to legitimate importers…

[continues at at Medium]

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  • Damien Quinn

    As ever, the greatest tragedies that have been attributed to legal highs are actually a result of wider the prohibition of mind altering substances.

    If companies could legally produce these things (with proper trials and dosing information) then most of the tragic incidences would have been avoided. If companies are willing to sell mind altering substances, and I’m willing to buy them, what’s the justification for telling us that we can’t make the transaction?

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