There are a lot of people running around with chemistry degrees and there is a lot of drug research being done. Inventing the next hot pharmaceutical drug has always been the dream of many researchers, and the quickest way to substantial praise, if not fame. (In terms of fame, can you name the inventor of Inderal, Tagamet or Viagra? I can’t either). Yet these are all breakthrough drugs that changed millions of lives.
Recently the hallowed halls and white lab coats of pharmaceutical research are finding competition from clandestine labs. Yes, these underworld types are doing drug research.
The process of inventing drugs of abuse is, strangely enough, not unlike traditional pharmaceutical research.
For a few very bright, and/or very lucky researchers, truly ground-breaking work is being done. For the rest, a tiny variation on a successful parent molecule is sought. Some of these end up better than the parent drug and some are worse. Many have similar effects to the parent drug with one important difference – they are not covered by the original drug’s patent.
On the clandestine side, variations on illegal drugs are sought.
A minor difference in a molecule temporarily makes the law obsolete. Ecstasy is a variation on the methamphetamine molecule. It took several years for laws to catch up with the street. The change also temporarily evades drug screen detection since an exact molecular match is required. There are also tremendous tax advantages to having an illegal enterprise (not paying taxes, at least for a while).
Anyone watching the news has seen several recent examples of this clandestine research.
K2 is a variation on the THC molecule; “bath salts” are another variation on the methamphetamine molecule. Both resided briefly in the unrestricted and almost undetectable area of gray market drugs.
The law has caught up with both of these compounds, and the technology to detect them followed quickly. They smoldered along out of sight to most of society for a few years, and then became illegal right when most of us heard of them for the first time.
This is going to be the drug problem of the 21st century.
There are already many new illegal drugs circulating in areas where polite society doesn’t look. As long as they are not widely distributed, they will continue unnoticed. The cycle is contracting by recent experience. Ecstasy was widely available for five years before becoming illegal; K2 and Spice – two or three years. Bath Salts were restricted only months after hitting the underground big time.
This represents a fundamental ground shift in illegal drug use. Before this, well-known drugs were abused and there were few surprises. Cocaine, marijuana and heroin have been with us for centuries. We understand well every bad thing they can do to you.
So, as we shop carefully for organic greens at the grocery store to stay healthy, a few of our kids are unwittingly entering the cutting edge of illicit drug research.
Give your kids a hug and remind them people are paid to have new drugs tested on their bodies, and it is done in carefully monitored medial settings.
Happy New Year (and take care).