Chasing the ‘Legal High’:
The Bizarre World of ‘Research Chemicals’

After a few weeks of tabloid headlines, unverified police reports and public outcry, mephedrone (the preferred legal high of 2009) was made illegal in the UK in April of this year. The ban includes other chemicals sold as ‘legal highs’ in the cathinones category, such as the less popular methylone, butylone, and ethylone. Mephedrone was later found ‘not guilty’ in any of the teenage deaths that triggered the public panic over it’s legality. It would seem that facts are rarely important in times of media-fueled hysteria. Never mind that the ban was put into place before any scientist had a chance to study mephedrone’s effects in a lab.

But online websites selling ‘research chemicals’ (‘RCs’) hardly missed a beat, quickly rounding up the next bunch of unknown chemical analogues (that have no history of human use) for sale. The jury’s still out: there’s naphyrone, MDAI, 5-IAI, the list goes on. 6-APB is a likely candidate with it’s new – and misleading – street name ‘Benzo Fury’. Not a ‘benzo’ (benzodiazepine, or ‘downer’) but rather an amphetamine-like ‘upper’, there’s no toxicology data available for this stimulant, which is growing in popularity on the club scene.

Forum discussions on websites such as Bluelight document the first human guinea pigs and their experiences with new chemicals. Various precautions and harm-minimization techniques are used – ranging from those of a professional chemist to ‘eye-balling’ doses with the casual ‘fuck-it’ attitude of a bored teenager – all in search of the perfect high.

In the past, the kind of person likely to buy a ‘RC’ marketed by its chemical name and dose themselves with it would likely know a bit about chemistry. They might test first for any allergic reaction to the compound, then start with a carefully measured, low threshold dose. Increasing doses slowly, they would know to take enough time between each trial to gage the come-down effects. Still not an ideal situation, but not exactly a pressing social issue.

However, the trend is for sites that used to sell mephedrone and other ‘legal highs’ to the general public to stock an increasing number of truly unknown substances. To promote chemicals new on the scene, some will even send free 100mg or 500mg samples. (Necessarily sold ‘not for human consumption’ to evade the law, even the more ethical retailers are unable to provide dosage and usage suggestions to their customers.)

Many websites offer same-day delivery by courier. So if anybody was at a loss for something to do tonight…

I’m all for the testing of any interesting substances for their ability to produce empathogenic, entactogenic, and entheogenic effects in humans. But it would seem something best left to the experts.

In the meantime, we have decades of detailed and rigorous scientific research on illegal drugs, such as MDMA (currently Class A), with few to no adverse side affects. Ironic considering most among this newly created population of ‘RC’ consumers are self-dosing with packets of white powder arriving in the post from an unknown source. In actual fact, they’re willing to take those risks in the hope of finding a decent substitute for pure MDMA or ecstasy pills (increasingly hard to come by in clubs, and of course illegal.)

Yet another reason for the government to take a good hard look at its drug policy and do some crucial reevaluating. Unless of course, the ‘War on Drugs’ has nothing to do with protecting the health of it’s citizens.

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For more on how current drug laws and classifications are counter-productive and unscientific, see David Nutt’s articles in the Guardian, ‘Lessons from the mephedrone ban’ and ‘A chance for a scientific drugs policy’.

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Leave a Comment: 3 Comments

Posted: October 4th, 2010
Categories: Drugs
Comment from bird - October 6, 2010 at 4:46 am

🙂 aw snap, whos making these api??

Comment from Toby - March 27, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I do not think the law will ever be able to catch up with the RC market without serverly impeding on peoples basic human rights. Ive been involved with the RC industry for three years now both as a consumer and a vendor ,the speed with which the suppliers and labs work round any new law is amazing.

You will never stop people trying to get high on any available substance, the plethora of social myths such as smoking banana skins etc proves this.

If the goverment of the world were to realize this and work with some sort of harm reduction program they could no doubt make allot of money.

Comment from thedailytransmission - March 28, 2013 at 3:42 pm

It’s true I think the drug laws are based on too archaic a concept to keep up with the psychonauts of today. Fun (or frustrating!) to watch them try though!