Range expansion in the drug market

5. April 2012

LSD is out, cocaine and heroin are oldies, SPICE is displaced by SPACE. The EU drugs agency EMCDDA recently warned of a "record number of new drugs". Last year, 41 new narcotic drugs were registered, twice as much as usual.

With the actual reporting on new trends and forms of consumption, critics sometimes remark, an idea finds its way into the consumer’s head and curiosity is aroused. Nonetheless it’s also true that if specialists are kept informed, they can then recognise symptoms indicating the use of these new arrivals in good time. Not only does the number of new drugs increase, the readiness of consumers to take risks also does. Price and availability often dictate the market, safety matters fall by the wayside. Drugs are divided into three classes: analeptics, hallucinogens and sedatives. In all classes, new additions have been noted.

In Germany, The Federal Criminal Police Office and the government’s Drug Commissioner, Mechthild Dyckmans, warn against the consumption of so-called “legal highs”. The substances are declared, for example, to be “bath salts”, “air fresheners” or “mixed herbs” and advertised as supposedly legal alternatives to conventional illegal drugs. The innocent products however usually contain narcotics or similar-acting chemical substances which are not disclosed on the colorful packaging. Consumers smoke, swallow or sniff the products for narcotic effects. “Based on available evidence, we have to strongly warn against the misuse of so-called ‘legal high’ products. With its consumption there are incalculable associated health risks”, states Mechthild Dyckmans. After using “legal high” products, at times serious, at times life-threatening intoxication have occurred. The usually young consumers have needed emergency hospital treatment for conditions such as circulatory failure, unconsciousness, psychosis, delusions, muscle decay and even impending renal failure, according to the The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).

Bath salts: anything but clean

On publicly accessible Internet sites, consumers can order “Mojo”: this is no Spanish sauce, but rather a preparation of “stimulating bath salts”. The price at the very least makes one suspicious: 120 € for 5 grams. There is also “Ivory Wave”. Its chemical name is as complex as its trade name is catchy: 2-β-carbomethoxy-3-β-(4-fluorophenyl) tropane, CFT for short. This phenyltropane derivative acts as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor. It increases the concentration of the neurotransmitter dopamine which is active in the brain’s reward centre. At the same CFT makes you high and alert. The effect is comparable to cocaine. MDPV, a highly active psychostimulant, was also identified in “bath salts” from other providers. The U.S. television channel CNN warns against using this amphetamine-like substance in “bath salts” and compares it to Crystal Meth. The manufacturers do not usually provide details on concentration levels.

“Plant food” as entactogen

In the group of analeptics there is also to be found a substance called mephedrone, declared to be a plant fertiliser. This cathin derivative, also called methadrone, is a synthetic product which is similar to the ingredient from plants of the Catha genus. This needs to be consumed fresh in order to produce its stimulant effect. Methadrone is sold as a white powder by 0.5 g portions in green bags. It makes one alert, enhances performance and acts as an entactogen. The consumer becomes uninhibited, outgoing, extremely upbeat. 4-Methylmethcathinone (4-MMC), its precise chemical name, is snorted or swallowed. Its effect is comparable to ecstasy. EU justice ministers have decided to put mephedrone on the index of prohibited substances and to prevent the sale of this recreational drug carrying incalculable risks. Unfortunately, this troubles neither the consumer nor the operators on foreign-based Internet platforms. Anyone who enters “buy methadrone” into their search engine will quickly find it. Only two clicks and input of a credit card number, and the mailman unknowingly transforms into a drug courier.

Ecstasy forte: M-CPP

Metachlorophenyl-piperazine, also known as MM-Cat, or MEOW, is still the most widely used synthetic drug on the ecstasy market. The substance is usually added to ecstasy tablets as an extender and amplifier. It is a designer drug, which is related to the non-tricyclic antidepressant Trazodin. This serotonin agonist can trigger anxiety and panic attacks. Because of its emetic effect, the substance is also mixed with metoclopramide. This dopamine antagonist can alter the effect incalculably. How relevant the problem of these sometimes unwanted additives is can be seen in a market trend: a so-called “EZTEST” is available, which easily identifies M-CPP and other phenylpiperazines in tablets.

Schnappy doesn’t only want to play

A new drug is coming from Russia. Cheap, evil, easy to manufacture. Codeine, phosphorus from the abrasion of matches and iodine: the ingredients list is short, the list of side effects is long. This product from “backyard labs” carries the chemical name desomorphine and has an unsuccessful career as an analgesic behind it. The effect is similar to heroin, but the risks are much higher. The drug carries the name “alligator” or “croc” in the drug scene: not because it’s green, but because it “eats the user from inside”. The injection sites themselves have greenish discolorations, presumably this may also have contributed to the creation of the name.100 rubles, the equivalent of about € 2.50, is the cost of a shot. The dangers are in the contaminants: phosphorus and antimony from the reaming head of matches are more toxic than the opioid derivative itself. Descriptions include serious skin and tissue damage, necrosis and gangrene. Desomorphine belongs in Germany to the group of non-marketable anasthetic drugs.

With over forty new substances, it is almost impossible for lawyers, doctors and drug counseling bodies to keep an overview. The users of such products post their experiences in various networks. New substances have been spotted, listed and tested meticulously. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is also engaged in drug profiling: very detailed, scientifically sound, unfortunately not always up to date. It is nonetheless a good approach.

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