The Epidemic Rise of Synthetic Drugs: an In-Depth Analysis

The Epidemic Rise of Synthetic Drugs: an In-Depth Analysis
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Across The World, Synthetic Drugs Are Developing

I have spent over 20 years studying the mechanism behind drug trafficking, particularly how prohibition has been driving the rise of new synthetic drugs that are transforming the way the world gets high. Within a few years, many of the drugs we know could be replaced by new dangerous chemicals prepared in the laboratory.

A few years ago, we noticed a gradual change, almost like a tectonic plate in motion, from drugs made from plants, like cocaine and heroin, to drugs made in the lab, like speed, ecstasy, and methamphetamine.

And this is having huge implications for global drug trafficking, drug addicts, and the world as a whole. This is one of the biggest stories in the drug world today, and we need to talk about it.

But, This Isn't A Completely New Thing

We’ve had synthetic drugs that have been around for a long time now, from LSD to MDMA and methamphetamine. And, of course, we have had pharmaceuticals.

What has been happening in the last decade is that we are witnessing a kind of slow change in which synthetic drugs will soon become dominant over herbal drugs.

We can see this in America and Canada, where synthetic opioids like fentanyl have taken the place of heroin almost entirely. Globally, we are witnessing a huge increase in the use of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs that are gradually replacing drugs such as cocaine in the party scene.

And also, we are seeing a huge black market in fake medicines, you know, black market Valium, diazepam, etizolam, all these different benzos, including Xanax.

Xanax is one of the most popular drugs among young people in the UK and the US in particular. These are considered synthetic drugs, a kind of copy of medicines, but they are nonetheless part of this huge increase in the consumption of synthetic drugs around the world.

The Epidemic Rise of Synthetic Drugs: an In-Depth Analysis

What Is The Commercial Advantage For A Cartel Selling Synthetic Drugs vs Natural Drugs?

Synthetic drugs are a far better option for cartels because they are easier to produce.

With plant-based drugs, you have to wait for the plants to grow. You need to make sure that plants are not destroyed by natural causes or external implications. Obviously, plants are a little easier to see from helicopters from the sky, compared to the production of synthetic drugs made in the laboratory.

A laboratory could be hidden in any home, in any warehouse, in any factory. It could be hidden anywhere, so it’s much safer.

What's Happening With Methamphetamines?

Methamphetamine was mainly produced in bathtubs in local and regional areas in America. There weren’t many drug dealers, cocaine, or MDMA in these areas. So what people did was just think about starting their own stimulants.

So they started using the ingredients you can find in most stores and making their own methamphetamine in small home mini labs.

The police cracked down on these local laboratories, but then the Mexican cartels realized their potential, deciding that they would start producing methamphetamine.

We’ve all seen Breaking Bad. The Cartels have really boosted methamphetamine production using a variety of different methods that have been refined and improved over time. So the use of methamphetamine in the United States has soared due to this increase in low-cost production by cartels. It is a big profit for them, they can produce a lot of it cheaply using chemicals from China, and then resell it to America, where there is a large market.

But it's not just in the United States that we're seeing this boom in methamphetamine production

Methamphetamine has taken the place of heroin as the main addictive drug in China. The hub of methamphetamine production in Asia is called the Golden Triangle, which is an area that touches parts of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. And that’s where all of Asia’s methamphetamine is produced, in this small plot of land, mostly jungle, where it’s easy enough for criminal gangs to hide from the authorities.

In these areas, Methamphetamine pills are also called Yaba. They are consumed by a mix of young people on a night out and also by workers who work longer, and are very cheap, around a dollar each.

They also produce crystal methamphetamine, which is a bit like the more elegant version of Yaba pills and is a bit purer. It is the same type of methamphetamine that we see being produced in America and that is consumed by people who are a little richer or even exported to China, Japan, and Australia.

The Epidemic Rise of Synthetic Drugs: an In-Depth Analysis

And on the other hand, I think one of the problems that have brought all of this into focus is how synthetic drugs have shaped the overdose crisis in America today. This is one of the most powerful and disturbing factors in this movement toward synthetic drugs.

Mexican cartels obviously made a financial decision at some point, to start using synthetic opioids instead of the real product, slowly replacing heroin with fentanyl. That is why we have seen such a high rise in the overdose rate in the United States.

In a way, it could be said that they have somehow poisoned the drug supplies of the United States. In some parts of America and Canada, it is almost impossible to find heroin now. So everyone is getting used to fentanyl now, and people sometimes ask for fentanyl because it’s more potent than heroin.

All of this has caused utter devastation in the United States, mainly among the poorest communities, because it is the poorest communities that turn to the black market to buy heroin and opioid pills.

Just to get an idea, how much more powerful is a drug like fentanyl and then carfentanil than heroin?

Chemistry shows that fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than street heroin, and I think things like carfentanyl, which is another analog of fentanyl, are about 10,000 times more potent than street heroin. And there is evidence that carfentanil creeps into the drug supply.

And Now The Latest Trend In The Overdose Crisis Is The Benzo Drug

The benzo drug is a mixture of benzodiazepines (like Valium, a kind of tranquilizer), and opioid drugs, including fentanyl and heroin.

So you have this strange drug mix in one bag, which has never been seen before in the global drug trade. Rather than having a bag of cocaine or a bag of heroin these days, people are literally throwing them together in a mixed bag of drugs.

In the old days, there was an old rule of “Don’t kill your customer”. Now, that old saying with the Mexican cartels came out the window. They replaced heroin with fentanyl. And again, you can see it happen with the drug benzo.

Now you have this terrible kind of concoction of synthetic substances, almost like Frankenstein drug concoctions that are made in unregulated labs all over the world. One day we may find ourselves looking back and regretting the innocent days of heroin.

The Epidemic Rise of Synthetic Drugs: an In-Depth Analysis
Synthetic drugs images

Why Haven't We Seen A Fentanyl Explosion In Europe In The Same Way?

Unlike the heroin supply in America, in Europe, you have huge quantities of heroin on the way, more than you know what to do.

The heroin chain from Afghanistan through Turkey to Europe is managed so efficiently that the supply of heroin from Afghanistan is absolutely plentiful.

So I think they've decided that if it's not broken, why bother trying to fix it?

This process, this shift from herbal to synthetic, is actually a kind of part of a deeper pattern that we see, in which attempts to ban a certain drug actually make that form of a drug more dangerous and stronger.

We saw it in prohibition in America, where, when alcohol was banned, they didn’t start selling beer everywhere because the beer was too bulky and too big to be smuggled.

And so they began to produce more potent alcohol, namely whiskey. And the same goes for other drugs. So the more you repress drugs, the more people who produce and transport them have to make them more and more powerful to make it possible for them to get drugs from one place to another. And perhaps one of the clearest examples of this in synthetic drugs is the evolution of things like bath salts, spices, and K2 and chemicals like that.

Around 2008, and 2009, there was a large increase in new psychoactive drugs such as spices, which were intended to mimic weed, and mephedrone, which was to mimic cocaine and ecstasy. And those drugs have become extremely popular. You know, they were legal to buy, so you could buy them on the Internet, have them delivered to your home in two days for one-tenth the price of cocaine, and they were pretty potent.

Spice was like smoking weed at the time, a pretty nice thing at first. The same with mephedrone, which was a pretty decent alternative to cocaine or MDMA. But gradually, as authorities across Europe started cracking down on these drugs, chemists kept tweaking and tweaking them to stay outside the law. Each time they modified it, it transformed these substances into increasingly powerful and rather dangerous products.

So now we have come to the situation where Spice, which was originally something that was supposed to mimic cannabis, is considered more potent than heroin and crack by the people who use it.

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The Epidemic Rise of Synthetic Drugs: an In-Depth Analysis
Synthetic drug abuse and addiction treatment

That's Such An Abject Lesson On How To Get Drug Policy Wrong

This is a lesson in how prohibition creates greater danger for addicts. But look, synthetic drugs don’t have to be like that. One could imagine a world where research was allowed and people could use all this innovation to produce better, safer, and more fun drugs.

Many of these drugs are manufactured in laboratories and put together by gangs who are just intent on making money. We know people will always want to get high. It is part of the human condition. So why not use technology and scientific knowledge to make drugs safer without the path of exploitation and gangsterism that cocaine has?

If you can make a man-made drug that is controlled and not as dangerous as cocaine, then why not?

Yes, and also to leave the coca leaf as it was used by the natives of the Amazon, which is actually a fairly safe way to use it. But again, we see that synthesis of it in cocaine, and it’s a kind of ecological nightmare and bloody exploitation driven again by prohibition.

Also, you know, smoking opium, because obviously opium is a step closer to poppy than heroin is. The closer you get to the soil, so to speak, to plants, in general, the less dangerous those drugs are.

I think nature intended humanity to get high, but it did not intend for humanity to completely freak out on those substances. We could live to see a world where the last plant-based drug available will actually be alcohol.

Yes, that is not forbidden. Because that supply chain is protected by regulation. Which would be some kind of crazy world.

It will take some time for synthetic drugs to gradually overtake herbal drugs. But that 100 percent will happen because of the economy and the fact that many drug users won’t have much of a choice as to what kind of drugs they can use.


What Will The Future Of Synthetic Substances Look Like?

I think there will be a point where synthetic drugs will be more popular than herbal drugs.

It is somewhat similar to the food industry. Synthetic drugs will be drugs for the masses, mass-produced, very chemical, far enough away from the things they should be. They are not deadly, but they are more unhealthy than other wholesome foods, so to speak. And I think it will be the same for drugs too.

The economy and the drug world will become more divided. There will be exceptional plant-based organic drugs for the richest people, and there will be the concoction of synthetic substances for the poor.

We know that drugs will only become more toxic, unpredictable, more lethal, and with health effects more dangerous.

The only way to solve it is to manage the supply of designer drugs and have a say in which drugs are produced and how they are produced.

Trends In Synthetic and Semi Synthetic Drugs In The Past 20 Years

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2009-2011 reported the global emergence of some synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids. Of note, synthetic drugs often do not fit perfectly into a class of drugs for several reasons, including the fact that their precise chemical composition is often unknown and their chemical effects on individuals can be both unpredictable and replicative of more than one class of drugs medications. For example, the synthetic stimulant known as “flakka” causes both stimulating and hallucinogenic effects.

Types Of Synthetic Drugs:

Synthetic Cannabinoids

SPICE , Synthetic Cannabinoids
Spice, synthetic THC

Synthetic cannabinoids are substances chemically produced to mimic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in cannabis. When these substances are sprinkled on dried herbs and then consumed through smoking or oral ingestion, they can produce psychoactive effects similar to those of cannabis.

Synthetic marijuana was initially produced for research purposes to study the effects of cannabinoids on brain functioning and their effectiveness in the treatment of pain. The substances are often sold as herbal incense and common brands under which the synthetic cannabinoids are marketed are “Spice” and “K2”. Other names include Red X Dawn, Blaze, Genie, and Zohai, among others.

The effects can be 10 times stronger than those of THC. Although synthetic cannabinoids can be used with the intention of achieving a cannabis-like high, their true effects are not yet known. Some reported effects, such as relaxation and lowering of blood pressure, are consistent with the effects of marijuana. Other reported effects, such as nausea, increased agitation, high blood pressure, and rapid heart rate, are not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have noted epidemiological links between the abuse of synthetic cannabinoids and acute kidney injury.

Synthetic stimulants

MDMA pills, party drug

Synthetic stimulants are chemically produced substances that act on the central nervous system and include drugs such as amphetamine (including methamphetamine), cocaine, and ecstasy (MDMA or methylenedioxymethamphetamine). Synthetic forms of stimulants can be administered by ingestion, inhalation, or oral injection.

  • Methamphetamine

The DEA indicates that methamphetamine is “an ongoing problem in the United States”. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were approximately 569,000 currents (last month) methamphetamine users aged 12 years or older. The percentage of the population currently using methamphetamines (0.2%) has remained relatively stable over the past decade.

  • MDMA

MDMA, also known as ecstasy, is a psychoactive substance capable of producing “feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth and empathy towards others and distortions in sensory and temporal perception”. Users may also experience increased heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tension, involuntary clenching of teeth, nausea, and, in high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Its first appearance is to be attributed to the 1980s, after which it was permanently included in Table I of the CSA by the DEA. It later re-emerged as a popular drug among young people in the nightclub and raves scene in the 1990s.

  • Bath salts

These drugs come in powder form and are often marketed under brands including Purple Wave, Red Dove, Blue Silk, Zoom, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Ocean Snow, Ivory Wave, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, Scarface, and Hurricane Charlie, among others.

It is often composed of amphetamine-like chemicals such as 4-methyl-N-methylcatinone (mephedrone), 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylcatinone (methylone) and 3,4-methylenedioxypyroval (MDPV), but other contents of this substance they are largely unknown.

Since MDPV and other amphetamine-like chemicals act as stimulants, they present a high risk of drug abuse and addiction. Side effects encountered include chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, panic attacks, extreme paranoia, delusions, and even sleep deprivation-induced psychosis; however, their actual effects are not yet known.

Synthetic opiates

Fentanyl drug opioids
Fentanyl, designer synthetic drugs
  • Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and can be used to treat pain associated with advanced cancer; however, most cases of fentanyl overdose are associated with non-pharmaceutical fentanyl. This type of fentanyl is abused on its own and is often mixed with heroin and/or other drugs, sometimes without the knowledge of the consumer. Between 2013 and 2014, the overdose rate of synthetic opioids nearly doubled, and according to the CDC, a “substantial part” of this increase appears to be related to the availability of illicit fentanyl.

  • W-18

W-18 is a synthetic opioid first developed in Canada in the 1980s as a pain reliever, but has never been controlled under the CSA and has never been commercialized. Some experts reported that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. According to media reports, it is currently being produced in China and has recently surfaced in the United States. As it is a relatively new substance on the street market, not much evidence is available on its effects on the body or on trends in use.

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