This article reminds me of the "designer drug" era in the 1980s. The Wall Street Journal profiles one of the many European chemical entrepreneurs making a fortune by synthesizing and selling new psychoactive drugs. And they're all labeled "Not For Human Consumption", so hey, everything's perfectly legal. Until the authorities ban the specific substance, naturally, and then he moves on to another one down the list.
As someone who doesn't see a new chemical structure go into humans until years of testing have been done, you can imagine what I think of this. The small amount of amazement I feel is completely overwhelmed by contempt for anyone who would dose people with an untried CNS drug. Oh, but he's not dosing anyone, is he? All he's doing is selling them little vials of white powdery stuff for $30/gram, and it says right on the label that they're not supposed to take it. Right? How people like this sleep at night is a continuing mystery to me.
Making new psychoactive drugs is not that hard. There are plenty of chemotypes out there that will drop you right into the CNS receptors. In many cases, it looks like this guy and his ilk are hanging single-atom changes off of existing drugs. They also monitor the chemical literature, specifically mentioning papers by David Nichols of Purdue, who's well aware of what's going on (and has the same reaction I do). No, there are plenty of small changes to ring on known scaffolds; it's not like anyone's having to invent any new chemical classes here.
So, how do they make these things in quantity? The article treats a rota-vap as an exotic piece of equipment, so we're not going to learn too much from it. But I imagine that there's a lot of used lab equipment floating around, which must help. But the article also mentions that this particular business has labs in the Netherlands and Scotland, outfitted with custom stainless-steel gear made by a welder, so as to not draw attention by buying standard chemistry apparatus. (This is as good a time as any to mention that one of the things that irritates me about these people is the way they make owning any kind of chemistry equipment at home instantly suspicious in the eyes of the law).
That takes a back seat, though, to my feelings about the other aspects of this business. I'm not, admittedly, a good person to ask about recreational drug use, because I don't use any. I have what I think are well-justified reasons for avoiding the whole spectrum, from alcohol on up. The more I've learned about brain chemistry, the less inclined I am to mess around with it.
But even if you take a more lenient attitude, I don't see how the sort of business that this article details can be excused. Advocates for decriminalized various drugs often make the point that we know what their effects are, and that society would be better off dealing with them than dealing with the effects of trying to suppress the drugs themselves. They may be right, actually - I haven't made up my mind about that one yet - but this line of thought can't extend to the new-drug-of-the-month-club. We don't know what the effects of these substances are, what neurological damage they might do, and what other side effects they might have. That's for the customers to find out! Here's the safety testing method this moron uses:
Mr. Llewellyn, meanwhile, is unfazed. He boasts that his safety testing method is foolproof: He and several colleagues sit in a room and take a new product "almost to overdose levels" to see what happens. "We'll all sit with a pen and a pad, some good music on, and one person who's straight who's watching everything," he says.
Well, fine, then. Foolproof! This sort of thing shows that nothing is foolproof, because fools are just too ingenious. I'm ashamed to share a phylum with these people, much less a scientific discipline.