Mar 12 4:24 PM

With synthetic drugs, consumers are the test subjects

Hearing that there’s a way to get illicit drugs legally might sound attractive to some, but there’s a much higher health risk. That’s what researchers and law enforcement in the US are trying to communicate to consumers as synthetic drugs gain popularity.

"TechKnow" contributor Crystal Dilworth recently traveled to RTI International’s labs to meet with research forensics scientist Peter Stout. He’s been taking a closer look at the chemistry behind new drugs like synthetic marijuana. What he and others have found is that, while it’s true that many synthetic drugs make complex, clever alterations to familiar drugs in order to achieve highs but make them different enough compounds to take advantage of legal loopholes, these new drugs are also more dangerous.

"A lot of this is coming from China," Stout said. “Areas of the world that have less oversight and less regulation, oftentimes.”


The trade-off is that relaxed regulation also means no clinical testing, which traditional pharmaceutical products would undergo.

"A lot of these compounds are not stable," said Megan Grabenauer, another researcher at RTI. “So, you may start with one drug, and when you light it on fire in a cigarette, it converts to something else. What the person is actually taking isn’t what they think they’re taking.”

Phil Torres, another “TechKnow” contributor, had to admit that the science behind synthetic drugs is clever, but Dilworth reminded him that not having follow-through measures to fully test the safety of these substances makes the end product highly dangerous to users.


Legal, lab-made drugs may sound like a solution to the risks of taking illegal drugs, but the reality is they’re still the greater unknown.


Watch "TechKnow," SATURDAYS at 7PM ET/4PM PT on Al Jazeera America.


Drugs, Marijuana

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