Forget what you know about drugs: new generation has arrived

The era of illegal drugs is at an end – more and more people are exploring legal alternatives that are suddenly becoming available through numerous online stores

Drug research was severely limited in the previous decades due to public pressure that portrayed any mind-altering substance as a deadly threat. With legal barriers and moral judgments surrounding this field like barbed wire, the best scientific minds usually turned their attention elsewhere. With the notable exception of few pioneering individuals like Alexander Shulgin or Terrence McKenna, leading intellectuals rarely wanted to be associated with any kind of drug advocacy. That left the market squarely in the hands of cocaine and heroin smugglers, exposing drug users to terrible risks.

Everything changed in the early 2000’s, when chemists around the world first started producing obscure substances that had psychoactive effects but were not formally banned. Unexpected popularity of these “designer drugs” fuelled further research, and before long substances like methiopropamine or 5-MeO-DALT came to be in high demand. It turned out that many people were tired of hiding from authorities and craved a legal way to satisfy their curiosity with chemical agents. Anonymity of internet communications also helped in this regard, as the leading research chemical websites accept to ship their products to the specified address in almost any country.

The scientific inquiries into properties of the new psychotropic drugs are still in their infancy, but there is significant potential for long-term harm reduction in this area. At least some of the newly developed chemicals are less harmful than the traditional drugs to which they are similar in terms of pharmacology. It is entirely possible that other recently discovered substances could be very dangerous, but this is difficult to tell until more comprehensive research is completed. With very limited funding (public or private) available for research of this kind, the process of mapping out the universe of research chemicals could take quite a while to arrive at a mature stage.

For example, we still don’t know if legality of ethylphenidate means anything in terms of fighting addiction to hard drugs. There is simply not enough data to draw any long-term or even mid-term conclusions for at least another decade or two. That’s why all currently available opinions should be treated with a dose of doubt until they can be confirmed by statistically relevant quantitative data. Experiments with ethylphenidate are mostly conducted as hoc, with little peer review and in sub-optimal conditions, making it very hard to test any complex aspects of the drug, such as dosage or acceptable routes of administration.

Accelerated research of new drugs is the only way to acquire raw data necessary for the findings to be positively reliable. Education efforts and joined public-private initiatives could help to speed up the discovery rate, but also to make the connection between the scientific results and policy making. Sticking to outdated views towards psychoactive substances is not an option in a world in which the substances themselves changed dramatically.