April 18, 2024

New Illegal Substances That Only Work Inside Your Body : ScienceAlert

Drug traffickers have found a way to trick law enforcement agencies by using one of the most powerful tools our bodies have: our metabolism. Welcome to the world of products.

Products are substances that can only cause an effect after being broken down by enzymes in the digestive system or other chemical reactions in the body.

Although they have legitimate pharmacological uses (between 5% and 7% of approved drugs fall under this category), their use because street drugs are a relatively new phenomenon.

Most illegal drugs work through interact with specific brain cell receptors, stimulate or inhibit the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters. They last for a short time before being transformed into inactive or less active chemicals, which are then excreted from the body, usually in urine.

However, in the case of products, a small part of the molecule needs to be removed or replaced before it can act on those receptors. This is done inside the body through natural processes. ALD-52 (1-acetyl-LSD), for example, is a product that the body converts into LSD after removing two carbon atoms and one oxygen atom.

Although there are some reports ALD-52 has been around since the 1960s, it was first officially detected in 2016 by the authorities in France. The UK government was quick to list this product as a controlled substance as early as 2014, although there were no reports of drug seizures or known injuries. Since then, many other products recognized.

The seizure of LSD products, such as ALD-52, increased at the height of the COVID pandemic in Italy. The Japanese authorities are dealing with an increase in the number of similar LSD product compounds. And in Brazil, the first reports of these LSD products made in 2022.

The party drug is also GHB equivalent products. It is called GBL (gamma-butyrolactone).

The UK has introduced stricter controls for GBL – usually sold as a cleaning agent – in the year 2022. Following strong recommendations from the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, GBL is now classified as a class B drug, along with cannabis and ketamine.

As for stimulants, it is known that some commercially available drugs can be converted in the body to amphetamines and could be used. abuse for their potential psychoactive effects – which justifies strict regulation of their prescription.

Drug traffickers have also developed ways to hide illegal MDMA (ecstasy) by adding a small molecule that can be removed by chemical reactions or in the stomach by contact. with gastric acid.

Hard to detect

A big problem with products is that they are hard to detect. Police forces must reference examples to compare the drug with, or advanced equipment to determine its molecular structure.

Since the list of these compounds is unknown and different patterns can be analyzed as a result of minor chemical changes, it is easy to miss these new drugs. It also explains why many have only appeared in police reports in the last decade.

In the case of biological samples (such as blood, urine or saliva), there is another difficulty. Since the products must be converted within the body before they become active, they are, in fact, absent in cases of fatal overdose, because the substance causing injury and death is the result of that transformation.

Separating products from the more classical components into which they are converted is therefore an obstacle. Although the overall consequences leading to death are the same, proper identification of the drug used initially can help reveal trends in illicit sales, use and availability.

Regarding GHB products – namely GBL and 1,4-butanedione – legislators are gradually taking into account stricter and more specific legislation. But when it comes to LSD products, in many countries it falls under a gray area.

While France, Japan and the UK have nominally included ALD-52 and 1p-LSD in their controlled substance laws, in the US and Canada they must be proven to be an analogue – that is, they have a similar molecular structure and can produce the same effects – or they are not covered by current law.

In the UK, psychoactive substances are new defined as either a compound controlled by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 or a compound controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act (post-2008).

However, to be included in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 there must be evidence that it causes psychoactivity – defined as those compounds that can affect mental functions, for example cognition, mood and emotions.

A laboratory can also determine psychoactivity test. A small number of cells are incubated with drugs and researchers measure whether they bind to proteins on the surface, called receptors. Many products, however, will not bind to the receptors before being converted.

Where a substance is not listed in the legislation as a controlled substance, and laboratory tests are required (for molecular similarity or binding to receptors), there is more room for disagreement in court.

Even if such seizures are not frequent and do not reach the numbers for more commonly used drugs, such as cocaine, cannabis or heroin, their appearance on the illegal market should be a warning sign of possible changing trends in the illicit drug market.

The effects may be unknown – in terms of severity and duration – but there is also the difficulty of prosecuting those who supply these products.

With one new psychoactive substance hitting the illegal market roughly every week in 2021the large variety of drugs on the market has been pointed out as one of the main challenges for toxicologists and forensic chemists.

Julio de Carvalho PonceLecturer in Forensic Science, University of Winchester

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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