Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Professional Custom Narcotics: Real Life Breaking Bad

There was a fascinating recent article in Medium entitled The drug revolution that no one can stop. Although rather long, the piece is a great read about the medical, legal, and scientific aspects of custom narcotics.

The article discusses "psychonauts" who behave as human guinea pigs for novel, potentially physchotropic compounds (they aren't big believers in lab safety protocols). By slightly modifying known drugs and marketing them as not for human consumption, they can operate more or less inside the law for a few years until the government catches on. I won't attempt to rehash the entire article here, but I do want to point out the part that's of particular interest to me as a chemist.

The author invented a fake identity and UK based pharmaceutical company and set off searching for a contractor to synthesize a phenmetrazine like compound. After about a week he hired a Shanghai based company willing to synthesize the drug and ship in to the UK with minimal questions asked, all for only a few hundred dollars.

What really struck me was the degree of chemical expertise the Chinese company exhibited. They not only developed a synthesis route for the compound within two weeks, they then proceeded to use liquid chromatography to test its purity and even emailed an NMR spectrum of the drug before shipping. When the author received the compound, he sent it to a lab at Cardiff University, who confirmed its purity and the NMR spectrum. The Chinese company were legitimately highly trained and skilled chemists.

What's the take home message here? There will always be intelligent people willing to use their intelligence for bad (or at least morally grey) aims, and we as chemists have proven that we're no exception. Still, it hits home to see an example as blatant as this. I suppose this is how doctors feel when they read about other doctors selling narcotic prescriptions.