Synthetic Drugs – What Are They And What Are The Implications

Synthetic Drugs – What are they and what are the implications

What are they? Divided into two broad categories, these are synthetic chemicals designed to mimic the affects of either Cannabis or stimulant drugs such as Speed; Cocaine and LSD.

Synthetic Cannabis (Spice; K2; Kronic etc.)

  • Range of synthetic chemicals (20+ in Australia) that are sprayed on to dried herbs. The herb is simply a carrier for the chemical and to allow for smoking
  • These chemicals act in the brain at sites similar to Cannabis and therefore give similar affects
  • Generally described as less pleasant than Cannabis, users will however continue using the drugs primarily due to their inability of detection by routine drug testing techniques
  • Marketed as ‘Potpourri’ or ‘Incense’ and sold in foil packages or within folded cards with small bags of herb and labeled ‘Not for Human Consumption’
  • Popularity soared in 2010 due to their legal status and lack of detection. Popularity remains largely driven by routine workplace and roadside drug testing where these drugs remain undetectable
  • Although the legal status varies depending on the chemical, they remain readily available via the internet, adult book shops and tobacco shops
  • Testing / Detection
  • Routine testing = Undetectable
  • Pathology lab testing = Limited (due to the vast number of chemicals)
  • Forensic laboratories = Detectable
  • Synthetic testing devices and pathology lab screens remain largely ineffective due to the limited number of compounds they are able to detect

Implications for Criminal Lawyers

  • People use these drugs for the primary reason of getting high and not being caught
  • Like Cannabis they are able to impair human performance and therefore may cause or contribute to an incident
  • These chemicals are generally not detected by routine drug testing – Therefore if Cannabis is ‘not-detected’ this should not be interpreted as excluding the presence of Synthetic Cannabis
  • Specific testing for these drugs by Pathology labs are generally unable to detect many of the drugs and therefore interpretation becomes important
  • Variations in chemicals is to maintain legal status. Legal status of a chemical varies from State to State depending on the strength of the ‘Analogue’ provisions in the specific State or Territory
  • Different States continue to deal with these compounds differently therefore specific compounds may remain legal in some States and illegal in others. Hence, analogue provisions vary in their effectiveness based on compound (structural similarity; pharmacological similarity; essential similarity are all subjective, non-defined terms)
  • Many chemicals have no human studies – this has implications if an ‘Analogue’ provision requires ‘substantial similarity’ or pharmacological similarity’ given these cannot be demonstrated

Synthetic Stimulants (Bath Salts; NBOMe; MCAT; Meow Meow; Kratom; Bromo-Dragonfly; 2C-compounds; MDPV; DMAA etc.)

  • Widely available and include a very broad group of drugs from stimulants (Bath Salts; MDPV; ?-PVP) to hallucinogenic drugs (NBOMe; 2C Compounds)
  • Affects are similar methylamphetamine and cocaine some with greater hallucinogenic potential
  • Due to the unregulated nature of manufacture, often the affects are varied and unpredictable
  • Not detected during routine drug testing
  • Use is partly driven by routine drug testing e.g. roadside and workplace where they are undetectable
  • Like Synthetic Cannabis, these drugs are able to impair human performance yet are largely undetectable
  • May precipitate bizarre behaviour – typically involve removal of clothes due to heat generation
  • Routine testing does not look for nor detect these compounds – must be specifically looked for
  • Different States continue to deal with these compounds differently implying some remain legal in some States and illegal in others. Analogue provisions vary in their effectiveness based on compound
  • Like Synthetic Cannabis there are very few human studies, hence if an ‘Analogue’ provision requires ‘substantial similarity’ or ‘pharmacological similarity’ this will difficult to demonstrate

The IFC Experience (having prepared over 1000 reports and testified Nationally and Internationally)

  • A well written, clearly understood and scientifically defensible report, supported by effective testimony leads to positive outcomes for our clients in over 95% of cases