The Market for Legal Drugs

The demand for illegal drugs in the United States remains incredibly strong, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse reporting that nearly 9 percent of those 12 and older reported using illegal drugs in the month prior to completing the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2010. In order to stem this rising tide of drug use and abuse, governmental agencies have passed strict laws governing the manufacture, sale and use of dangerous drugs, and informative websites have sprung up, full of information about the dangers of illegal drug use. These laws, along with the added emphasis on drug dangers, may be fueling another dangerous trend: Consumers might be turning to so-called “legal drugs,” and experiencing disastrous consequences as a result.

Examples and Dangers

Not surprisingly, “legal drugs” can be defined as substances that are not explicitly deemed contrary to substance control laws. These laws often begin at the federal level, but specific states and even specific towns within those states may have their own substance control laws. As a result, what is considered a legal drug in one part of the world might be considered an illegal drug in another part of the world. Commonly cited examples of legal drugs, which might be illegal in some parts of the world, include:

  • Bath salts
  • Kratom
  • K2

In some cases, these drugs are relatively natural, and they’re simply not deemed illegal for use at the moment. In other cases, these drugs are specifically designed to mimic the actions of drugs that have been deemed illegal. Drugs labeled as “herbal incense” fall easily into this second category, as the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that these products contain a plant material laced with a synthetic drug that mimics the action of marijuana. The drug is designed to bring about the same effects as marijuana, but since it isn’t made of marijuana leaves, it isn’t considered illegal in all places.

Drugs like this might be considered legal, but this doesn’t mean that the drugs can be considered safe. In fact, these drugs can be incredibly powerful, causing users to feel intense sensations that are absolutely overwhelming. One user told CNN that his experience on bath salts (which were likely considered legal at the time) was far from pleasant. He said, “It felt so evil. It felt like the darkest, evilest thing imaginable.” Users under the influence of powerful drugs like this may not receive lifesaving help at hospitals, as the drugs are simply unknown. Doctors may not know what treatments to provide to someone with a reaction, and they may not have antidotes readily available to help people who are in need of care. It can be a very serious issue.

In addition, since the drugs are not regulated by any outside agency, manufacturers aren’t required to place ingredient lists on the drugs they make, and they may choose not to provide information about dosages and toxicity. Users may take drugs that vary widely in composition from one drug to another, without ever being sure of what they are taking and how close they are coming to a life-threatening complication.

Illegal addictive drugs come with a long backstory, made up of interviews with users and multiple studies on the chemical makeup of the drugs. As a result, experts are well aware of the long-term dangers of these drugs, and they can speak at length about the risks of even experimenting with these drugs. Legal drugs, on the other hard, are much harder for experts to discuss. It’s simply not known what these drugs can do, how much would lead to an overdose and whether or not these drugs are addictive. The studies aren’t complete, and the picture isn’t clear. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these drugs can be deadly, but much more work must be done before the true dangers of these drugs become clear.

Popularity and Availability

Despite the dangers inherent in the use of these legal drugs, they remain incredibly popular. For some users, the attraction comes with the label “legal.” These users may fear arrests or some other form of law enforcement action if they take notorious illegal drugs, so using these substitutes seems like a safer alternative. Additionally, as mentioned in an article in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, many of these legal drugs do not show up on routine urine tests for drugs. People may exhibit signs of intoxication, but their bodies may not throw up caution flags when their urine is tested. This might be a problem in hospitals, as again, a clear urine test could delay needed treatment, but this same trait might be a boon in the workplace.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, about half of employers conducted urine tests on job candidates in 2011. People looking for work in a tight job market may be terrified at the prospect of losing a job due to a failed drug test, and they may feel that taking these legal drugs will allow them to obtain the high they want without reducing their possibility of getting a good job. Until the urine screening process becomes sophisticated enough to pick up all of the compounds contained in legal drugs, this attraction will remain for many people.

Some people also find legal drugs attractive because they’re relatively easy to find and easy to buy. Most legal drugs are created in laboratories, both in the United States and in China, and they are readily available over the Internet at low prices. Users can, with a click of a mouse, order the drugs they want and have them sent directly to their doorstep with very little hassle. Legal drugs are also often sold in tobacco shops, commonly known as “head shops,” and the prices here are also quite low. As any marketing expert knows, a low price and widespread availability is often a recipe for success, and people who make legal drugs seem to have taken this advice to heart.

Legislative Responses

Since legal drugs are so dangerous, readers might wonder why the drugs are still considered legal. In essence, manufacturers of these drugs work hard to manipulate legal loopholes that allow them to stay in business. In some cases, manufacturers use rhetoric to help make the case that they’re not making any kind of illegal drugs. For example, according to news reports, a manufacturer developed a drug that is remarkably similar to bath salts, but contained ingredients distilled from a geranium plant. This product, known as “Pump It,” was labeled as an “enhanced plant vitamin” and buyers were told the drug was not for human consumption, but should instead be used to help plants grow.

Drug makers label their products as:

  • Cleaners
  • Incense
  • Potpourri
  • Research chemicals

The idea is to shift the blame from the producer, implying that the producer never intended for the drugs to be ingested, and therefore can’t be responsible for the consequences that take place when the ingestion occurs. It’s not an ethical thing to do, of course, but it very well may be a legal step to take.

Learn More

Legislators who wish to declare the drugs illegal may run into additional trouble, as there are simply too many ingredients to keep track of. For example, the DEA reports that there are over 100 substances that can be considered synthetic forms of marijuana, and only about 15 are declared illegal. Manufacturers might keep close tabs on the legal/illegal status of the drugs they produce, and they may simply shift ingredient lists when one item drops from the list. Other manufacturers might simply develop entirely new compounds to use in their products, and those new compounds might be considered legal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Congress passed additional legislation in the United States in 2012 that allows drug enforcement officials a bit more latitude in finding and cracking down on these legal drugs, and eradicating them when possible. As a result, multiple raids have taken place and some involved in the raids will face charges for their work. However, some of these manufacturers might very well be found innocent of their crimes, simply because these manufacturers aren’t making substances the law has a specific policy about. Until the laws are stronger, and more is known about these substances, it’s likely that abuse will continue.

Getting Help

Researchers continue to study, and write about, these new drugs of addiction. As a result, experts are developing effective treatments to help those who struggle with the consequences of their use and abuse. Addiction rehabilitation programs are vital in this effort. Therapists can help people understand why they chose to take the drug in the first place, and group counseling sessions might help addicts to develop vital social skills they can use to maintain their sobriety when therapy is over. With this kind of help, it’s likely that an addiction to legal drugs can be conquered.

This is the sort of help we provide at Axis. We keep abreast of the emerging drug market, and we develop effective treatment programs to help those in need. We know these drugs can be alluring, but we also know that getting clean and sober has its own rewards, and those are hard to measure. Please contact us today to learn more about enrollment options at Axis.