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Five Legal Drugs in Serious Need of Better Regulation

(Editor’s Note: Obiter does not usually publish anonymous articles, but in this case, identifying the author might be detrimental to his/her career prospects, and the message is one of some social and/or legal importance.  You can probably guess the author’s identity anyway.)

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Full disclosure time: over a decade ago, I was a teenage reprobate. When I returned to university in my early twenties, I learned that I was a high-functioning twenty-something reprobate. Then I spent five years doing grunt work at a law office until I got into Osgoode. Now, here I am, trying to preface an article in a way that suggests my dubious days are behind me, while acknowledging that they are not forgotten. How am I doing?

Anyway, there was a time when I would go to some lengths to catch a cheap buzz. This is no longer the case, but an adolescence surrounded by ravers, stoners, and other alternative school dropouts has taught me a thing or two about a world well-hidden from the scornful gaze of respectable society. Admittedly, the drugs I’m about to list are drugs I’ve taken specifically to avoid the pitfalls that a lot of people I knew had to endure to get high. No sketchy dealer cutting his blow with veterinary de-wormer (Levamisol, yes, that’s a thing), no worries about your ecstasy containing methamphetamine (also a thing), no concerns about pot laced with PCP (extremely rare, but not unfathomable). Getting these drugs doesn’t usually require anything more than a polite transaction with a pharmacist or a credit card, but that’s the problem. You can get these drugs too easily, and they can be dangerous if you’re not an informed fiend. And that’s why, as the legal reformers of the future, we should at least be conscious of how easy it can be for someone on the level of a teenage dope fiend to circumvent the law.

And with that, I give you five legal drugs, and why they should at least be subject to greater regulations.

 

Codeine

 

I’m going to start with a common one, but also one that’s less regulated than you might imagine. In this list, I’m staying away from prescription pharmaceuticals, because they are utterly illegal to take without a prescription. Now, most codeine preparations do require a prescription, but you can get weak codeine pills simply by asking anyone at most pharmaceutical counters, and generally you’ll only be asked if you’ve had them before. These so-called “T1s” are very weak, and contain enough paracetamol that you’ll make yourself sick before you get a particularly good buzz. I think they only exist so people can wean themselves off the T3s they get after a tooth extraction or similarly minor surgery.

 

Why should it be better regulated?

 

Aside from the fact that it’s an opioid you can get over-the-counter, you can separate the codeine and the paracetamol with grade-school level chemistry. No, I’m not going to tell you how to do it, but suffice to say, it works. The end product is a solution that would be indistinguishable from water if it didn’t taste like the souls of a dozen dying pills crying out in agony. You get high, but your tolerance grows very quickly (because it’s an opioid, dammit), and the stuff still contains enough paracetamol to be dangerous. Granted, this could technically be considered a highly-illegal manufactured drug, but it’s just too easy to get your hands on a bottle and get around the modest regulations surrounding its sale. Also, some people just chow down on a bunch of raw pills, and when the manufactured product is somehow less risky, something’s not right. It’s not even a very effective painkiller.

 

Ephedrine

 

Fun fact: this is one of the oldest pharmaceuticals known to humanity. It has been used as a stimulant and decongestant since ancient times, as plants in the ephedra genus grow in dry and temperate regions worldwide. It helps to think of it as caffeine’s stronger, older brother, and pseudoephedrine’s less pretentious cousin. It’s a moderately strong stimulant used mostly by dieters, body-builders, truckers, and people who don’t like coffee but need a pick-me-up. You don’t exactly get high on it, but it does alter your mental state, so it counts.

 

Why should it be better regulated?

 

For one thing, it’s a precursor to methamphetamine. But the bigger problem is that you can buy it from nutritional supply stores for an insanely low price in huge quantities. It’s not cut with anything to discourage abuse, and the only regulation seems to be that no single tablet can contain more than eight milligrams of the drug, and the warning label on the packet says not to take more than one. Right. Because drug abusers pay attention to warning labels. I’m pretty sure most people ignore warning labels. Set a purchase limit, tax it, cut it, whatever. It’s simply too easy to get a lot of the stuff, and that’s the heart of the issue.

 

Dextromethorphan

 

Do you know of Sizzurp, aka the cough syrup, candy, and Sprite concoction that Lil’ Wayne keeps overdosing on? Well, this is something different, but it’s similarly high on the “wtf” scale. Dextromethorphan is a very common ingredient in many over-the-counter cough syrups, and forget needing to talk to a pharmacist, you just need to take it to the teenage cashier at Shoppers. It’s not as dangerous as Sizzurp, and it’s not physically addictive, but it’s a dissociative, putting it in the same class of drugs as ketamine and PCP. Someone who’s desperately hard-up for a buzz could buy a bottle of DM cough syrup, chug half of it, and spend the next six hours visibly detached from reality and behaving like someone clumsily imitating Mr. Lahey.

 

Why should it be better regulated?

 

Obvious reasons, like being related to PCP while still conceivably being something a child could purchase. But there are less obvious reasons, particularly that it’s next-to-useless as cough medicine. Controlled studies have shown that it’s little better than a placebo at treating throat and bronchial irritation. A child can buy a potent, hallucinogenic drug as medicine, and it doesn’t even work as medicine. Fortunately, the glycerine and artificial sweeteners in cough syrup make drinking enough of it to get fully twisted a distasteful prospect, but children can get this stuff easily. That’s reason enough to at least put it behind a counter.

 

Kratom

 

Kratom is a very unusual drug that was almost unheard of in North America until very, very recently. It’s a drug produced from the leaves of an evergreen tree in the coffee family that is native to southeast Asia. Usually consumed as a tea or a powder mixed in water or juice, it produces a combination of effects characteristic of opioid and stimulant drugs. It tastes foul, but a few grams of powder mixed in lemonade has a pretty substantial kick. It’s flatly illegal in a lot of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.

 

Why should it be better regulated?

 

In Canada, it’s illegal to sell it for the purposes of ingestion, but a lot of companies get around this by selling it as incense or as a “botanical.” Right. I don’t chew LSD, I just swallow. I don’t do cocaine, I just like how it smells. I didn’t inhale. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing this drug legalized after being better researched, because it apparently shows some promise as a treatment for opiate addiction (and anything that would make the pharmaceutical companies sweat can’t be all bad), but the regulation on this stuff is laughably impotent. It’s also known to be addictive, and that’s problematic enough when a substance’s other risks are well-known.

 

Research Chemicals

 

It’s story time.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Alexander Shulgin. He was no ordinary man, for he had a PhD in biochemistry, and was credited with discovering and synthesizing over two hundred psychoactive compounds, which he tested on himself. He died in 2014 at the ripe old age of eighty-eight, and is known as the “godfather of psychedelics” for his extensive and innovative work.

This is not his story.

This is the story of his moral and professional antitheses, the people who brought you “bath salts.” Shulgin’s inventions generally resemble mescaline, and tend to have you peacefully watching the clouds take bizarre shapes as you get into a too-deep discussion with your buddies on the philosophy of Adventure Time. Bath salts usually contain a cathinone analogue, and are basically like a combination of methamphetamine and PCP: highly addictive, physically dangerous, and known to cause paranoid psychosis in users. These drugs are often cheaply produced in Chinese laboratories, and are admittedly apt revenge for the Opium Wars.

What do Dr. Shulgin’s innovations have in common with bath salts? They’re both known as “research chemicals.”

 

Why should they be better regulated?

 

Look up Flakka. I’ll wait.

Crazy, isn’t it?

The root of the problem is that people like Dr. Shulgin are one in a million, and the people who make bath salts are a dime a dozen. You can buy research chemicals online, with little more than a credit card and a two-sentence note claiming you’re doing some sort of chemical analysis of their properties. Sure, we have laws on the books that say you can be busted for possessing an analogue to a scheduled substance, and good luck explaining to a police officer that the bag of white crystals in your pocket is just artificial sweetener, let alone a drug that exists partly as an attempt to escape regulation. You’ll still spend a horrid night tripping balls in a holding cell (I assume).

Regardless, these things are much too easy to get. Ironically, the “safer” research chemicals that Dr. Shulgin invented were some of the first to be scheduled, so the laws have made this whole process more risky. Just shut down these companies when they operate on Canadian soil. Maybe one day we’ll be ready to discuss the merits of legalized mescaline, but until then, end this crap. Please.

 

This has been a public service announcement from someone hiding behind a veneer of anonymity. Drug use should be a public health issue and not a criminal issue, but when it comes to the sale and distribution of potentially dangerous substances, hell yes, it’s a criminal matter. Close the fricking loopholes, stop demonizing addicts, and prepare yourself for some awkward conversations about a reality it’s time we should stop avoiding: people like to get high. Deal with it properly.

I need a beer…