The anti-drug laws in the U.S. define a drug as illicit by its structure, and not necessary by the effects the drug causes. “Designer drug” is a term used to describe drugs that are created and/or marketed to get around existing drug laws. Most commonly, this is accomplished by modifying the molecular structure of an illegal drug to create another similar, yet subtly different structure that has similar effects but is not defined as illegal.
For example, methamphetamine (‘Meth’) possession and use is illegal, but if someone could modify the structure to one that creates similar effects in the brain, but is so new that its structure has not been banned, this designer drug could be legal to possess. The substance can then be sold, bought, and used by anyone, without legal ramifications. Such a structure is currently being sold as a components/ingredients of a new drug substance marketed as “bath salts”; common components are methyldioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and mephedrone. MDPV and mephedrone are a cathinone derivatives; cathinone is structurally similar to amphetamine.
Structure of “Meth” (methamphetamine):
Structure of Mephedrone:
Notice the similarity of the benzyl ring (that is the hexagon shaped thing) and the same location of the nitrogen molecule in the side chain (that would be the “N”).
The same process can be repeated and seen when comparing MDMA (ecstasy) and MDPV (Methylenedioxypyrovalerone), another component of some Bath Salt brands (e.g. White Dove, White Lady, Cloud 9,).
Structure of MDMA (ecstasy)
Structure of MDPV:
Notice the same five-sided ringed structure with the 2 oxygen molecules next to the benzyl ring and the nitrogen molecule in the same place on the side chain.
Mephedrone and MDPV are sold as white powders and like amphetamines and cocaine, have been ingested, snorted, injected and smoked. The mechanism of action is similar to those drugs as well and they increase the release of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain and produce feelings of well-being, increased energy, and alertness.
The commonly seen untoward side effects of bath salts are numerous:
- Effects on the heart: High blood pressure, fast heart rate, abnormal heart rhythm
- Effects on the brain: Hallucinations, agitation, tremors, seizures,
- Effects on the lung: Fast breathing, acute lung injury if severely poisoned
- Effects on organs and electrolytes: Low blood sodium (which can cause seizures and/or brain swelling), high blood sugar, muscle breakdown, injury to kidneys, injury to liver
- Effects on Temperature: Very high temperatures may occur – high enough to cause organ damage and heat stroke
- Behavioral: Anxiety, paranoia and suicidal ideation
- And of course, the ultimate permanent bad trip of death
Bath salts are a relatively new designer drug that has become prevalent in communities all over the country. Some of the effects they have can be predicted from their structure. However, the safety and long term effects of these compounds cannot be predicted. There is no FDA oversight and clinical trials of these designer drugs to make sure the new compound is safe for human consumption. It is clear now, that these compounds are not safe at all.
On July 22nd, Governor Quinn signed into law a ban of some of the components of ‘bath salts’. Hopefully this will decrease some of the pain of the users of this drug and their families. At least until the next wave of designer drugs hits the internet and head shops in our towns and cities.
If you have more questions on the chemistry and structure behind drugs, please ask us here on the blog or on our FB page.
See you next Tuesday.