Whack-a-mole Drugs

CNR: Whack-a-mole Drugs

New psychoactive substances like Tianeptine or “gas station heroin” are popping up in North Carolina, and our Legislature is struggling with the problem.  https://www.wbtv.com/2024/02/14/nc-lawmakers-working-ban-gas-station-drug-that-mimics-effects-opioids/

But as soon as the Legislature bans substances, copycat drugs pop up, maybe with a molecule in a complex organic compound changed here or there.

To go beyond listing dangerous drugs that are out there already, I’m trying to find catch-all language that would list or cover “whack-a-mole” new drugs that people would discover or invent.

It took me years to get up to speed on marijuana taxation, so I don’t imagine I can grasp new psychoactive substances very readily.  Here’s what I’ve found so far, mainly to show how little I know.  There is language from New Zealand and from the United Kingdom that may be helpful.

New Zealand has this language:

Broadly speaking, a psychoactive substance is anything:

·  that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in an individual who uses the substance (ie, affects the mind of the user in any way) AND

·  whose primary purpose is to induce a psychoactive effect in an individual who uses the substance or product AND

·  that is not a medicine, controlled drug, precursor substance, herbal remedy, food, dietary supplement, tobacco product or alcohol.


New Zealand’s effort is not getting glowing reviews, but I wonder if it’s better than nothing.  


The UK has a similar approach:

Meaning of “psychoactive substance” etc

(1)In this Act “psychoactive substance” means any substance which—

(a)is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it, and

(b)is not an exempted substance (see section 3).

(2)For the purposes of this Act a substance produces a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state; and references to a substance’s psychoactive effects are to be read accordingly.


I don’t know how the UK system is working.  There are criticisms (and details) at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoactive_Substances_Act_2016.

A friend from CANN-RA, the Cannabis Regulators Association,writes:

ASTM has a standard defining “intoxicating cannabinoids” out for balloting. It starts by categorizing all cannabinoids as “potentially intoxicating” until there’s evidence on which to make a determination. But the standard focuses only on CB1-mediated intoxication (effects like THC), so if something is intoxicating by a different mechanism, it counts as “non-intoxicating.” It also doesn’t necessarily account for human metabolism: If test tube studies show that the substance doesn’t activate human CB1 receptors, it’s non-intoxicating… even if enzymes in the liver or blood convert the substance into an intoxicating derivative when a person ingests it. And it has a very narrow definition of cannabinoid that doesn’t include a lot of synthetic cannabinoids. This is in the “too narrow” category.

The New Zealand standard looks like it may go the other direction, being too broad. Or maybe it’s really broad on the surface, but in practice the exceptions make it hard to navigate. Regulation of psychoactive substances is really not coherent, because the regulatory approach to each emerges out of the historical and cultural context that gave rise to the regulation. Caffeine is a popular drug, but is not a “psychoactive substance” under this definition because it is widely accepted and has been folded into regulation as a food, dietary supplement, and medicine. Tobacco and alcohol each have their own unique regulatory structures because of their long history of use in America. On the other hand, I’m not at all clear where betel (areca nut) falls under America’s regulatory system because it wasn’t historically widely used or noticed here, despite being the fourth most commonly used drug worldwide (behind caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco). Kava happened to be present in the dietary supplement market prior to 1994, so it’s grandfathered into that regulatory scheme, although I suspect it would not be allowed as a new dietary ingredient if it didn’t pre-date DSHEA and was submitted as a new dietary ingredient for consideration today. Under New Zealand’s scheme, I’m not sure where something like nitrous oxide would fall: It’s definitely psychoactive, but is it’s primary purpose to induce psychoactive effects or as a propellant for whipped cream? Or is it exempt anyway because it’s a medicine (used as an anaesthetic), despite the psychoactive use being outside of the medical context.


I suppose there would need to be a body or agency of some kind that makes ongoing determinations very quickly as new drugs pop up.  

The DEA handled fentanyl:  “When a new analog appeared on the streets, the DEA would list it as illegal, and the illicit labs would respond by creating a new, legal analog. This deadly game of ‘Whack-A-Mole’  . . . continued until 2018 when the DEA listed all drugs related to fentanyl as illegal — a move referred to as class-wide scheduling.”    


But the DEA hasn’t acted on tianeptine or other drugs that are problematic.

#CBD #Hemp

Whack-a-mole Drugs

March 1, 2024 6:55 pm