Concern over 'synthetic' drugs

2011-08-29 11:23
Pretoria - A synthetic drug with a similar effect on the body to that of dagga, and which could also be addictive, is being marketed as a “legal” drug in South Africa, apparently as a result of inadequate legislation.

What is more, routine urine screening tests for drugs cannot detect it.

In an investigation into the matter, Beeld bought a packet of Magic Dragon herbal blend on the website and took it to the forensic toxicology laboratory of the University of Pretoria’s chemistry department.

According to Dr Tim Laurens, a toxicologist and director of the laboratory, an advanced test (gas chromatographic mass spectrometric analysis) showed that the mixture contains JWH-073, a synthetic molecule that can have a similar effect on the body to that of dagga, and an even stronger one.

Not covered by SA laws

Laurens’s laboratory earlier also found JWH-073 in a packet of Dust bought on the same website. He said he has been receiving inquiries from big companies suspecting that their workers are using “synthetic dagga”. The companies are at their wits’ end because routine urine screening tests to identify drug users in the workplace have not been able to detect the substances.

Laurens said that during a research project in Germany earlier this year he heard that authorities from all over the world are battling to control synthetic drugs.

Dagga and derivatives of the plant are banned in South Africa by the Medicine and Related Substances Act and the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act.

Laurens says JWH-073 is a chemical compound not covered by the dagga laws, because it is not a derivative of the dagga plant.

This molecule and several other synthetic molecules were originally developed by researchers looking for a safe medicinal use for dagga.

But underground pharmacologists started using it in herbal products and selling these as “legal” drugs. One of the first synthetic cannabinoids found in herbal drugs was JWH-018 in 2008. Now there are dozens of them.

It is suspected that the chemical substances are sprayed on plant material, dried and packaged, but not declared on the packaging.

Sales of the herbal drugs (initially known as Spice) skyrocketed when the media in Germany reported on them. The authorities started banning the products and molecules one after the other, but are struggling to stay ahead.

Difficult to detect

Underground pharmacologists apparently alter the molecular structure of the synthetic cannabinoids quite frequently, which makes it difficult to detect with laboratory tests.

Legal-highs says in its marketing material that its products are safe and contain herbs as well as a “synthetic cannabinoid of the JWH family”.

Many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US, have started declaring synthetic cannabinoids illegal or scheduled medicines.

Laurens has written to the SA Medicine Control Board (MCB) to propose that legislation be adapted to ban it here as well. The MCB has not answered any media inquiries.

Ross Whitehead of said the company’s head office is in New Zealand and declined to comment immediately.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
Read more on:    narcotics publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Rugby World Cup 2015

All the action from the 2015 RWC, including live coverage of all 48 matches, breaking news, fixtures, results, logs - and much more!


Rugby World Cup 2015

All Blacks batter brave Tonga
Byrne: Israel Folau a 'freak'
As it happened: New Zealand 47-9 Tonga
England World Cup coaches barred

The phrase for today is:”Out of the blue.” Expect the unexpected and work with the changeable energy. Your intuition is more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.