A few years ago, deals were done in dimly-lit side streets or on the phone via a friend of a friend. Today, you can order every conceivable pill or powder with the click of a mouse. But the online market in narcotics isn’t just changing the way drugs are bought and sold; it’s changing the nature of drugs themselves. Enterprising dealers are using the web to engage highly skilled foreign chemists to tweak the chemical structures of banned drugs – just enough to create a similar effect, just enough to render them legal in most parts of the world. Drugs such as mephedrone (aka miaow-miaow) are marketed as ‘not for human consumption’, but everyone knows exactly how they’re going to be used – what they can’t know is whether their use might prove fatal. From UK dancefloors to the offices of apathetic government officials, via social networking sites and underground labs, Mike Power explores this agile, international, virtual subculture that will always be one step ahead of the law.
“The legal highs market is flooded with scammers and people selling legal and illegal drugs,” says Mike Power, author of a new book, Drugs 2.0: The Web Revolution that is Changing the Way the World Gets High, which is published in May. “The more new drugs are banned, the more new drugs are invented. It’s like a game of Whack-a-Mole.”
According to Power, new drugs are commissioned based on an existing illegal drug such as ketamine, with globalised drug labs attaching a couple of additional molecules to an illegal drug to render their new variant legal in the UK. “The innovation is constant and the chemistry is infinite. It’s so beyond the knowledge of any normal police officer or politician, I pity them having to deal with it,” he says. “The simple answer would be to legalise the safer drugs and people wouldn’t be looking for alternatives.”