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Designer Drugs: Synthetic Does Not Mean Legal

In an age of rapid innovation, designer drugs have reshaped the science of getting high, as well as redefined what constitutes drug crimes in Pennsylvania today. Substances such as synthetic marijuana and compounds that mimic LSD, cocaine, and methamphetamines, known as "bath salts" have historically been available to purchase over the counter at local head-shops and on internet websites.

As the dangers associated with these drugs have been exposed, lawmakers have cracked down on their status as legal substances. However, many people remain confused about their legality. Understandably, this confusion may be due to the deceptive way in which these drugs are marketed.

While many of these drugs were once regulated by state and local governments, a federal ban on these substances has now been put into place. Where state laws were not able to do so, the federal ban covers the online and interstate sale of bath salts and other synthetics. Previous loopholes in the law that allowed buyers to simply cross state lines to find these substances are now closed.

Gail Banach, director of public education and communications at the Upstate New York Poison Center, admits that drug manufacturers are always "one step ahead of the law" in developing new drugs that may differ slightly in their chemical makeup but produce very similar reactions in users.

However, lawmakers have taken steps to ensure that newly developed compounds remain illegal. Federal law now prohibits compounds that may differ slightly from the already banned substances in their chemical makeup, but produce very similar reactions in users. This means that drug enforcement agents will be able to crack down on newly developed synthetic drugs under the same law, without the need for new legislation.

Drug-related criminal charges can have serious and detrimental consequences. Now that designer drugs such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts have been added to the Food and Drug Administration's list of substances that cannot be sold or medically prescribed under the law, the risks of possessing these drugs should not be taken lightly.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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