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Thursday, March 27, 2014

The history and future of legal highs and research chemicals

Like you already realized from our previous explanation of what research chemicals are, the topic is rather difficult. Also the use of the term ‘research chemicals’ is new to the context of regular drugs and the name indicates a very broad term for chemicals for research. That could mean nearly every substance we know about could be a research chemical.

MDMA, 2C-B, 2C-C and other designer drugs in often are sold as pills
 The early days of research chemicals - the 1970s and 1980s

The first appearance of the research chemicals was during the 70s and 80s, when blotter containing DOM was sold as LSD blotter. This went on into the early 80s, when MDMA gained a large popularity and a wider audience, more and related substances occurred on the market as well. Of course in the 80s even MDMA could have been rated as research chemical, but besides MDMA there was also MDEA and some others going into the scene.

The raise of research chemicals and legal highs during the 1990s

But the real market for research chemicals was opened in the 90s, when the books from Alexander Shulgin started to spread around the world. Since 2C-B was rated from Alexander Shulgin as his best psychedelic under all the research chemicals he had made, it was clear that this would be the one to hit the market at first. A company called "Drittewelle" started to make pills which contained 5 mg 2C-B each and sold them as aphrodisiac. The name of the product was "Nexus". This was possibly the first biggest exposure of research chemicals to the public. The internet was just a small and unimportant technological mumbo jumbo in these days and thus neither the knowledge nor the pure research chemicals had been available.

Also the authorities had not been very aware of these research chemicals during the early stages, thus the research chemicals remained legal for a rather long time. After the ban of 2C-B, the marketing of pure research chemicals slowly begun to grow, but since Alexander Shulgin was one of the very few researchers who made their findings public, the research chemicals available had been mainly substances described in Shulgins books;TiHKAL and PiHKAL. The place from the research chemical 2C-B was quickly taken by TMA-2, 2C-T-2 and 2C-T-2. The legal highs, which make the biggest part of the research chemicals market today, were only a very small and unimportant niche during the late 1990s.

The legal highs market slowly becomes big in the 2000s

Since psychedelics are no research drugs for daily usage nor likely to be sold in large amounts, the market of research chemicals required something bigger to expand and become important. But the raise of further research chemicals from the book PiHKAL slowly made politics aware of these research drugs. The next step had been research chemicals with stimulant effects.

Ethylphenidate a popular legal high - march 2014
Some of the very first research chemicals with stimulant properties had been the cathinones; one of the most popular substances was Methylone, the cathinone derivate of MDMA. It shared many similarities in effects, but was a bit less potent and the overall effects are less intense. But slowly the market for research chemicals wasn't bound anymore to the substances described in Shulgin’s books. Through the internet many research papers become available to everyone and thus the chemical groups of research chemicals available on the market started to expand, leading to increased methods of attaining a legal high.  

This continued for several years, but still the marketed research chemicals mainly consisted of psychedelics, stimulants and euphoric stimulants such as Methylone. In the late 2000s the research chemicals market slowly begun to explode, a new product which later should be sold in millions per month raised on the market. But it also introduced a new group of research chemicals and introduced the big era of legal highs and research chemicals. The product was called Spice, a synthetic weed. Nearly everyone has heard of it at least once.

The synthetic cannabinoid Spice was the first product to contain cannabinoids from the group of research chemicals, it also was the first legal high introduced on the market that was a legal replacement for Cannabis. Since Cannabis is the illicit drug which is consumed globally by the largest group of people, a legal replacement for it was far more requested than a legal replacement for speed, LSD or XTC. So far the most remarkable legal highs had been from the research chemical Explosion which was an alternative to XTC, based on Methylone and sold as legal XTC.

Legal Highs and Research Chemicals in the 2010s

The synthetic weed Spice made nearly everyone aware of the existence of research chemicals and legal highs. But unlike the research on stimulants and psychedelics, the research chemicals of the cannabinoid class still remained rare in the public. It took a few years before a wide range of synthetic cannabinoids became available on the market as research chemicals.

But through the raise of the new legal highs with cannabinoids, the people also became more aware of legal highs in general. This opened the doors for more research chemicals to become big. One of them was the stimulant with euphoric properties known as Mephedrone, in the UK Mephedrone quickly became so big, that the dosages used per month where only beaten by legal drugs like alcohol and the only illicit drug sold more often than Mephedrone was Cannabis.

Many governments reacted by banning many substances with which to attain legal highs and by trying to keep track of all research chemicals that emerged the market. Some countries even began to make drug analogue laws, similar to the laws in the USA. These analogue laws make it possible to ban a research chemical and all other research chemicals that are similar in their chemical structure.

However even the analogue laws could not stop the increase in the market of more legal highs substances and research chemicals. Even if a whole group of chemical substances is banned by an analogue law, there are still enough chemical groups which are too distinct from the banned ones and thus remain legal drugs. These new replacements for the banned research chemicals trigger the same effects hence getting high legally. According to the European monitoring centre for drugs, research chemicals and legal highs, the amount of available research chemicals in Europe had previously been around 30-40 substances per year, but in 2012 that number climbed up to 70-80 research chemicals per year.

Mixing of research chemicals has created new designer drugs
This number of substances for legal highs is growing every year, because also more scientists have become aware of these research chemicals and thus new groups of research chemicals are added every couple years. One of the latest examples are NBOMe substances such as 25I-NBOMe. Nearly all substances described in Shulgin’s book ‘PiHKAL’ (standing for ‘’Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved" ) can be made into a NBOMe version such as for example; 25D-NBOMe, 25H-NBOMe, 25I-NBOMe to name just a few. Potentially hundreds of possible new research chemicals and molecular structures can be created through just one single step.

Another factor is that research chemicals now cover nearly every group of drugs; stimulants, psychedelics, dissociatives, benzodiazepines and even opioids had been brought on the market.

The future of research chemicals and legal highs

After the Spice ban and the further bans of synthetic cannabinoids, many people believed the ban would cover the "best" synthetic legal weed categories of these research chemicals. But every time a ban emerged, a new range of legal synthetic cannabinoids had been brought on the market and even those who believed the cannabinoids with the best effects would have been gone, quickly realized how wrong they had been. After the first wave of bans on synthetic cannabinoids from the research chemicals, it took only a few months to find proper replacements and this will also continue in the future.

Some illicit drugs have unique effects so the amount of possible replacements through research chemicals seems to be initially limited. One example for this was LSD; there are only 2 known research chemicals which got the same effects and those are direct analogues of LSD, they are known as ETH-LAD and AL-LAD. But even if the chemical structure is different, the effects can be reproduced. That is the case with NBOMe substances such as 25I-NBOMe. They have a different chemical structure but are so potent and can create such intense effects, that many users confirm the mental and visual effects are quite similar to those of LSD.

It could happen that more countries start to try fighting research chemicals and legal highs through analogue laws. But the pressure on the political climate is still growing, because also analogue laws will not solve the situation. Some countries are already beginning to start review their laws and opinions of drugs in general. One thing is for sure, banning single drugs is not a solution anymore. Politicians finally have to face the reality that not everyone just wants to drink alcohol, take caffeine or smoke nicotine.

One of the few groups within the field of research chemicals, which don't have a large amount of replacements yet, are the opioids. But tendencies show that more and more people start to look for these alternatives. It is therefore likely that also the opioids will gain a huge boost in the research chemicals market during the next years.

On the other hand, for psychedelics the research chemicals market already has a lot of different substances to choose from and the number is growing permanently. This will also continue in the next years. The same will most likely take place with the research chemicals falling under the categories of stimulants, dissociatives and cannabinoids.

Laws against the use of drugs have always failed. In some countries the law already states it is illegal to consume any research chemicals in general, but if the research chemicals or legal highs are not sold for human consumption, they remain legal. And it is hard to proof the "abuse" of these research chemicals or legal highs if the costumer is behind closed doors in his own home. So even if there are efforts to stop research chemicals and legal highs, these efforts will fail as they always have before. Therefore if there is no legalization of certain currently illegal drugs, the research chemicals will remain as big as they are today. The more drugs are banned, the more legal alternatives and research chemicals appear to replace them to attain the same high but legally. Research chemicals categories will continue to grow until the politicians will be finally open to new ideas.

Since it could need decades to finally bring a change into the minds of politicians about research chemicals, legal highs and drugs, we can only estimate what are most likely the substances to come up next.

The stimulants are one of the most important classes within the research chemicals today, since amphetamines, cathinones and pyrovalerones are easy to produce and offer hundreds of possible analogues. Therefore the research chemicals within the stimulants will be most likely some of them. Even in the countries where analogue laws had been made, they do not cover all 3 types of these research chemicals in most cases.

For the psychedelics there will be also the same rules to follow for new research chemicals, the phenethylamines and amphetamines are in most cases easy to produce and do not require expensive equipment. The substances described and discovered by Alexander Shulgin such as 2C-B are already in the crosshair of authorities. However, they can't ban all of these research chemicals, except through analogue laws. But even then, there are many more groups for new research chemicals within the group of psychedelics. Especially the new appearance of the NBOMe substances such as 25i-NBOMe nearly worked around every analogue law. For this reason the coming years will especially see new psychedelics available which are from the NBOMe research chemicals and also with the previous stuff described by Shulgin.

But besides that there are also the tryptamines, in most cases these research chemicals are a bit more difficult to produce and cost more in production, therefore the companies will first try to make the cheaper research chemicals. But still there is already a wide range of legal tryptamines such as for example 5-MeO-DALT available and many more are emerging.

The synthetic cannabinoids group are for now the most unpredictable class of research chemicals, since they represent the biggest part of the market. But this also attracts a higher attention from all sides to these research chemicals. Therefore bans and analogue laws are likely to quickly ban whole groups of research chemicals within the synthetic cannabinoids group. This leads to the flourishing of a large number of research chemicals to become available, which are coming from totally different chemical groups but still are legal cannabinoids and used to attain legal highs. This makes it hard to say which research chemicals are more likely to appear the coming years. But one thing can be estimated, that every year will bring more and more different groups of synthetics cannabinoids on the market, just to have something legal in every country around the globe.


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