After the disgraceful politics of the Brit exit leave campaign I choose to switch from reading the Daily Mail (Right wing newspaper) to the more left wing and intellectually serious Guardian newspaper. Now after changing I found that the Guardian seemed to write articles which were written in a more intelleigent and in depth way. I was enjoying this new experience and then I saw something about some loathsome herbs from South America which reminds me of the way in which LSD, peyote cactus (mescaline) and mushrooms (psilocin and psilocybin) were being touted by the likes of Timothy Leary. For those of you who are interested here are the chemical structures below.
Now those of you who have taken an organic chemistry course should notice that all three drugs are either indoles or have an indole like structure. The new herbal horror mix which the Guardian seem to be praising is a mixture of 7-methoxy-1-methyl-9H-pyrido[3,4-b]indole which is a MAO inhibitor (MAOI) mixed with DMT (2-(1H-indol-3-yl)-N,N-dimethylethan-1-amine). The DMT is a hallucinogen which has a short lifetime in a human, the MAOI increases the lifetime of the drug in the person thus making the ayahuasca a more horrible concoction.
Please understand that while MAOI drugs are serious, the scary thing about the MAOIs is that they can interact with other drugs and even common foods in some very scary and potentially deadly ways. The author Elizabeth Lee Wurtzel, she wrote of how a person on some types of MAOI drugs can fall down dead by eating some types of cheese and wine. On the otherhand I recall that a MAOI can protect the brain from MPTP, MPTP is a neurotoxin which horrifies me. Thankfully it is a substance which is hard to obtain, the reason why it horrifies me is that it has the potential to induce parkinsonism in healthy people.
As a chemist I have to ask why a national newspaper would want to promote drug abuse, my own view is that the physical and mental risks posed by drug abuse to the user are a perfectly good reason to outlaw substances such as LSD and psilocybin. We also need to consider the threat to society, assume that we have 1000 people who are paying tax and in work. If 1 % of them go to prison for drug crimes for five years each and 1 % end up as long term psychiatric patients then it is going to impose a great cost on society.
The drug crimes include things like dealing (supply), possession, property crimes committed to fund a habit and crimes of violence committed either by dealers or users of the drugs.
We are going to ignore for a moment the moral arguments and just consider the money. The cost of putting someone in prison in the first year is £63000 while in the other years it is £ 40000. So each of the 99 % who do not go to prison has to pay out £ 2252 (£ 450) for the cost of five years prison time for the 1 % who go to jail.
The first £ 11000 is tax free, so we will ignore this.
Then on everything between £ 11000 and 43000 you have to pay 20 % on your income. So the average tax payer will have to pay £ 3100 per year.
More than 10 %, in fact 14.5 % of this will have to go on the prison costs for the 1 %. So if drugs result in 1 % of the population being sent to jail for five years then it will impose a very large cost on the general public.
I do not assume that all hospital patients cost the same amount, but one average estimate was that a single person spending one day in hospital costs £ 400. Now if drugs cause 1 % of the population to stay all year in a hospital then this is going to cost per 100 people a total of £ 146000, if we split this between the 99 who do not end in hospital then it is going to be £ 1474 each. This is going to be even more expensive than the prison cost.
Now the 1 % values are pulled out of thin air, but they do show that if we were to allow drug abuse to occur which results in 1 % of the population being jailed and 1 % being laid up in hospital then it is going to hurt society. While people might not like the cost in pounds of jail and hospital being considered, we need to note that for every pound which is spent on cleaning up the mess created by substance abuse it is one less pound for the following
Schools, treatment for cancer, university, treatment / prevention of heart disease, old people’s homes, social care, protecting the environment, protecting our national heritage, arts, culture, road building, investment in new industries and a whole series of other worthy causes.
By the way if you are considering doing drug abuse then please consider the tale of Barry Kidston and some other people who were taking what they thought was heroin. While Barry set out to take an exotic version of pethidine, the others did not. The thing about illegal drugs is that you never know quite what is being sold on the street. For example I have heard of mixtures of heroin and LSD being sold as MDMA. The horrible thing about the drug which Barry made was that it resembles heroin, it is a much stronger version of pethidine. So it can be sold on the street as “heroin”, the biggest problem I see with 1-methyl-4-phenyl-4-propionoxypiperidine (MPPP, or Desmethylprodine) is that the synthesis is a simple short synthesis route which a mediocre chemist could get some yeild of MPPP. But even a skilled synthetic chemist would find it hard to avoid forming some MPTP in the synthesis, the substrate for the final step is set up for a E1 elimination (dehydration) which forms MPTP.
I have heard that in some cases the product from a illicit MPPP synthesis is close to pure MPTP, the thing is that MPTP can punish a person in ways that even the strictest legal systems can not. For instance in the far east some countries offer the death penalty for some drug offenses, the mode of execution varies but I have heard of hanging and shooting being used. The UK and Swedish legal systems offer long sentences in a prison, but MPTP can give what I imagine a “living death”, MPTP can imprison a person inside their own body ! I have heard tales of people being awake and aware but locked into their bodies by MPTP poisoning.
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