Behind The Scenes To Spot Real Synthetic Drugs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A law that was put into effect in Minnesota this summer was supposed to stop the sale of synthetic drugs. However, test results from the state’s largest lab show it’s not that simple.

In September, WCCO-TV went undercover and found how easy it is to buy the so-called incense and bath salts at one head shop in Minneapolis. Now, we’re seeing what it takes to spot the real stuff.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has run dozens of these tests for police departments across the state. Scientists only need a tiny amount to build a criminal case.

Synthetic drugs are colorful piles of plant material coated in drugs. Only a specialized test can determine whether or not.

Mark Patterson, a forensic scientist at the BCA, is one of 10 in the drug chemistry lab who look for the chemicals that make up synthetic drugs.

“In my opinion, I wouldn’t do them and I certainly wouldn’t recommend my kids do it,” Patterson said.

The test starts simply enough by weighing what they have. Then, just a few pieces are pulled out and mixed with chloroform. If there are drugs on the plant material, the liquid will pull it out.

A costly machine, which Patterson says it is similar to an oven, does the rest.

“It heats the sample up,” he said.

It takes just a few minutes to produce the results in the form of a graph. Like a fingerprint, the chemical make-up matches a drug that shouldn’t be sold.

The challenge now is keeping up with the sellers, who change the ingredients to try to get around the law.

“They’re always finding new ways to do things,” Patterson said.

As Patterson has seen, however, it doesn’t take long for science to catch up.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has banned five chemicals in synthetic pot and three chemicals in so-called bath salts. Patterson says if they test something with a similar chemical structure, it’s usually enough to fall under the law.

More from Liz Collin
  • Observer

    All this science is costing HOW MUCH to accomplish exactly WHAT???????
    This is as absurd as the effort to discover the secret beer making kits during prohibition.;

  • Zing

    Yeah, spend time and a ton of money on trying to keep up with a constantly changing list harmful synthetic drugs on top of the money already spent trying to control pot or maybe just maybe legalize weed to begin with. Stop wasting tax dollars and let people have liberty over their choice of weather or not to use a natural plant that can’t kill you or even make you sick.

  • Norge

    @Zing..Just STOP doing drugs and save the taxpayers millions! Saying weed is harmless is like saying falling 100feet is harmless…which it is…until you get to the sudden stop at the bottom…druggies want to kill themselves fine by me but when dopers show up at work, or get behind the wheel, or on a piece of equipment and hurt/disable people for the rest of their lives because they were stoned, it costs the victim their livliehood and a life of pain. But the dopers just keep on toking and write stupid comments about how dope ‘doesn’t hurt anyone and should just be legalized’. Dope obviously kills a whole lot of brain cells.

    • Zing

      Norge – You’re showing your fear and lack of knowledge. Your comments apply to alcohol but not so much to weed. If you are so concerned then why don’t you endorse prohibition again. Didn’t work out so well the first time did it? My point is that responsible users of cannabis should be not be labeled as criminals. No one should be behind the wheel of anything when incapacitated but anybody with any experience knows someone high is far less dangerous than someone drunk when driving. Also cannabis does not kill brain cells but once again alcohol does. You are like many people Norge, you fear cannabis because you fear yourself. Stop being such a tool and good luck.

    • MIke

      Hey Norge, driving cars kill, living in smog kills, and angry abusive husbands, wives and supervisors kill too………… I would rather be flown on an airplane by someone on cannabis than a overweight, hungover, angry individual, ten seconds away from a heart attack or a stroke. I bet ten to one you fit that profile……

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