As technology advances finding synthetic substitutes for illicit drugs is rapidly increasing. Synthetic drugs are made of a number of different chemicals and substances and are considered man-made. Synthetic drugs are designed to mimic the effects of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, and cannabis. Because the synthetic drugs have a different chemical structure they are deemed safe and legal, and acceptable alternatives to illicit drugs. However, due to their chemicals used their legality can vary and their safety is unverified.
The synthetic drugs mimic the effects as an illicit drug and thus can impair a persons ability to operate safely in the workplace. The short, medium and long-term effects of using synthetic drugs are also unknown as you simply do not know what you are consuming. The synthetic drugs are a concoction of whatever they would like to use and vary from batch to batch. So the problem then becomes – how do you test for chemicals that in essence are not illegal on their own but when combined become a synthetic drug which can mimic the effects of an illicit drug.
The simple answer is – you can’t. As they can use any ingredient to create their synthetic drug it’s hard to determine if it falls into the category of an illegal drug. When testing any sample (blood, urine, saliva etc) you can only test if a certain ingredient or element is there. You can’t test for what’s not there. This means that the drug tests would need to know in advance the ingredients in the synthetic drug to be able to test for it. Sounds rather challenging but the technology is evolving to be able to test accurately.
Below is a letter from Racing Analytical Services explaining the complexity of the situation.