Sharjah Police seize new synthetic drugs 100 times more powerful than cannabis

Senior officer tells of the 'endless challenge' of the war on drugs as criminal gangs use increasingly sophisticated techniques

Col Adil Al Mazmi, deputy director of Sharjah Police’s Forensic Lab. Photo: Salam Al Amir
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Forensic experts at Sharjah Police have identified two new forms of deadly synthetic drugs smuggled into the country inside bottles of skin serum.

The man-made cannabinoids are more than 100 times more powerful than natural cannabis and are believed to have been developed overseas at a Breaking Bad-style drugs lab.

The beauty products containing the liquid were found in the possession of a passenger arriving at Sharjah Airport.

Sharjah Police did not reveal when the seizure took place or what legal action has been taken against the passenger.

Dr Taj Elsie Abbas, a chemical analysis expert with the police, hailed the discovery of the drugs.

But he warned of the difficulties of keeping pace with sophisticated criminal enterprises.

“The challenge is that the chemical structure of synthetic cannabinoids can easily be modified,” said Dr Abbas.

“By changing one element, different derivatives from the same skeleton can be produced.”

He said chemists working with drug gangs can make 20 new strains of synthetic drugs through simple changes to the drug's chemical structure.

The mind-altering substances can be made into liquid form — as in this case — to be used in e-cigarettes and other devices.

They can also be dried or transformed into gas.

Police foil drug smugglers — in pictures

“It's a constant chase because the form of these substances can easily be changed and concealed as part of any product such as cosmetics and food,” said Dr Abbas.

“As it's really tough to identify them the officer who suspected the bottles of skin serum, based on training and instinct, should be rewarded.”

Synthetic cannabis was first manufactured and sold in the early 2000s and has evolved since then.

“When it became widely used around 2004, researchers in countries like the US and Japan began investigating them but identifying new types is still very difficult,” said Dr Taj.

Sharjah Police identified four new types of Spice — a widely-used term for synthetic cannabis — last February.

They have since been added to the country’s list of banned substances.

Powerful synthetic cannabis can have fatal consequences, with other serious side effects including rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, vomiting, agitation, confusion, hallucinations and paranoia.

“Users think if they take more, the impact will last longer,” said Dr Taj.

“But in this case they could take an overdose and this is why death rates among users of these substances are very high.”

An eye drop 'used like heroin'

Col Adil Al Mazmi, deputy director of Sharjah Police’s forensics lab, said the force was embracing cutting-edge technology as well as traditional policing in its fight against drugs.

“In the beginning of 2021, it was detected that an eye drop was being over used by some people,” he said.

When tests were run, it was discovered that the drops contained an ingredient that gives the same effect of heroin, he said.

“It was being used as injections among users of drugs.”

After this was discovered, the eye drop was added to the list of controlled medicines.

“We will continue our fight against this multibillion industry but the challenges are endless because criminals keep coming up with new types and new methods.”

Updated: January 26, 2023, 4:21 PM