What if we told you there was a place you could apply for illegal substances like cocaine or heroin, they'd mail them right to your preferred address, and it would show up without revealing that the whole operation was a cop sting all along?
Well, that service is a thing. If you're in the UK, there are websites where you can order a surprising number of forms of cocaine like you're buying Alf Pogs from Amazon. In the US, you can buy them from a licensed manufacturer or choose from an even more extensive list of drugs from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) government website. Though the process is slightly less convenient, there is the added bonus that the drugs themselves are free.
Before you click "add to cart", you should know that there is a fairly obvious catch: you have to have a legitimate scientific purpose for those drugs – far better than "I'd like to snort them". You also need to be able to store those drugs securely and closely monitor their use.
Illegal substances are used in research fairly frequently, from studies on their negative effects to studies on potential therapeutic properties. As you've probably gathered, publication of these studies isn't met with a quick slap on the back from the department head followed by 10 to 15 years in chokey.
To avoid this possibility, US researchers apply for licenses from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which comes attached to background checks on anyone working in the lab. They must also be able to provide a locked, climate-controlled safe inside an alarmed room with only one entrance and exit.
It's not a short process – one researcher told Gizmodo it took a full two years before approval was granted. Once you have been given a license, it is possible to apply for drugs from NIDA, but the hoops are not over yet.
"In order to obtain controlled substances, other research chemicals, marijuana, or marijuana and nicotine research cigarettes, research investigators are required to submit their requests along with necessary documents to the NIDA DSP for consideration," NIDA write, alongside their product list. "Applicants (domestic and foreign) without an NIH grant should note that their research protocol will require additional scientific review."
With the drugs in your possession, you then have to closely monitor the amount you have left vs the amount you have used, to ensure no theft or Breaking Bad-style shenanigans are going on in the lab. The DEA can also audit you at random, just to make sure your used amount for scientific purposes matches the amount used in total.
The drugs themselves are created by licensed manufacturers. Though street versions of drugs are regularly tested (for example, to monitor developments in strains of cannabis, or to find out what drugs are being cut with) they are not considered high-quality enough (or consistent enough) for scientific research. Though the prices are a little higher, you'll be guaranteed to be getting the good stuff. From a research point of view, of course.