As the owner of a construction business, the housing market's turn for the worst is 2008 spelled trouble for David Llwelleyn. After he was forced to close up shop, Llwelleyn found himself at a crossroads faced by many victims of the recession-- take some soulless gig just because it was available and paid the bills or use the time to figure out what he really wanted to do with his life.
They say when one is trying to determine what that might be, the best thing is to do what you love-- it won't feel like a job, you'll be able to put in many more hours than if it were just another slog to the finish and along the way, all the hard work might pay off. When Llwelleyn sat down to figure out which passion he conceivably turn into a career, he kept coming back to one thing-- his love of crack. He picked himself up a business partner and it was off to the races.
The 49-year-old Scotsman didn't go into the illegal drug trade. Instead, he entered the so-called "legal high" business—a burgeoning industry producing new psychoactive powders and pills that are marketed as "not for human consumption." Mr. Llewellyn, a self-described former crack addict, started out making mephedrone, a stimulant also known as Meow Meow that was already popular with the European clubbing set. Once governments began banning it earlier this year, Mr. Llewellyn and a chemistry-savvy partner started selling something they dubbed Nopaine—a stimulant they concocted by tweaking the molecular structure of the attention-deficit drug Ritalin.
But is the knock-off stuff as good as the real deal? Nopaine "is every bit as good as cocaine," Llewellyn assures. "You can freebase it. You can snort it like crack." As for other questions potential investors might have about the business, Llewellyn has answers.
*Such as, is it REALLY legal? "Everything we sell is legal," he says. "I don't want to go to jail for 14 years."
* Is regulation going to be a problem?
Llewellyn says he expects governments to catch wind of Nopaine soon and ban it. Anticipating the move, he says he's got dozens of other products ready to go, including a drug similar to the horse anesthetic Ketamine and something else he claims to be "the closest thing to Ecstasy that ever existed." By the time officials crack down, he says, "we are going to bring out something else."
* And what are we charging for this kind of stuff?
The products sell for about €20 ($28) a gram, or €4,000 to €5,800 ($5,500 to $8,000) a kilo. By contrast, a gram of cocaine costs roughly €50 to €70 ($69 to $97) in Europe, according to the EMCDDA.
* How do you stay ahead of the game?
He and his chief chemist get ideas for new drugs by scanning scientific literature. They pay particularly close attention to new papers published by scholars known for researching mind-altering, psychoactive substances.
* Is it safe? Don't want any lawsuits on our backs.
Llwelleyn boasts that his safety testing method is foolproof: He and several colleagues sit in a room and take a new product "almost to overdose levels" to see what happens. "We'll all sit with a pen and a pad, some good music on, and one person who's straight who's watching everything," he says.