K2 Spice, JWH-018, and synthetic marijuana make The New York Times

Overnight, Malcolm Gay posted an article that appears in this morning’s Sunday edition of The New York Times regarding synthetic marijuana products.
“Incense” blends such as K2, Spice, Black Mamba, and Wildfire Extreme are sold legally in most states in the US but have been illegal in Europe for over a year. These herbacious products are sprayed with one or more compounds originally synthesized in the laboratory of Dr. John W. Huffman at Clemson University. The compounds carry his initials followed by a number, such as JWH-018. The chemical structure of the compounds are different from the active constituents in marijuana but they bind to the same receptors in the brain. In recent months, JWH compounds have become available on the internet in their pure form, allowing users to make their own products.
While brief, the article notes some poison control data that do not surprise me based upon anecdotal experiences left here and at DrugMonkey’s blog since we wrote parallel posts on the topic in early February:

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that so far this year there have been 567 K2-related calls, up from 13 in 2009. But investigators add that no one is really certain what is in K2, and people are arriving at emergency rooms with symptoms that would not normally be associated with marijuana or a synthetic form of the drug.
“I don’t know how many people are going for a box of doughnuts after smoking K2, but they’re sure getting some other symptoms,” said Dr. Anthony Scalzo, a professor of emergency medicine at the St. Louis University who first reported a rise in K2-related cases and is collaborating with Dr. Rosenbaum in researching K2′s effects. “These are very anxious, agitated people that are requiring several doses of sedatives.”

Gay notes that these reports have led to Missouri’s Gov. Jay Nixon to sign a ban on these products this past Tuesday. Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Beebe in neighboring Arkansas signed a similar emergency measure and bans.
“Similar prohibitions are pending in at least six other states, including Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Ohio, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,” notes Gay.
Why do people use Spice? For some kids, it is simply easier to get – on the internet, at gas stations – and, until recently, legal to do so. The products have also been popular among people on parole or anyone else subject to urinary drug screening. Depending on the drug screen, the JWH compounds may not be detected. However, the US military’s drug screening method does detect them and these products have been banned from use by soldiers.
I’m looking forward to reading a compilation of these poison control center reports because the trend I’ve observed in the comments of readers who report using the products is that truly unpleasant effects did not begin emerging until pure JWH-018 became available. As a result, users can easily overdose on the substance due to its potency and homemade “incense” products can vary wildly in their JWH-018 content.
Pure JWH-018, or any powdered drug for that matter, is also difficult to “dose” without a balance having milligram sensitivity. I suspect that some users may overdose simply because they don’t know what a 10 mg “looks” like – if a pharmaceutical tablet is one’s frame of reference, one may not realize that much of a “10 mg” tablet is mostly excipient or solubilizing agent and may be 50 or even 100 mg in weight. So, it’s easy to portion out five or ten times as much compound as one thinks.
British psychoactive drug blogger, Synchronium, posted on the in vitro toxicology of JWH-018 and received 444 comments before he closed the thread, with one comment saying that, “JWH is like giving a noob driver a drag racer as their first vehicle.”
Unlike well-documented, poison control reports that are largely compiled from emergency room visits, the comments received there, here and at the DrugMonkey blog are non-scientific and unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, here is a sampling of some of the comments we’ve seen:

  • Trouble started with the purchased powder form (DM)
  • Problems with local “spice” products – “you can overdose on jwh very easily (TS)
  • JWH-018 withdrawal (DM)
  • “I had no idea what I had gotten myself into” (TS)
  • Brother has bad reaction (DM)
  • Desire to vomit for long periods of time (TS)
  • For more scientific information on this topic, a detailed two-part series on these products and compounds was written by neuropharmacologist Dr. Leigh at The Path Forward blog:

  • Cannabinoid agonists and JWH-018 – part 1
  • Cannabinoid agonists and JWH-018 – part 2
  • Particularly important in Dr. Leigh’s second post is her explanation of JWH-018 being both more potent and having greater maximal effects relative to THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana.
    Today’s article by Malcolm Gay can be found here at The New York Times website.
    A hat-tip is in order to regular reader, anjou, who sent me the link late last night. I still wouldn’t know about the article because I haven’t yet gone outside to pick up our Sunday Times.

    10 comments

    1. Those symptoms do sound like a severe pot overdose.

    2. JWH has been available online for much more than just ‘recent months,’ perhaps it is more widespread now, but its effects seem many times more powerful as cannabis. The reason more dangerous drugs are being used and developed all comes down to the ridiculous prohibition on cannabis, just like the rise of mephedrone in the UK as a response to the banning of ecstasy, and the upcoming rise of yet another analog there as Chinese chemists are already researching the next ecstasy-like drug for European markets.

    3. Same problems are raising in europe for the last years.
      “Hemp”-Shops are selling synthetic cannabinoids and other research chemicals totally legal.
      Mostly to children, because they canĀ“t grow their own cannabis and are afraid to buy the “illegal and bad” stuff.
      Weird world…

    4. The ‘Wars on Blank’ always fail. They always have and always will. Making something illegal, does nothing more than create “criminals”, where there were none before. If there is demand, there will be supply.
      We live in the land of the free. Freedom to do only what is allowed, even if what you want to do affects no one other than yourself. I hope that America can return to her roots, ‘the land of the free’, which will require a much needed paradigm shift involving a notion of personal responsibility.

    5. Cheers for the link, Abel. :^)
      I had to open up another two threads after closing the first; one on smoking mixtures and another on synthetic cannabinoids in general. They’ve received a further 63 and 247 comments so far.
      Seems to be a hot topic!

    6. Max Powers · · Reply

      My buddy bought a kit to make his own. He made so much of the stuff, he gave me a few grams for free. I seriously wish he hadn’t done that. I tried it out and smoked two smaller puffs, that’s it. OMG, whatever it is.. I LOVE IT! I was definitely not ready for it to be almost exactly like pot. I’ve tried fake weed before, the stuff is just complete garbage, all of them. Not this stuff! It really does work, WTH. Besides the unknown side effects, I really do enjoy herbal incense. Wish I had tried it a lot sooner. My bud got his kit here http://videogalaxy.info

    7. Wife and I smoke this stuff every night. It is extremely potent. I have no issue with pot, but my work drug tests…I have 3 kids and a wife who is stay at home. I dont want to endanger my job, and have my family with no money coming because of some drug test. I haven’t done pot in 8 years. I’ve always wanted to in the 8 ytears, but i’m responsable.
      Again, this stuff is VERY potent. My wife and I share 1 small bowl and we are good. 1 puff each pretty much. Its very close to pot if you use certain brands. We tried spicy green and that was not good.
      Just make sure to get the real stuff. (k2)

    8. Not all k2 is created equal. There is some real garbage out there so do your research before you buy.

    9. Ya know what, I make my own spice incense from the “Spice k2 style incense blend kit”. I make a batch every week! This way I know every little chemical that goes into my incense. Like exactly how much JWH, no surprise visits to the hospital for me.
      PLUS, watch out on the K2 stuff guys! I’m not absolutely sure, but I don’t think K2 actually makes a “spicy green” blend?? I could be wrong, but I think more than likely, the previous blogger got a hold of a counterfit bag of K2. Supposedly, the counterfits are real, they do contain jwh…..but just very little. If I remember correctly, K2 only has like 4 flavors and that’ it. So buyer beware of all the dickheads selling BS K2!!! Real K2= summit, citron, pink and one other flavor I cant remember what.

    10. it is good to see this discussed sanely.

      one thing that strike me is that all the reports i read have to do with teens and young people. i do not think i have seen a single report of an adult wigging out on this stuff.

      what age ranges are present in the ER data, i wonder?

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