Across the United States a new form of recreational drug has gained popularity. Producing similar euphoric effects to marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids now are being used by both the curious and those unable to gain access to genuine marijuana. They are sold in convenience stores and head shops as “incense” and “herbal smokes” under such names as OMG, WTF, Kush, K2, Spice, Mr. Nice Guy, Genie, Cool Beans and others. The synthetic cannabinoids are typically dissolved in a medium of acetone and then sprayed onto less intoxicating substances, historically used in herbal medicine, including damiana, lion’s tail and marshmallow weed.
The cannabinoids include JWH-018, a fertilizer, JWH-073, CP-47, 497, and JWH-200. These and other substances repeatedly have been placed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act by the Drug Enforcement Administration under its emergency scheduling authority. That makes them illegal to even possess.
“We continue to address the problems of synthetic drug manufacturing, trafficking, and abuse. Our efforts have clearly shown that these chemicals present an imminent threat to public safety,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.
The full effects of these products are still being investigated. Evidence suggests they are not as safe as marijuana, which has rarely, if ever, required a trip to the emergency room. Since 2009, DEA has received an increasing number of reports of personal injury regarding such substances from hospitals, poison control centers, and law enforcement. Emergency room staff have reported that those who use these types of products experience serious side effects. These have included anxiety attacks, convulsions, disorientation, increased blood pressure, seriously elevated heart rates and vomiting.
President Barack Obama signed into a law a ban on certain synthetic cannabinoids and “bath salts” on July 9, 2012. The ban was part of a Food and Drug Administration safety bill, targeting 31 specific synthetic stimulants.
“I think if the American public isn’t careful, they’ll think this issue has been addressed when this is really just the tip of the iceberg,” Deirdre Canaday told FOX news, whose 26-year-old son Aaron Stinson died last year after smoking Mr. Nice Guy. “By specifically labeling chemical compounds, they are creating an open door for these basement and garage chemists to create analogs, which is branching out from the original compound, and differing just slightly, and it still has the same effect.”
Synthetic cannabis products have been made illegal in many European countries as well. These include Austria, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. As in the U.S., however, manufacturers and dealers can tweak the chemical structures of such designer drugs, potentially creating an endless cycle of prohibition.