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:
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:
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.