Sustained interest in K2 Spice, JWH-018, and related currently-legal cannabimimetic products

Just a quick post this morning as I am performing my professional responsibility to our nation's health research agency.

In yesterday's issue of USA Today (which I only read on the iPhone app or when staying at a hotel that gives it to us free), Donna Leinwand wrote about a currently legal substitute for marijuana called by various names such as K2, Spice, Black Mamba.

Nearly a dozen states and several cities are banning or debating bans on K2 -- a packet of herbs coated with a synthetic chemical that mimics a marijuana high when it's smoked -- amid fears that its use is spreading among young people.

Each of these products is comprised of a generic plant material fortified with one of more marijuana mimics, or cannabimimetics, originally synthesized in the 1990s by Clemson University organic chemist John W. Huffman and his graduate students. These compounds generally go by JWH followed by the lab's code number for the compound. The most popular of these is JWH-018.

These compounds are not considered cannabinoids since they are synthetic and do not bear obvious structural similarity to Δ9THC or other naturally-occurring cannabinoids. However, these compounds do bind cannabinoid receptors in the brain and appear to produce psychoactive effects similar to that of marijuana. Descriptions of various K2 Spice products, and now pure JWH compounds that have become available, are richly described by our commenters to the February post. In fact, a comment received this week, speaks of the risks of the variable levels of JWH compounds that might be sprayed on different products.

The primary driver of K2 use appear to be by cannabis enthusiasts who are either on probation or otherwise subject to urinary drug screening tests that detect THC but not (yet) the JWH compounds. Others simply wish to purchase a still-legal high rather than risk the variable ire of law enforcement officials around the US.

For much more on the pharmacology and risks of dependence on K2 or pure JWH-018, you can read two posts written under the ScienceBlogs masthead in February, one by me and one by my blog brother, DrugMonkey.

Brother Drug and I have been completely blown away by the sustained interest in each of our posts that has actually grown over the last 100 days. In both of our cases, approximately 50% of our readership lands on our February K2 posts. Perhaps this is no surprise given that each of our posts show up at the top, or at least the first page, of Google search results for "K2 Spice." On top of this, I was the beneficiary yesterday of Reddit member Travesura who recommended his followers to us with the teaser:

"Heard of that "K2 Spice" that everyone has their shorts in a wad over? Here is the best explanation that I have seen about what it is, and how it works."

Thanks to Travesura and the timeliness of Leinwand's USA Today article, our February K2 Spice was the landing site of 2,853 of our last 4,000 visitors.

Holy moly.

But I learned possibly of another trend: we received a fair number of hits yesterday from various US military IP addresses, some coming via search terms involving detection of JWH-018.

For our military readers, has any directive come down the pike that soldiers will now be screened for JWH-018 use? Or is this just a coincidence?

But I still have no explanation as to why both DrugMonkey and I are getting such sustained interest in this topic, even more than for previous posts that had short-term high readership such as herbal products adulterated with erectile dysfunction drugs and the Evolv water/M.D. Anderson kerfuffle.

Update: The always-excellent Erowid site has information on the approach to K2 Spice by the US military. The US Army has banned the substance and this January 23, 2010 article by Hope Hodge at the Jacksonville (NC) Daily News on the possible discharge of two Marines at Camp Lejune:

Marine Corps officials did not immediately respond to queries about working policies surrounding spice or how Marines aboard Camp Lejeune are briefed about it. Base officials said that, in place of specific guidance, the use of spice is illegal under SecNav Instruction 5300.28d and OpNav Instruction 5350.4c, which broadly regard substance abuse prevention and control.

Hodge followed up on February 5 with a report that the US Marines has issued a ban of 10 substances that include Spice and Salvia divinorum, the source of the disturbing hallucinogen, salvinorin A.

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superscript fail?

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 25 May 2010 #permalink

We saw an uptick this year in use of K2 in our small community down here on the Texas coast. I don't know if this is true of all of Texas. But on a visit to a local head shop, I saw 8 customers buy K2 type products in 8 minutes during the middle of the day. Seemed like a popular product.

As a slight refinement, what I said was that out of the hits that came in through search engine terms about half of them were for K2/JWH-018/Spice/etc terms.

It is still amazing though. The interest in this stuff is unreal.

By DrugMonkey (not verified) on 25 May 2010 #permalink

DrugMonkey and Abel, aside from people just wanting to get a legal high, with the military er...notice, some of that coming in may have something to do with many of the returning vets with PTSD that are starting to push for a medical marajuana trial for thier condition. I haven't heard a great deal about it, but the nudging has apparently started.

Far as I know, they've been shouted down practically every time they bring it up, though. (And I can only keep an eye on where it is insurance-wise, maybe you guys can get somewhat more/better info?)

By Kate from Iowa (not verified) on 25 May 2010 #permalink

This article had me feeling curious enough about K2 to try it and I was very much amazed. It totally over delivered and surpassed expectations in a big way.

Dug around the Internet and found a coupon code for 10% off purchase at

Coupon code is: "dankliving". It does not appear to have an expiration date.

I find it interesting how some states are going bonkers trying to ban this at supersonic speed. Surely they have more pressing issues?