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.

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    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.

    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 can´t grow their own cannabis and are afraid to buy the "illegal and bad" stuff.

    Weird world...

    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.

    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!

    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

    By Max Powers (not verified) on 12 Jul 2010 #permalink

    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)

    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.

    By Ottodog2010 (not verified) on 15 Jul 2010 #permalink

    You know, if my kid repeatedly hit himself in the face with a hammer, I wouldn't try to get hammers outlawed. I would simply educate him on the negative long-term effects of misusing tools like hammers. There is a quote that says, "You can't legislate good will - that comes through education."

    The 'Wars on Blank' always fail. They always have and always will. And, making something illegal, does nothing more than create "criminals", where there were none before. If there is demand, there will be supply.
    Look, this is the land of the free, so you should be personally responsible for your actions and able to do what you want, so long as you are not affecting someone else's right to Life, Liberty , and in this case, PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. These Legislators have nothing else to do but create laws, which generate cost. LAWS ARE COSTLY and don't prevent crimes, they just make criminals.

    EVERY POLITICIAN Mentioned here in support of this "Ban" is an enemy of freedom. How do they plan to enforce this? That's right, More Police, More Judges, More Jails, More Taxes! The Government produces no "goods of value", so when a politician says they are going to "create Jobs" they can only do so by destroying our American freedoms One by one. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN IN YOUR STATE. Take simple action and contact your state representatives and senators today. If we don't take action now, we'll settle for nothing later. Visit All Patriots DOT COM

    I have tried K2, serenity now and swerve. I can't believe they are going to make this illegal. Alcohol has been around for years legally and it makes many people mean. I have been married to individuals who smoked pot and drink and I would rather be around a bunch of smokers. They are not aggressive, they are easy going and just want to chill. They state worldwide over 500 people have had reactions. How many kids die from alcohol poison each year? I have heard of tachycardia, fast heart beat. Over the counter cold medicine will cause that if taken incorrectly. I am a responsible member of society, I have a full time job and pay my bills and feel if I choose to smoke K2 on my own time, in my own home, it should be my business. Take alcohol away from some of our goverment official and see how well that goes. I don't believe it should be sold to kids and I don't believe people should smoke and drive or do any other activity that may harm them or others.

    By American citiz… (not verified) on 20 Jul 2010 #permalink

    I was just introduced to the herbal smoke through a new brand called VIZON. At first glance or thought I was like yea right this might just get my light headed. So I enlisted my brother to try it with me, shortly after just smoking a couple hits we looked at each other in amazement and after uttering, "this can't be legal several times, we decided to look up the ingredients and see what we were dealing with. After some research I was ELATED! Finally a legal herbal alternative to Pot, this is the wave of the future! I'm a very pro pot person but to have a legal alternative is awesome! I've been sharing my discovery with friends when I was slapped in the face with reality, it's not the herbs that are making me high, it's a man made chemical. Talk about disappointed!

    Pot is not man made and thus a better alternative! The chemical aspect of these "herbal alternatives" is a bit scary to me, even though I've tried several varieties all with great effects.

    Not so sure about all these morons smoking large amounts of the pure JWH though, seems pretty stupid

    By Pot Positive (not verified) on 20 Jul 2010 #permalink

    Just one more reason to decriminalize marijuana.

    By Janice in Toronto (not verified) on 23 Jul 2010 #permalink

    mkay i tripped my balls off on acid then smoked a bowl of this k2 stuff and i was higher than shit. but i didnt feel paranoid at all, i felt at peace it was smother shall we say than weed and i plan on doing it again. just dont be dumbasses and ruin this legal alternitive for the rest of us. as with all drugs start small then work your way up in dosage as you feel fit.

    Hmm.. would just like to say that anyone experimenting with a mind-altering substance, needs to understand there is an inherent psychological risk. As for myself, I don't have any experience with ending an addiction aside from quitting cigarettes.. which really didn't seem that hard, even after smoking a pack a day for 4 years (I'm lucky? I dunno). Also, a note on addiction, which might have already been said, physiological and psychological addictions are different in that, anything and everything can be psychologically addictive to someone..depending on how it changes their brain chemistry during their experience and how dependent they become on that feeling (that experience aka that brain chemistry). Everyone is different, and anything can affect anyone differently.. not advocating the use of k2/spice, or any drug, though I have done many. But I would like to mention that if you are unsure of how something like this will affect you.. be careful, make sure you understand the drug, possibly more importantly..understand yourself/your mindset (to a comfortable degree), have a backup plan if stuff gets too crazy for you? maybe have someone with you to try it or a sitter or something? and just be careful i guess..

    also a last note: pot > k2/spice by far :) imo.

    but being reckless with anything is NOT a good idea

    i smoke more k2 spice then anyone ive ever met and in all honesty i still feel fine still play sports with little problem.. i think there blowing this way out of proportion....spice for life.. well spice for life while on probation!

    I've had a very bad experience with K2 Spice (Blonde to be exact). This was probably close to the 15th time I had done it. This one particular time I did 4 or 5 bowls out of a bong. These are the feeling I recorded the next day after the bad trip and I assure you, all were real. I am not making this up.

    I felt like my head had two holes in it right about in the same spots where the ears are located. It was a massive hole like I was shot in the head. I felt a huge rush of air flow in and out of that giant hole in my head. Whatever I was looking at on the computer screen appeared somewhat 3-D, almost like in the movie Minority Report. It felt like people were swearing in my mind, I could hear them so well. I could only focus on specific non-moving things. It took so much effort to move any part of my body. It was even difficult to move my eyes. When I moved it was like I was moving in the way a subject does in a Stop-Motion film. This was before the experience starting peaking. I then walked into the bathroom and looked at my face. My eyes were bloodshot of course and I had big purple bags under my eyes. My eyes were very droopy as well. The experience then began to kick in. I felt like my heart was beating very excessively and my veins were pumping concrete throughout my body and it was hardening. I then went and lay in a bed because I felt I was having a heart attack. This was when the full effects were kicking in. I had someone take my blood pressure on a little home monitor and the machine wouldn't even read it because my heart was beating too fast. My heart felt like it was bouncing around in my chest and bouncing off the inside of my rib cage. I felt like I was swallowing my teeth and they were crushed in my mouth. I felt like my stomach was swallowing my heart. When I lay there I could hear and feel the beats of my heart push air up out of my mouth. I lay there silent. It was the worst feeling in the world from simply having too much feeling. I could feel the bones in my mouth with my tongue and then it began to feel like my tongue was rolling and flipping over in my mouth and I might slip down my throat. I was laying there screaming but my mouth didnât open, all I could do was fixating on the pain and just wait for it to wear off. This was the worst feeling I have ever experienced. My heart was racing. Sometimes I would go into a bad fit. I would lay there and shake and have weird compulsions from everywhere. I would bang on my chest to try and fix my heart from beating so fast. My arms where shaking and my feet wouldnât sit still. I could feel so much pain just by having such an increase in the sense of touch everywhere throughout. But at the same time, it was painless. So strange. I was feeling an abnormal amount of pain but then overall not feeling any pain. It was just discomfort. That was hands down the most terrifying experience I have had in my life.

    I never thought I'd experience something like this from spice, it was something I had only read about. But guess what, it happened. This all happened close to a month ago.

    By Edward Manface (not verified) on 24 Jul 2010 #permalink

    You're a liar and full of horseshit. It's just like Marijuana.

    I think the bans are ridiculous, especially when you consider how the pharmaceutical companies advertise their drugs on tv all day long and look at the side effects on those! They take up half of the freaking commercial.

    "You're a liar and full of horseshit. It's just like Marijuana."

    while that did make me burst out laughing, it is nothing like marijuana. it's an herb mix sprayed with a chemical compound to produce the effect of mj. it needs that chemical to cause those effects. mj, produces it's on chemicals. sure, nutrients and stuff help but, ultimately it doesn't need those things to produce THC. Fuck spice.... go green.

    By Chad Gomez (not verified) on 28 Jul 2010 #permalink

    I don't buy K2, I buy Mystery. It's all getting ready to go illegal anyways. I blame all the idiots smoking it out in public and irresponsibly for spurring lawmakers into making it illegal soon. OK to the commenter up a few...who had the horrible experience...if it's so potent, why would you do FIVE bong hits of it? OF COURSE YOU WOULD HAVE A BAD TIME YOU IDIOT. Go back to smoking pot, you can't overdose ON THAT!

    With that out of the way, I have used this herbal blend sprayed with chemicals to effectively stop smoking illegal marijuana. Now I have this chemical addiction to reckon with but you don't have to smoke nearly as much, half the cost, legal, pass a drug test to get a good job, and eventually hopefully as we all grow up we can be drug free. Thank you.

    By Mystery Bluebe… (not verified) on 02 Aug 2010 #permalink

    I tried K2, was fine. I tried Mr Nice Guy, was more intense. I have smoked pot nearly everyday for a decade and I don't want to be a 'criminal' so I try this stuff. Coincidentally, I got bronchitis. I think marijuana is much safer, until you factor in U.S. laws.

    We, as a Nation, are so lost. God help us.

    I want to share with you my secret. Marijuana has helped me to relax, but it has helped me to have a lower quality of life by accepting lower standards. I mean to say it got through the bad times, but also somehow kept me there.

    Its not as easy as smoking a bowl, but exercise, proper diet, and meditation have produced the same positive effects without any of the negative. My problem is that I've been lazy and looking for a quick cure. My other problem is I always smoke what I've got, very little self control with smoking pot.

    May this help a wandering soul regain control. Or maybe you just laugh at the post-- I tried.