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Monday, January 10, 2011

K2-Spice & More Synthetics

IMPORTANT.  This white paper is not an attempt to create a scholarly or detailed article but rather just a compilation that provides basic information to lay people who are employed in the drug free workplace testing profession.  The information has been gathered over the last six months from internet research and personal conversations.  The complete list of resources is provided at the end of the article.  Any inaccuracies are the sole responsibility of this writer.  Mac / J. Mac Allen


[Editor’s Note:  The first paragraph on each topic presents a summary of the information.  Where appropriate, additional information is offered in Expanded Paragraphs.]

K2/SPICE - What You Need to Know

 1. What is the Drug Called K2/Spice?

Both K2 and Spice are generic terms used currently to refer to any “carrier” sprayed with a synthetic cannabis drug product.  When inhaled or ingested, these synthetic compounds are described by users as having many of the same effects as THC - the cannabinoid in marijuana.  These products have been marketed as incense and stamped as NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.   However, there is no doubt that many who purchase K2/Spice intend to inhale its fumes and get ‘high’.  The compound that has most frequently been used to activate the cannabinoid receptors when inhaling K2/Spice has the chemical designation JWH-018.  JWH-018 is normally created in liquid form and then sprayed on whatever substances the manufacturer likes – usually crushed herbs and flowers.  The only requirement for the underlying carrier is that it can burn and release the smoke made from the drug. 

Please note the small pieces of herb, flowers and combustible materials visible through the K2/Spice packages.  Those materials are sprayed with a synthetic cannabinoid, allowed to dry, and then packaged in these small containers – approximately 3”x3”- that have zip locks across the top of the envelope.

The actual name K2 was taken from the surveyor’s mark for the second highest peak on the planet, referred to by many as the Savage Mountain.  For every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying.  It is second highest to Mr. Everest and is located on the border between Pakistan/Kashmir and China. 

Expanded - What is the Drug Called K2/Spice?

K2/Spice is generally a mixture of burnable “carrier” ingredients that have been sprayed with the chemical compound JWH-018, although 018 is not the only synthetic cannabinoid that has been found in K2/Spice.  An analysis of samples took place after the German prohibition of JWH-018 and it was found that the newer versions of K2/Spice had been sold with JWH-073 rather than 018 as the active ingredient.  This was simply another way to skirt the law.  Another potent synthetic cannabinoid, HU-210, first synthesized in the late 1980s at the Hebrew University (hence the HU designation), and now classified as a research drug, has also been reportedly found in K2/Spice seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  Like THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana, these synthetic cannabinoids switch on the cannabinoid receptors found on many cells in the brain/body. The brain is particularly rich in the CB1 cannabinoid receptors.  But most synthetic cannabinoids are quite different from the chemical structure of THC. And unlike cannabis, the new drugs have never been tested in humans.


2. Who Invented JWH-018?

JWH-018 was first created in 1995 in the lab of John W. Huffman, Ph.D., a Research Chemist and professor working on the organic receptors in the body/mind at Clemson University in South Carolina.  The project was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).  The intent was to make chemicals which imitated the actions of THC in the brain that could be used as both ‘carriers’ and medicines.  During the project, one of Dr. Huffman’s assistants formulated what has become the most common ingredient in K2/Spice, the compound named JWH-018.  JWH-018, named after Dr. Huffman (JWH), was given the 18 designation because it was the 18th such compound his lab team made during the research project.

Expanded - Who Invented JWH-018?

Dr. Huffman earned his B.S. (1954) from Northwestern University followed by his M.A. and Ph.D (1957) with the late Prof. R.B. Woodward at Harvard.  He began his academic career at the Georgia Institute of Technology (1957-1960) and joined Clemson as assistant professor in 1960.  He was a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard and received an NIH Career Development Award (1965-1970).  He was a visiting professor at Colorado State. 

Interviewed several times in the press, when asked why he thought manufacturers decided to use JWH-018 rather than any of the other compounds his team invented*, Dr Huffman theorized “that the compound was chosen because it was the easiest of the many chemicals that came out of that project to synthesize outside a lab.”  Huffman went on to say that JWH-018 “requires just two steps using commercial products, and can be more potent than THC.”

*Huffman interviews indicate there were several hundred more compounds that were produced during the research. They included JWH-073, JWH-200, JWH-250 and other numbered compounds that seem to end at JWH-382.  Another such substance, not invented by Huffman, was named cannabicyclohexanol.  It was originally a Pfizer compound first synthesized in 1979.

 3. Why Was JWH-018/K2/Spice Invented?

The primary target of the Huffman research was to develop chemicals that mimicked marijuana or cannabimimetics in the brain, i.e., produce synthetic analogues and metabolites of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol/THC that could result in new medicines.  In other words, Huffman and his team did not set out to create the active ingredient in K2/Spice or any other illegal drug.  The long-term goals of the research were two-fold and included the potential development of a new pharmaceutical product that targeted the endocannabinoid receptors in the body and exploration of the geometry of both the cannabinoid brain receptors, CB1, and peripheral CB2 THC receptors.  Indeed, the THC analogues that were created reportedly showed promise for the treatment of nausea, glaucoma, as appetite stimulants, and as an aid in the research of multiple sclerosis and AIDS.  Over the course of twenty years, Huffman and his team of researchers developed approximately 450 synthetic cannabinoid compounds.  018 was just one such compound/bi-product of the research

Expanded - Why Was JWH-018/K2/Spice Invented?

Besides the reasons above, before the 1980s, it was often speculated that cannabinoids produced their physiological and behavioral effects (make the user ‘high), via NON SPECIFIC cell membranes, instead of interacting with specific membrane-bound receptors.  The Huffman research helped to resolve that debate.  Receptors for cannabinoids are specific, are commonly found in animals, and have been found in mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.  

Present medicinal uses of compounds that interact with this system include analgesia, suppression of chemotherapy-induced nausea, appetite stimulant for illness and medication-related weight loss, reducing motor symptoms (e.g., spasticity, ataxia, weakness) in multiple sclerosis, and reduction of intraocular pressure in glaucoma.

 4. Where Was K2/Spice First Sold?

Synthetic cannabis products sold under the brand name Spice seemed to have first appeared in Europe in 2002.  By 2004 they were firmly entrenched in England.  Someone had obviously read the chapter on the formulas that were published by Huffman on his team’s research.  The brand name "Spice" was first used, and had been “protected”, by a now dormant store called  The Psyche Deli , a Spice shop in London, UK.  Was there a market for Spice?  According to the Financial Times, the assets of The Psyche Deli rose from £65,000 in 2006 to £899,000 in 2007

Expanded - Where Was K2/Spice First Sold?

In 2006 the brand name Spice gained general popularity in England and remained the dominant brand until 2008 when competing brands started to appear.  These were also dubbed Spice.  The product was supposed to be a way to get high legally on what was said to be a mixture of herbs and flowers. The name has now come to be used for both the brand 'Spice' and for all herbal blends with synthetic cannabinoids added.  In 2009, The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reported that ‘Spice’ products were identified in 21 of the 30 participating countries.  However, when tested, it was found that the herbs listed on the packaging, when analyzed by a laboratory in Germany, were often not found in the product at all.  Herbs listed on the packaging of Spice included Canavalia maritima, Nymphaea caerulea, Scutellaria nana, Pedicularis densiflora, Leonotis leonurus, Zornia latifolia, Nelumbo nucifera and Leonurus sibiricus.   After testing by the German lab, it was announced that some Spice products contained an undisclosed analogue of the synthetic cannabinoid CP 47,497, and JWH-018.  CP 47,497, along with its dimethylhexyl and dimethyl-non-1 homologues were the analogue that had been named cannbicyclohexanol.  Yet another potent synthetic cannabinoid, HU-210, was reported to be found in Spice found seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.   By then many manufacturers, attempting to get around the ban, had dropped JWH-018 for JWH-73.

As with any non controlled street drug, different ratios of different synthetics have been found in different Spice brands with cannabinoid content varying from 0.2% to 3%.  In short, much like the current state of Ecstasy, it is almost impossible to know how much of what a user is ingesting.  As put by yet another medical expert, when you take these drugs, you are hijacking the part of the brain important for many functions: temperature control, food intake, perception, memory, and problem solving.   Huffman, himself, is quoted as saying “anyone who smokes this stuff is stupid.”

 5. Where is K2/Spice Being Manufactured Now?

Narcotics experts say many of these novel drugs are manufactured in China, where lax regulations makes it easy for companies to produce and export a cornucopia of chemicals.  For instance, Les Iversen, chairman of the U.K.'s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which advises the governments of the United Kingdom on new substances, relayed that customs officials at Heathrow Airport recently seized a large shipment of white powder from China that was labeled "glucose" but contained mephedrone, an analogue or “Tweaker” of an amphetamine formula.

China also supplies raw ingredients to manufacturers located elsewhere although  Chinese officials now say the country is taking steps to control the flow of new drugs. On September 1, 2010 China began regulating mephedrone as a "category I psychotropic substance."  That means anyone importing or exporting it needs a special license.  In a written statement, China's State Food and Drug Administration said it has "strengthened monitoring of the situation in the country," and is ready to work with other countries to "exchange information, share resources and jointly respond to new emerging problems of drug abuse."

 6. What Actions Have Been Taken Against Cannabinoid Compounds in the U.S.?

U.S. Armed Services: Following cases in Japan involving the use of synthetic cannabis by Navy and Marine Corps personnel, a ban was issued as of January 4, 2010.  On June 8, 2010, the U.S. Air Force followed suit and issued a memorandum that banned the possession and use.

 7.  Is Spice the Harbinger of Synthetic Street Drugs to Come?

 It seems to be a distinct possibility.  The following excerpt is from the Wall Street Journal Online from an interview with WSJ’s Jeanne Whalen.


David Llewellyn is part of a wave of chemically savvy entrepreneurs who see gold in the gray zone between legal and illegal drugs.  Quite simply he and his chemists make analogues or “tweak” known chemical formula to create new drugs.  Mr. Llewellyn says he buys his raw ingredients online from Chinese suppliers, who charge rock-bottom prices and who, to date, have asked few questions about his business. The powders and liquids arrive by plane in 1-kilogram sacks and 25-liter drums and go to a warehouse in Glasgow before being shipped to his labs.

But the 49-year-old Scotsman is NOT in the illegal drug trade. Instead, when his construction business failed a few years ago he entered the so-called "legal high" business—a burgeoning industry producing new psychoactive powders and pills that are marketed as "not for human consumption."  Mr. Llewellyn, a self-described former addict, started out making a “tweaker” named mephedrone (mentioned prior and somewhat like the stimulant Ecstasy-a methamphetamine).  The tweaker was known as Meow Meow and was very popular with the European clubbing set.  Once governments began banning it earlier last year Mr. Llewellyn, and a chemistry-savvy partner, started selling something they dubbed Nopaine—a stimulant they concocted by tweaking the molecular structure of the attention-deficit drug Ritalin.

Nopaine "is every bit as good as cocaine," says Mr. Llewellyn, who has lived in Antwerp on and off since the late 1980s. "You can freebase it. You can snort it like crack." Still, he emphasized, "Everything we sell is legal. I don’t want to go to jail for 14 years."

 8. Is K2/Spice the Harbinger of an Era of Strictly Synthetic Street Drugs?

If the proponents of legalized marijuana have their way, the answer will be no.  At this moment it seems the public will continue to see both synthetic and organic, in various legal and illegal configurations. 

ORGANIC, A first:  A conference on marijuana billed as A Forum for Discussion of Business, Legal & Health Issues was held at the Hilton, New York City last October 25th and 26th.   Those in attendance included Ms. Trish Regan, a CNBC anchor, who moderated the panel discussion entitled “Entrepreneurial Visions: The Business of Marijuana.  Ms. Regan was also featured in the CNBC documentary, “Marijuana Inc.: Inside America’s Pot Industry.   According to the agenda and press reports, the conference also featured some well established panelists as well as the following who were listed as featured speakers:

Andrea Barthwell   President and CEO, EMGlobal LLC   Former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction, Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy

Stephen DeAngelo: Executive Director, Harborside Health Center

Lester Grinspoon, MD: Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Joel W. Hay, PhD:  Professor of Pharmaceutical Economics & Policy University of Southern California

 Senator Joshua Miller (D): Rhode Island State Senate

 Daid E. Smith, MD, Addiction Medicine, Newport Academy, Founder, Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic

 Jeffery A. Miron: Director of  Undergraduate Studies, Department of  Economics, Harvard University

SYNTHETICS:  In 2009, 24 new "psychoactive substances" were identified in Europe, almost double the number reported in 2008, that according to the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. (EMCDDA).  A few included:

Mephedrone. Also known as Meow Meow, Drone and M-Cat, this drug is similar to methamphetamine (speed).  Police reports say it has been responsible for at least three deaths in Europe. It has recently been banned in most European countries.

Naphyrone. Also known as NRG-1. Similar to amphetamines. Banned last year in the U.K.

MDAI. Similar to MDMA, or ecstasy/X.  Still legal in many countries.

BZP. Belongs to a class of drugs called piperazines, which mimic the effects of MDMA. Piperazines are used in industry to make plastics, resins, pesticides and brake fluid.  BZP was once investigated as a potential antidepressant, but the work was abandoned when it was found that the drug had stimulant properties similar to amphetamines. Now banned in many countries.


9. Countries That Have Taken Action

Austria: Announced 18 December 2008 that Spice would be banned.

Germany:  JWH-018, CP 47,497 & homologues of CP 47,497 are illegal since 22 January 2009.

Finland: Spice blends are classified as a medicine in Finland. No prescriptions are available.

France: JWH-018, CP 47,497 (and its homologues) and HU-210 illegal on 24 February 2009.

Latvia: All banned in Latvia as well as leonotis leonurus, a flowering shrub, that has been used for medicinal purposes as well an intoxicant in Africa.

Poland: JWH-018 and many of the ingredients of Spice were made illegal in May 2009.

Russia: On January 14, 2010, Russian government banned such drugs, including 23 synthetic cannabinoids found in smoking blends.

Sweden: were all made illegal in Sweden on 15 September 2009.

United Kingdom: Spice was made illegal in the UK on December 2009

Chile: The sale of synthetic cannabinoids was made illegal in 2009.

South Korea: JWH-018, CP 47,497 and HU-210 made illegal on July 1, 2009

Japan has banned JWH-018, CP 47, 497, and homologues, and HU-210 since Oct. 2009]

New Zealand: Spice is currently legal in New Zealand.

Canada Health Canada is debating on the subject.

United States: A DEA ban will make JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497 and cannabicyclohexanol, illegal when finally published in the Federal Register.


Source Information

Source information and quotes are from conversations, articles, interviews, and websites that are either currently ‘up’ or were published online in the last six months.  They include:

            John W. Huffman, Ph.D., Clemson University

            Clemson University, Department of Chemistry webpage

            Psychonaut Web Mapping Research Project

            Katy Bergen, Columbia Missourian Newspaper

            Jeanne Whalen, Wall Street Journal Online

            The Pitch Action News Team, Kansas City

            University of Freiburg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany

            Wikipedia, online website

            WebMD, online website

            European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Lisbon (EMCDDA).                                     EMCDDA is a decentralized EU agency providing information for policymakers                           and professionals in the field.

            Journal of Neuropsychiatry Online, Drs. Catherine Taber, Robin A Hurley




Posted By: STS  First @ 11:09:18 AM


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