US DEA action on synthetic marijuana compounds in K2 Spice and others

On Wednesday, the US Drug Enforcement Agency released notice of “emergency scheduling” of synthetic cannabimimetic compounds currently sold in herbal incense products. Products like K2, Spice, Black Mamba, and pure compounds such as JWH-018 have been a boon for convenience stores, head shops, and internet retailers (not to mention huge, sustained traffic benefits for bloggers.). The complete text of the rule can be found here at the DEA website.

Already outlawed in Europe and with various bans in 15 states, these products are now officially viewed by DEA as worthy of “schedul[ing] an abused, harmful, non-medical substance in order to avoid an imminent public health crisis while the formal rule-making procedures described in the CSA are being conducted.”

What this means is that the DEA is going to release within 30 days a notice of formal ban of five chemicals – JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol – via temporary assignment to Schedule I, the US classification for drugs with no known medical benefit but that possess high abuse potential or are otherwise unduly harmful. This classification will then make these compounds temporarily illegal to sell or possess for one year (with a possibly six-month extension) while the DEA conducts studies and procedures for formal assignment to Schedule I.

The first three compounds carry the eponym for Clemson University chemist emeritus, Dr. John W. Huffman. dr. leigh has two nice posts (part I, part II) explaining the action of JWH-018 and the related compounds classified as naphthoylindoles, a class of compounds unrelated structurally to cannabinoids that occur naturally in marijuana but that still bind to the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 to produce a qualitatively similar high.

CP-47,497 is another cannabimimetic from another structural class that was actually developed by Pfizer in the 1980s. Cannabicyclohexanol is an analog of CP-47,497, often called CP-47,497 C8 analog, which differs by the length of the aliphatic side chain on the relatively simple 3-phenylcyclohexanol structure. The CP compounds were often found in Spice products sold across Europe before these were outlawed there.

One assumes that even compounds not named explicitly will also be banned under the analogs provision (21 U.S.C. 813) of the Controlled Substances Act although this point was not made in the rule released Wednesday.

The risk to public health defined in the rule is as follows:

JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol share pharmacological similarities with the Schedule I substance THC. Health warnings have been issued by numerous state public health departments and poison control centers describing the adverse health effects associated with these synthetic cannabinoids and their related products including agitation, anxiety, vomiting, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, seizures, hallucinations and non-responsiveness. Case reports describe psychotic episodes, withdrawal, and dependence associated with use of these synthetic cannabinoids, similar to syndromes observed in cannabis abuse. Emergency room physicians have reported admissions connected to the abuse of these synthetic cannabinoids. Additionally, when responding to incidents involving individuals who have reportedly smoked these synthetic cannabinoids, first responders report that these individuals suffer from intense hallucinations. Detailed chemical analysis by DEA and other investigators have found these synthetic cannabinoids spiked on plant material in products marketed to the general public. The risk of adverse health effects is further increased by the fact that similar products vary in the composition and concentration of synthetic cannabinoids(s) spiked on the plant material.

That it has taken me three days to bring this news to my readers tells me something about the timing of this announcement, although I’m not exactly sure how to take it.

The rule was released on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the heaviest travel day in the United States. The 30-day window means that the ruling will be made final sometime around Christmas. Releasing the rule at such a distracting time does not seem to be the best way to maximize the dissemination of information on the ban. Such a release of information is akin to the propensity of political, business, and academic practices of releasing bad news late on a Friday afternoon so as to avoid robust discussion in the press.

I would think that the DEA would want notice of this ban to get as much press attention as possible. However, not many of us had time to pump out blog posts on Wednesday, US Thanksgiving, or yesterday, and much of the mainstream press seems to have only briefly mentioned this ruling. Even today, only about 30% of our regular readership will be viewing this post.

The conspiracy theorists might contend that the DEA is trying to slip this ruling in so as to trap folks who are already in possession of synthetic cannabimimetic products. But I’m trying to look at this in a more positive light. Perhaps the fact that we have spent the weekend together as families, perhaps discussing recent news, and will then be together again in 30 days when the final ruling is issued might be one way to encourage discussions with the teenage and college folks in our social and family groups about the facts surrounding the safety of these products. I can certainly see the 60-ish-year-old aunts and uncles telling their young’uns – wink, wink – to just go out and buy some regular old weed like they did when they were in college.

One last thing that I found interesting in the rule was wording to the effect that the banning of the compounds “will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities,” and won’t unduly tax regulatory authorities as an unfunded mandate. I assume that “small entities” does not refer to local store owners, one of which in Victoria, Texas who noted in this article that they sell between $8,000 and $10,000 of these products per month.

“It’s going big time. It’s even surpassing porn and adult toys,” said [Donna] Shook [D&D Novelties owner]. “I mainly sell it because there has been a huge request among my customers.”

I’m sure there will be more discussion of this temporary scheduling of compounds in K2 Spice and other synthetic marijuana products. I’m just a little taken aback by the timing of this announcement.

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19 Responses to US DEA action on synthetic marijuana compounds in K2 Spice and others

  1. Nick says:

    Oh great,another thing the government is taking away. Where is this country heading? If I want to smoke too much K2 and vomit all night, that should be fine. I don’t need the FDA to tell me it’s a bad idea. It’s a miracle that cigarettes are still being sold.

  2. JC says:

    Ironically, the ban takes effect around Christmas and before New Years, so this may be a big boost to head shop businesses as people are already spending money and will no doubt stock up on K2 for themselves and loved ones. It should be noted that in my state of Texas, more cities have bans on the sale of alcohol than for K2, despite all the exaggerated negative attention over this substance (such in the media and among politicians who work for the alcohol industry). FYI, only 12 of the 50 countries in Europe have banned these synthetic THC substances. Most people don’t are not interested in K2 but they sure don’t mind the tax dollars and profits from it.

  3. divadab says:

    It’s a blessing in disguise – prohibition only serves to increase the demand for the prohibited product.

    The DEA, required as they are to lie to the people they are supposed to serve, is a corrupt emanation of a corrupt entity. I suspect even they are embarrassed by this stupidity and in releasing it for maximum secrecy are hoping no one will notice more proof that they are a bunch of lying oppressors, who make their living enforcing prohibition of a benign substance. They exist only to ruin peoples’ lives.

  4. divadab says:

    Grow your own medicine and overgrow the government and its corporate owners!

  5. Pingback: DEA acts on naphthoylindoles and 3-phenylcyclohexanols in synthetic marijuana | Terra Sigillata

  6. brad says:

    I heard all the hype about this compound substance and decided that I would try it out. I read reviews and say hey is legal and well why not. My wife and I sat down and decided it would be a good idea to try smoking the so called leagal weed. I took one hit from the stuff and immediately started feeling the effects. After about ten seconds my heart rate accelerated to a threatening level to where I stoped breathing and almost went into cardiac arrest. I told my wife to call 911 because I was starting to pass out. – was then paralyzed and my wife reported unresponsive. I remember coming to and getting up trying to walk it off. This was one of the most painful things that I have experienced in my entire life. This stuff is poison and needs to be outlawed immediately. There is nothing natural about this. Just bad news get rid of it I almost died yesterday from smoking what they call Kush. Aka k2 .

  7. JJ says:

    Any idiot who ingests something just because “it is legal and well why not” deserves what is coming to them. Irresponsible use like this is the reason this ban is going into effect.

    That said, there is no guarantee of the products people are buying being pure in any sense of the word, and no evidence to back up any claims of this chemical being “benign”.

    If you smoke stuff, yeah, it’s going to cause deleterious effects. That goes from inhaling cigarettes, to weed, to “spice”, to the grass from your lawn. Smoking any substance is bad for you, but what is worse is morons thinking that just because a product is unregulated, it’s ok for them to try smoking it.

    The rubber on your old tires is legal too, try smoking it. Just don’t blame me when you puke for the next few hours.

    The effects on human health of this substance are a known unknown, and most people who are smoking it fully realize that they are taking a substantial personal risk.

  8. Andrew Stump says:

    As someone who generates two streams of income with the help of herbal incense this ban is a blessing. These products have been expanding, changing, and reinventing themselves since they were first released. Most of the larger companies have been working to satisfy the Michigan state requirements (until now the strictest). All of these new Michigan legal products will still satisfy the DEA requirements. As far as the products containing these DEA recognized chemicals, all we had to do was stock up the warehouses, lower the prices, and wait for the paranoid to flood the doors and stock up. This is the best Christmas gift that the good old USofA could have given me.

  9. David says:

    Not at all a surprise to me, Andrew. I’d love to see a formal study with data on how the ban actually affects sales of new legal products.

  10. Pingback: If Marijuana Prohibition is Constitutional, Congress Can Ban Coffee Too. | ShadyHousePub.Com

  11. joel says:


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  14. Bosco says:

    When is the DEA going to outlaw for itself the Murdering of innocent American Citizens?

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  17. thegreybush says:

    Well put joel, and jj! I agree. People go in with no idea how to start out on this product, and end up fucking it up for others. I think the bath salts really fucked it up for spice smokers.

  18. cside says:

    i love spice

  19. Weed says:

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