It’s not news that the legal high, spice, has now been made illegal or that police are raiding any store that have any connection to the K2. For most all this means is that their buddies on prohibition cant get high anymore and college kids will have to get high the old fashion way.
But the history of Spice madness, and what the current legislation means for new drug laws is a lot more interesting that that. Behind the stories of bath salts, kids getting too stoned, concerned mothers, and national overreaction, is a story about how a cat and mouse game between drug enforcement and drug producers turned a relatively harmless chemical into a hard drug and a huge international market.
The First Spice
Spice is created by taking harmless herbs and spraying them with a compound containing a synthetic THC, or cannabinoid. The first cannabinoid, JWH-18, was created in 1980’s by chemist John Huffman; the potent compound (4X the strength of THC) was meant to be used to help treat the effects of Chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS. But in 2004, the compound began being sold by a German company K2.
By 2008, Spice has gained popularity as a marijuana substitute and through online vendors spread across Europe, the UK, and the USA. The products being sold were primarily a simple benign herb mixture laced with JWH-18. In 2009 the UK as well as several European nations banned the sale of JWH-18, as well as 2 other known compounds.
Dog Chases Tail
The new prohibition of JWH-18 did little to slow the sale of Spice. The producers in countries that still allowed JWH-18, simply sold their product on the web freely with no persecution. Those producers in the country re-synthesized the drug, creating new compounds that by passed the drug enforcement law, allowing K2 and other companies to keep selling new variations of the product.
As more countries passed laws banning various compounds, new cannabinoid were simply made to take there place. By 2011 there were over 41 different variations of Spice on the market.
One of the most well known stories of prohibition was in the US. November of 2010, the DEA banned all known combinations (At the time, roughly 20), from sale and production in the US, as well as banned any websites from bringing those compound into the US. Within the same month, spice producers had synthesized a new wave of cannabinoids to take the place of their old products, suggesting that producers expected prohibition and had already synthesized substitutes.
Prohibition has turned a once easily classified compound with known effects into a Frankenstein entity comprised of various compounds, with all different effects and potencies, all classified under one name. Even John Huffman, the creator behind the original drug commented “It’s like playing Russian roulette because we don’t have toxicity data, we don’t know the metabolites, and we don’t know the pharmacokinetics”
Spice Madness and New Drug Laws
Currently in 2012, there are 140 known cannabinoid compounds, with 100 still waiting identification by the DEA; as well as 15 different herbal mixtures that the compounds are sprayed on. With so much variation in the product it is no wonder that the side effects from using the product has varied from simply getting high, to seizures, nervous breakdowns, and death. But with so many different variations on the drug it is almost impossible to drug test, making many of the claims speculative at best.
This hasn’t stopped stories from spreading like wildfire across the news. Face eating drug uses on bath salts, teen in comas from overdose, nervous break downs and suicides, all attributed to smoking K2 or other spice recipes. Even locally a fatal car crash was linked to Spice use.
In June of 2012, the US has officially outlawed any current cannabinoid compounds, as well as banning the production of new compounds to take their place. This not only shuts down the sales and production of spice, but shuts down any medical research involving the substances as well.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but it is a shame to see a relatively harmless compound, JWH-18, be demonized and outlawed so quickly. Regulation could have kept the compound from being abused, while stemming the creation of new, mostly unknown, cannabinoids. Instead we are stuck with unknown drug compounds, with no research to find proper uses for them.
At least weed is still easy to find.