Spice and K2 – What is Synthetic Cannabis?
These are designed for the recreational market, unlike pharmaceutical versions of synthetic cannabinods such as Marinol that are intended as chemical substitutes for the natural cannabinoids found in medical marijuana.
It is directly as a consequence of prohibition that these dangerous chemical substitutes for natural, safe, organic, cultivated cannabis plants are illicitly produced and legally marketed.
Spice was first sold as a recreational drug in 2004, in the UK. By 2006, it had gained a considerable hold on the market, and the brand name Spice along with another brand, K2, had become a generic term for all synthetic cannabis.
History of synthetic cannabinoids
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime products based on Huffman’s formula started surfacing in the United States around 2008/2009.
Synthetic cannabis consists of a cocktail of man made chemicals that interact with the same receptors in the brain as cannabinoids in natural cannabis.
Traditional smoked Spice and K2 looks like herbal tobacco or cultivated cannabis and most people have no idea how this dangerous synthetic drug is affecting millions of people Worldwide.
Alarmingly vaping the liquid form of synthetic marijuana is also becoming popular. The increasing popularity of e-cigarettes, vape pens and hookah pens is thought to be the reason behind this new trend.
The development of synthetic cannabis compounds is credited to Clemson University professor John W. Huffman, who was interested in the brain receptors that regulate appetite, nausea, mood, pain and inflammation. Huffman synthesized a compound he called JHW-018 in 1993 and published a series of academic papers that contained the formula.
The chemical compounds, often created in labs in China based on research conducted at western universities and pharmaceutical companies, are not regulated and are hard to detect. When he first heard that people were using the compounds he created to get high, Huffman is reported to have stated:
“It was kind of funny at first. Then I started hearing about some of the bad results, and I thought, ‘Hmm, I guess someone opened Pandora’s box.’ People who use it are idiots.”
These synthetic drugs are marketed under under more than 500 names including Spice and K2, Mojo, Scooby Snax, Black Mamba, Annihilation, Bliss, Cowboy Kush, amongst many others. There is chemical variation in each, however, they are related.
Synthetic cannabis can be purchased cheaply online, or smaller packets can be purchased in retail outlets.
Side effects of synthetic cannabis
According to a New York Times article from 2016, 1 kilogram of AMB-FUBINACA could be portioned out over 15,625 doses, with a typical street price of $35. That means the dealer stands to make close to $500,000.
Soon after the use of Spice and K2 became popular people started experiencing adverse side effects, including serious psychosis.
Side effects of smoking synthetic cannabinoids include catatonia, profound anxiety and paranoia, nausea and vomiting, elevated heartbeat and blood pressure, seizures, and hallucinations.
They also seem to be addictive and, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, have been linked to acute kidney failure. Synthetic marijuana has also been linked to multiple deaths, including 15 in the first four months of 2015.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “Regular users of Spice and K2 may experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms.” The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) describe synthetic cannabinoids as, “extremely addictive and dangerous.”
Many users have suffered violent reaction that include foaming at the mouth, vomiting white mucus,shaking and having impaired speech. The following video is alarming and a ‘must watch’ for anyone considering its use.
Withdrawing from Spice and K2 is extremely unpleasant. Common withdrawal symptoms include extreme vomiting and diarrhea, inability to eat or drink, inability to focus, fatigue and extreme insomnia.
Relapse from spice addiction is common. Some users claim that ending an addiction to Spice or K2 can be as difficult as quitting crack cocaine or heroin.
Its appeal is that authorities struggle to prove that using it or manufacturing it is illegal. The decreased risk of arrest and prosecution makes synthetic marijuana cheaper and more widely available than other drugs.
Spice and K2 synthetic cannabinoids are often marketed as herbal incenses, potpourri, or state that they’re not intended for human consumption.
Testing for a drug requires knowing exactly the chemical compound that being testing for. The huge variety of chemical compounds used to manufacture synthetic cannabis makes this extremely difficult.
The result is that synthetic cannabinoids have attracted users who are attracted to its availability and low cost. It also allows users to experience a long lasting psychoactive effect without having to worry about failing any possible mandatory work or law enforcement drug tests.
Synthetic cannabis consists of a cocktail of differing drugs making it difficult to design a specific test to indicate its presence.
Despite state and federal governments placing various synthetic formulations on their controlled substance schedules, manufacturers and distributors avoid prosecution by tweaking their formulas and switching to varieties that are not listed as controlled substances.
In most countries around the world, including the United States, synthetic cannabis is illegal. Spice and K2 use is also banned for U.S. Military personnel.
Prohibition and the Controlled Substance Act
In May, 2013, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) took action and formally banned synthetic ,arijuana as a Class I drug, making distribution of legal weed a federal crime in the US.
The Federal Analogue Act, a section of the United States Controlled Substances Act does give prosecutors the power to pursue drug producers and distributors who traffic in substances that are “substantially similar” in their chemical make-up and their pharmacological effect to Schedule I and II drugs.
That makes the process expensive, because prosecutors have to enlist expert chemists to conduct tests and testify in court against experts hired by the defense.
Prosecutors must also prove that their defendants knew that what they were selling was substantially similar to an illegal drug.
In 2008, the scientific and law enforcement communities began to study what was actually contained in synthetic cannabis mixtures. The result of the scientific analyses was alarming. The analysis showed that rather than being a simple mixture of harmless herbs, such as:
- canavalia maritima, leonotis leonurus, zornia latifolia
These are not the natural ingredients as listed on their packaging. These chemicals are similar to natural cannabinoid found in cannabis, but affect brain receptors differently.
Spice and K2 can contain one of many synthetic cannabinoids such as:
- JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, AM-2201, UR-144, XLR-11, AKB4, cannabicyclohexanol, AB-CHMINACA, AB-PINACA, AB-FUBINACA. Even the prescription drug, phenazapam, has been found in some products.
According to Carla Freedman, an assistant U.S. attorney who has prosecuted multiple synthetic cannabinoid cases, deceptive labeling can be seen as evidence of a guilty mind, as it was defined in a recent Supreme Court decision.
“Usually you don’t have an issue showing that they didn’t really intend for the product to be used as incense or potpourri, so then you have to ask, ‘If you knew it was going to be smoked and ingested, and you thought it was lawful, then why are you calling it something else?’ If I’m selling Red Bull, I don’t call it window cleaner, I call it an energy drink. I don’t mislabel it.”
According to surveys carried out on synthetic cannabis users it is taken as a substitute for the real thing. One addict addict was quoted saying it was a “miracle drug” because it didn’t show up on drug screens, but that nobody he knew would choose it over genuine cannabis plants.
But there seem to be many people who like synthetic cannabinoids because they are inexpensive, and most exhibit long-lasting psychoactive effects that natural cultivated marijuana is not able to replicate.This represents a serious risk and Spice and K2 synthetic cannabinoids should be avoided.
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