Spice product faces further ban
By Andrew Jack in London
Published: March 17 2009 01:23 | Last updated: March 17 2009 01:23
Four more EU countries are gearing up to ban a product sold legally as incense that triggers a cannabis-like effect when smoked, as concern grows in Europe over the dangers to humans of the untested chemicals it contains.
Sweden, Luxembourg, Hungary and Lithuania are all likely to forbid the sale of Spice and related “legal high” products sold on the internet and in shops across Europe, following the lead taken by Austria, Germany and France in recent weeks.
The action comes as drug researchers, regulators and police intensify scrutiny of a series of products that artificially reproduce the psycho-active effects of cannabis with laboratory-produced chemicals.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon held a special day-long session earlier this month that confirmed the presence of at least two synthetic compounds in Spice and a growing series of similar products.
Volker Auwarter from the Unversity Medical Centre in Freiburg identified the compounds CP 47,497 and JWH 018 in Spice and nearly 50 other “herbal high” brands that have gone on sale in recent months across Europe.
None identifies the chemicals and instead the brands inaccurately claim that they contain a series of natural plant extracts, which Mr Auwarter’s laboratory analysis shows not to be present.
Spice is part of a recent trend in the manufacture of artificial cannabis in products that are currently still legal because they have not been analysed in detail and explicitly banned in most countries. Up till now, most chemical compounds being made for recreational use have been stimulants such as amphetamines.
However, a recent study from the European Centre suggested that Spice and its variants had been identified as being sold in 21 countries in the EU and neighbouring states.
Mr Auwarter warned the technical meeting that there were a number of reports in Germany of dependency and other harmful effects caused by Spice, and said there were risks the compounds it contained could cause cancer, schizophrenia and other health problems.
Separate analysis by Istvan Ujvary, a researcher in Budapest, identified contaminants including gypsum in some samples of the products.
The drugs have never been properly tested in humans, but some are much more potent than natural cannabis and their concentration varies widely between different packets of the Spice acquired for laboratory analysis.
There is evidence that Spice is manufactured in China, although variants have since been produced in India and other countries.
A recent investigation by the FT showed that Spice was distributed by the Psyche Deli, a UK based company sold recently to De Sjaaman in the Netherlands. Both companies have repeatedly refused to comment.
The UK has yet to take any action against Spice, although an inquiry was opened last year by medicines regulators. The British procedure to list new banned substances could take two years, while other EU countries use far more rapid emergency procedures.