View attachment 42874 Tucked in the mountains of western North Carolina, you will find a house blanketed by fog and an 82-year-old man shrouded in mystery. For 50 years, Dr. John Huffman made his living in a lab on the campus of Clemson. "I was a professor of chemistry and I ran a research group," said Huffman, who researched how certain chemicals turn on Cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Those receptors control appetite, pain, mood and memory. They can also make you high.
Today, one of Huffman's 450 compounds is synonymous with synthetic marijuana. It is a key ingredient in products sold as potpourri and bath salts. JWH-018 stands for John William Huffman. Huffman laughed when asked how it feels to be viewed as the "grandfather" of synthetic marijuana. "These things were certainly not designed to be synthetic marijuana."
Eight years ago, decades after Dr. Huffman invented JWH-018, someone started selling the compound as a fertilizer for Bonsai trees. When somebody smoked the leaves, a dangerous synthetic high was born. Huffman said he is not terribly surprised that people are smoking his compound. "People being people, they're gonna do dumb things," said Huffman.
Today, JWH-018 lives in infamy with its own Wikipedia page. The psychedelic highs and terrifying lows are posted online for the world to see. In some cases, synthetic marijuana has led to death. Huffman said he never intended to create a monster. "I think that everybody has to be responsible for their own actions."
North Carolina and other states across the country have banned JWH-018. But, illicit drug makers, many from China, are playing a cat and mouse game of altering the synthetic recipes to circumvent the law. Dr. Huffman scoffs at those who compare him to chemist Walter White in the popular TV series, "Breaking Bad." "I saw a part of one episode and I gave up in disgust," said Huffman.
Today, Dr. Huffman spends his days enjoying a different kind of high, far away from the lab. At 2,600 feet, Huffman's mountainside home is his retirement refuge. This storied Clemson professor now plays with model trains, well aware that his seemingly benign compound is not child's play. "Very dangerous," said Huffman. "It's like playing Russian Roulette."
WCNC-TV (NBC Charlotte, North Carolina)
Feburary 14, 2015