Synthetic cannabis mimic found in herbal incense

By chillinwill · Jan 16, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    A chemical substance first synthesized in 1995 in a university lab in the US for purely experimental purposes is now being used by young people around the world to legally achieve a marijuana-like high and is causing alarm among health officials in Europe.

    The synthetic substance, JWH-018, a cannabinoid receptor agonist from the aminoalkylindole family, has been found in herbal mixtures sold legally under various 'spice' names, such as Spice Gold and Spice Yucatan Fire. The mixture is sold as incense, but is smoked to get high.

    Germany's Drug Commissioner Sabine Bätzing has vowed to make the sale of Spice mixtures illegal in Germany by the end of January, by modifying the Controlled Substances Act. She says Spice can have negative side effects and be addictive. Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands have already banned Spice.

    As Spice grew in popularity over the past year, several laboratories tried unsuccessfully to deduce what ingredient was responsible for the high, with one expert suggesting it was simply a placebo effect. But in December, THC Pharm, a Frankfurt, Germany-based company that makes medicines from cannabis, was able to detect JWH-018 in several packets of Spice.

    Christian Steup, a medical doctor and pharmacist in charge of quality control at THC Pharm who supervised the analysis, told Chemistry World that he was able to detect JWH-018 while bigger labs failed because he had synthesised the substance about two years ago and all information was still on the company computer.

    The substance, which he said can be bought from producers in China, is added to the Spice herbal mixture. Quantities of JWH-018 in Spice packets tested varied widely, from as little as 0.2 per cent of the total mixture to as much as 3 per cent, Steup says.

    JWH-018 is four to five times more potent than tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, which is the main psychoactive substance in cannabis, Steup says, adding that JWH-018 'is fascinating because the chemical structure does not look at all like THC, but it produces the same effects.'

    The chemist who designed (and lent his initials to) JWH-18, John W Huffman, an organic chemist at Clemson University in South Carolina, told Chemistry World that his goal had been to make a simple compound to study structure-receptor relationships. The compound interacts with both cannabis receptors. The first batch was actually made by an undergraduate student working under a post-doc. 'It is really easy to make,' Huffman said.

    JWH-018 has not been licensed anywhere in the world for medical applications and little is known about the effect on humans, as not even pre-clinical studies have been to determine potential toxicity. Steup says he is inclined to believe it is not toxic, and that he would be more concerned about any lingering impurities from the production process.

    Huffman says, 'I don't have a clue.' But noting the similar highs produced by THC and JWH-018, he says: 'You cannot overdose on THC. You can forget your name or where you are, but too much THC will not kill you.'

    Asked whether he sees any potential medical applications for JWH-018, he said: 'No. It's like LSD, the only thing it is good for is getting you high.'

    Ned Stafford/Hamburg, Germany
    15 January 2009

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  1. mictihtoya
    After hearing the quote at the end of that article, I think Huffman's a scumbag.
  2. Alfa
    Please refrain from flaming. If you don't agree with Hufmans claims then argue otherwise.
  3. Burnt
    Cannabinoid agonists do have theurapuetic potential. Many including THC are under investigation. THC is already an approved drug (marinol). That is why Huffman's comment is BS.

    Furthermore consuming potent agonists of the cannabinoid receptor might be dangerous. THC is not dangerous in that sense its only a partial agonist. Some of these synthetic cannabinoids are much much much more potent then THC. So don't take them recreationally they are for medical research. If you want to get high smoke a joint.
  4. mictihtoya
    Well, he dissed LSD to begin with and discounted its use as 'just getting high'. That right there should be enough to instill a healthy feeling of contempt for his ivory tower nerd ass.

    Then, he lied outright. JWH-018 has been patented for transdermal administration as a therapeutic agent in humans:
  5. rocksmokinmachine
    I've got to say, I've been wondering why Spice and similar 'herbal' mixtures have given such similar effects. This is a VERY interesting article. It certainly explains alot. SWIM always wondered if it contained a synthetic cannabinoid (or something acting as an agonist on the same receptors), I think I posted about it in another thread..

    Could this possibly come under the US Analog Act?
  6. Burnt
    Anything can fall under the U.S. analogue act. Its that kind of law.
  7. Alfa
  8. rocksmokinmachine
    Not just anything can fall under the Federal Analog Act, just substances that are substantially similar in structure.

    The Federal Analog Act, 21 U.S.C. § 813, is a controversial section of the United StatesControlled Substances Act, allowing any chemical "substantially similar" to an illegal drug (in Schedule I or II) to be treated as if it were also in Schedule I, but only if it is intended for human consumption.


    For instance, these are DMT, AET and DET. Even the inexperienced chemist can see they are very similar in chemical structure. I have no idea wheather JWH-018 is structurally similar to THC.

    rocksmokinmachine added 1 Minutes and 41 Seconds later...

    Thanks for that
  9. Alfa
    Structurally or pharmacologically similar
  10. rocksmokinmachine
    Interesting, thankyou for the clarification.
  11. mictihtoya
    What a silly example! One of the only big cases prosecuted using the Analog Act was dismissed by the judge. His judgement set the precedent that AET is NOT considered an analog to DMT or DET because they AREN'T structurally similar enough!

    They had to go and emergency schedule AET under Schedule I after losing the case.
  12. Alfa
    Interesting. Do you have more information?
  13. mictihtoya
    Look no further than

  14. rocksmokinmachine
    Yes, it is a well known case. AET was dismissed because the pharmacological effects were very different to that of DMT and DET. It is structurally related to AMT, which IS a schedule I controlled drug (US). I was simply showing using a diagram to show how the analog act works, DMT, DET and AET were just the only ones that were available to me at the time. Though not structurally similar to DMT and DET, It is to other trytamines such as AMT.

    Now, enough. Lets get back to this discussion on JWH-018
  15. Greenport
    Hey look! It's got an indole ring :)

    More interestingly, it's a 1-substituted indole ring which is also psychoactive!

    Ahh, the molecule of life, that indole is just somethin else.
  16. mictihtoya

    Let me re-quote the judge's decision:

    He repeated the phrase 'substantially similar' because of two different contexts. The first time he wrote the phrase he was referring to the structural similarity, and the second time where he used the word 'Further' to make this grammatically explicit was referring to the pharmacological similarity.

    In this case, 3 or more expert witnesses agreed that the structure of AET is not substantially similar to either DET or DMT, and you cannot derive AET from them either.

    AMT was not made a Schedule I substance for another 11 years, in 2003.
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