Synthetic Cannabinoids

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 11-30-11

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 11-30-11.

Question of the Week: What are synthetic cannabinoids?

As described in an October 2011 report by Congressional Research Service,

“Synthetic cannabinoids are substances chemically produced to mimic tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. When these substances are sprayed onto dried herbs and then consumed through smoking or oral ingestion, they can produce psychoactive effects similar to those of marijuana.”

A September 2011 issue of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, explains that these agents are

“… sold on the Internet as herbal mixtures under the brand names of “Spice,” “Spice Gold,” “Spice Diamond,” “Arctic Spice,” “Silver,” “Aroma,” “K2,” “Genie,” “Scene” or “Dream,” and advertised as incense products, meditation potpourris, bath additives, or air fresheners. These products are often referred to as “herbal highs” or “legal highs””

They were developed according to the CRS by

“Clemson University Professor John Huffman [who] is credited with first synthesizing some of the cannabinoids, such as JWH-018, now used in “fake pot” substances such as K2. The effects of JWH-018 can be 10 times stronger than those of THC.”

Current Psychiatry reported that

“many have been banned in several European countries, 18 U.S. states, and the U.S. military. In March 2011, the FDA placed 5 synthetic cannabinoids on Schedule I, making them illegal to possess or sell in the United States.”

However, the CRS notes concerns about the DEA’s action, stating that,

“Professor Huffman did not intend for K2 to be consumed by humans. He is, however, against adding synthetic cannabinoids to Schedule I, asserting that there is still much to learn about [them] …  Professor Huffman has created several synthetic cannabinoids that are seen as showing promise in treating skin cancers, pain, and inflammation.”

These facts and others like them can be found in the Marijuana Chapter of Drug War Facts at