by Brad Shulkin (ChicagoSportsWeekly)
Almost 15 years ago, John W. Huffman, a retired scientist at the University of Clemson, created over 460 cannabinoid compounds with the purpose of testing the relationship between drugs and the receptors in the brain. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Huffman and his colleagues came to the conclusion that synthetic cannabinoids can help them understand this relationship and ultimately contribute to the development of new therapies.
In the late 2000s, one of Huffman’s cannabinoid compounds, JWH018, was hijacked and sold on the black market as a marijuana alternative, known on the street as synthetic marijuana or K2. The chemical makeup of K2 contains synthetic cannabinoids, which are drugs commonly found in herbal incense products and are used to mimic the effects of THC, the active central nervous system compound of marijuana.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and state drug control agencies have been monitoring cannabinoid substances that have been linked to synthetic marijuana use and have categorized them as Schedule One Controlled Substances. When a drug is categorized as Schedule One, there is high potential for abuse as well as a lack of accepted safety for use, Michael J. Hood, Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice in the office of the Attorney General said.
“[Synthetic Marijuana] is killing kids all over the state,” said Hood. “You can seriously hurt yourself with one use of it.”
The problem with preventing the use of synthetic marijuana entirely is the difference in legislation throughout the state of Illinois. In Lincolnshire, shortly after Jan. 1, 2012, a law was passed that made it illegal to posses and sell any product containing a synthetic cannabinoid or synthetic stimulant. On the other hand, in other areas of illinois legislation has been put in place that makes it illegal to sell and posses synthetic marijuana. The difference is in Lincolnshire, if any substance, whether it is K2 or not, contains synthetic cannabinoids in its makeup, it is illegal and can be subject to fines and arrests.
“I would be very surprised if other communities didn’t move in the direction that we are,” Kimberly Covelli, Stevenson High School police liason, said. “The manufactures make it really hard to fully prevent K2 because they are constantly coming out with new compounds.”
Produced in China and distributed to head shops and convenience stores throughout the world, K2 has increased in popularity and so has the danger of using it. Handled by untrained workers and personnel, the chemical form of the cannabinoid, along with a mixture of other drugs, is inaccurately sprayed on dried flowers, herbs and other plants. The toxicity level of each bag of K2 varies, one batch never having the same effect as another, Hood said.
According to United States Custom and Border Protection, synthetic Cannabinoids and related products appear to originate from foreign sources and are manufactured in the absence of quality control and devoid of governmental regulatory oversight. These products were not tested prior to human consumption, and doctors and poison control centers are still learning the effects on the body and how the drug can be treated.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, 2,915 calls were received relating to synthetic marijuana in 2010, and nearly 5,741 calls were received in 2011.
“The popularity of [synthetic marijuana] grew right under our noses,” said Chuck Pelkie, spokesman for Will County States Attorney James Glasgow. “We didn’t realize how much of a problem it really was until it became big.”
This rise in popularity can be attributed to its availability and effect. In 2011, 11.4 percent of twelfth graders nationwide reported using K2 or spice in the past year, according to data from the Monitoring the Future study of youth drug-use trends. Prior to legislation being passed regarding cannabinoids being linked to K2, synthetic marijuana was sold over the counter and was available to anyone over the age of 18. Products such as K2 are marketed towards teens and young adults as incense products, making the user think that what they are using is legal and safe.
The effects of using K2 can range all the way from anxiety, nausea and vomiting to psychotic episodes, seizures and intense hallucinations. John W. Huffman once said, “It is like Russian roulette to use these drugs. We don’t know a darn thing about them.”