The DEA has put five fake pot chemicals and the products that use them on its Schedule 1 controlled substance list. Image: CC Wiros/Flickr

“K2″ and “Spice” are street names for herbs treated with chemicals that simulate a marijuana high. On Tuesday the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it has banned the chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana, citing a threat to public safety. The DEA’s fake pot ban is in effect for at least a year as the federal government studies the affect of fake pot chemicals on human health.

DEA makes fake pot a Schedule 1 substance

Five chemicals that mimic tetrahydracannibinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, are illegal as of March 1. In a press release, the DEA says it exercised the agency’s emergency authority to make possession or sales of the synthetic marijuana chemicals, as well as fake pot products that contain them — such as K2, Spice, Blaze and Red X Dawn — a crime. According to the DEA, five fake pot chemicals are now Schedule 1 substances, including JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47, 497 and cannabicyclohexanol. Schedule 1 is the DEA’s most restricted classification; the agency applies it to substances with the greatest potential for abuse that have no acceptable medical application. The DEA says synthetic marijuana products have triggered side effects including hallucinations, anxiety attacks, elevated heart rates, vomiting and convulsions.

Origins of synthetic marijuana

In the 1990s, John Huffman, a chemistry professor at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., synthesized the cannabinoid JWH-018 as part of his research on medical marijuana. The formula for JWH-018 was published in the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Word about JWH-018 quickly spread in Europe, and in the past few years the popularity of JWH-018 and other synthetic cannabinoids has become widespread in the U.S. Huffman has issued warnings not to smoke herbs treated with JWH-018 for years because he said no one has determined exactly how toxic the substance is. Since products such as Spice and K2 became popular drugs among high school and college students in 2009, poison control centers throughout the U.S. have fielded more than 3,000 calls about synthetic marijuana products.

Fake pot companies outsmart DEA bans

Before the nationwide DEA ban on synthetic marijuana chemicals, fake pot bans had been adopted by at least 16 states. The ban is in effect for a year, with a possible six-month extension while the Department of Health and Human Services conducts studies to conclude whether the DEA should permanently ban the chemicals. The FDA has restricted fake pot chemicals before, but product manufacturers have circumvented the bans by switching to similar chemicals not yet outlawed.


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