Spice and K-2
What is Spice and K2?
The terms Spice and K2 refer to commercially available products that have been sprayed with research chemicals called synthetic cannabinoids but do not contain any cannabis (marijuana) components. Synthetic cannabinoid products are manufactured in Asia and then sold in local markets throughout the U.S. including gas stations, liquor stores, convenient stores, smoke shops, or on the Internet under the brand names "K2," "Spice," “Chronic Spice," "Spice Gold," "Spice Silver," "Stinger," "Yucatan Fire," "Skunk," “Pulse," "Black Mamba," “Mystery," "Red X Dawn," "Zohai," "Mr. Nice Guy," “Spicylicious," “K3," “K3 Legal," “Earthquake," or "Genie." This listing of names only covers some of the brand names, where more brand names crop up very often.
Those brand names don't even begin to cover all of the different types of similar product on the market today. Synthetic cannabinoids are being sold as incense and the contents (and websites) sometimes have warning labels "NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION" but in reality they are marketed purely for human consumption. Late in 2010 the boom of Spice/K2 knockoffs is growing incredibly, with the newer products not even bothering to label their product "NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION".
With the national ban on only five of the many synthetic cannabinoids, new brand names have begun to crop up that are not covered by any ban, restriction or regulation! These are: K2 Sky, K2 Solid Sex, K2 Orisha, K2 Amazonian Shelter and K2 Thai Dream. However, the government recently cracked down on.
What is a Synthetic Cannabinoid?
Synthetic cannabinoids are a structurally diverse class of mostly synthetic substances that bind to cannabinoid receptors in our body, and when ingested create a similar type of high that naturally occurring cannabinoids (marijuana) produce. More than 100 different synthetic cannabinoids have been created (mostly created in laboratories for research purposes). In a 2008 study, seven of the herbal products on the market at that time were tested, and the researchers found they contained different levels of a synthetic cannabinoid created at Clemson University called JWH-018, a synthetic cannabinoid created by Pfizer called CP 47,497, or both.
Historically, the psychoactive compounds found in Spice and K2 include the synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-250 and/or CP 47,497 C8. Other synthetic cannabinoids include JWH-015, JWH-019, JWH-081, JWH-200, JWH-250, HU-210 and HU-211. Synthetic cannabinoids are used in an attempt to avoid the laws that make marijuana illegal. What manufacturers have done to get around state laws, and sometimes national laws, is when a governing body makes one product illegal (e.g., JWH-018 is currently illegal in many states and has just been banned nationwide for one year starting March 1, 2011), the producer will sell a similar product with another, not yet illegal, substance (e.g., JWH-250).
An Abbreviated History of Spice and K2
The cannabinoid-like chemicals were developed in research laboratories to study neuronal receptors found in the body and brain, or for other research purposes. The five banned synthetic cannabinoids are JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP 47,497 and cannabicyclohexanol (a homologue of CP 47,497). CP 47,497 was developed in 1980 by Pfizer and has analgesic properties. Cannabicyclohexanol (CP 47,497 C8) was developed by Pfizer in 1979. Both of these compounds produce cannabis type effects when ingested.
HU-210 and HU-211 were first synthesized in 1988 at Hebrew University in Israel, and they have anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties, respectively. While HU-210 is anywhere from 100 to 800 times more potent than natural THC, and is a potent analgesic, HU-211 does not act on the cannabinoid receptor and does not produce cannabis type effects when ingested, though it is commonly listed as a synthetic cannabinoid.
JWH-018, was first made in 1995 for experimental purposes in the lab of Clemson University researcher John W. Huffman, PhD. It is believed that the manufacturers of "Spice" read Huffman's research and copied it in order to reproduce Dr. Huffman's chemicals to produce the synthetic cannabinoid and market it for commercial distribution.
Initial tests of Spice Gold and similar products found no illegal substances and were not able to detect active ingredients that could explain the "high" they produced in users. The tests also were unable to detect most of the herbs the products were supposed to contain. In late 2008, Volker Auwarter, ScD, and colleagues in the forensic toxicology lab at the University Hospital Freiburg, Germany, found that the products contained at least two different designer drugs known as synthetic cannabinoids.
The brand "Spice" was released in 2004, and in 2006 the brand gained popularity, particularly throughout Europe. The company that started Spice went from assets of 65,000 Euros in 2006 to 899,000 Euros in 2007. Spice was the dominant brand until 2008 when competing brands hit the market (such as K2). In 2009 Spice products were identified in 21 countries. Spice, K2 and other products peaked in popularity in 2008 in Europe, with many European countries banning it at that time. In 2009, Spice, K2 and others gained their popularity in Canada and the United States. In a July 2010 New York Times Interview, Christopher Rosenbaum (an assistant professor of toxicology for the University of Massachusetts) stated, "It’s not like there’s one K2 distributor — everybody is making their own stuff, calling it K2 and selling it, which is the most unnerving aspect."
Still well into 2010 Spice was not detectable in standard urine drug screens that tested for marijuana. However, in the 2nd quarter of 2010 toxicology laboratories such as Redwood Toxicology Laboratory and NMS Labs developed the technology available to test for the synthetic cannabinoids, amongst other testing laboratories. On November 22, 2011, Redwood Laboratories announced they can now urine test for 6 synthetic cannabinoid chemicals: JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-081, JWH-250, AM-2201 and RCS-4.
What is the effect of Spice and K2?
Since the psychoactive ingredients are similar to those of naturally grown marijuana, the effects are similar. Synthetic cannabinoids are listed as the same class of drug as marijuana; a hallucinogen. The effects of smoking JWH-018 has a variable duration. Some sites we have viewed report the high lasts probably an average of 10-30 minutes, while anecdotal reports from users of K2 report effects lasting for 1-2 hours. What appears consistent is the fact that it doesn't seem to take much more than a hit or two off a pipe to trigger a synthetic cannabinoid's high.
Synthetic cannabinoids have tested at least 5 (or greater) times more potent than some of the strongest marijuana. Recent investigations have cited the compounds as having greater potency than the THC found in traditional cannabis products because of Spice and K2's unregulated production. While the most popular route is to smoke a product such as Spice Gold, you can also find websites selling pure (powder form) JWH-018, JWH-250, etc.
Natural cannabinoids (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC) and synthetic cannabinoids (over 100 identified so far, but the most popular being JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-250, and CP 47,497 C8) act by binding to two types of nerve receptors known as CB1 and CB2. Both receptors are linked to proteins that regulate neurotransmitters. The cannabinoids bind to the receptors to activate them. A neurophysiology theory on the better potency of synthetic cannabinoids over natural marijuana is that the synthetic cannabinoids bind better and longer to the CB1 and CB2 receptors than does natural THC.
CB1 and CB2 have gained notoriety as the body's natural cannabinoid receptors. This fact has been used as a pro-marijuana argument by people who are for the legalization of marijuana.
It's addiction potential is not fully known at this time. However, addiction to Spice can be found in reports from hospitals, whose case(s) of Spice addiction have been profiled in the media. One such case from Germany in 2009 reported a client with a 1-3 gram per day habit showing severe addiction (to the point of being at risk of losing employment), and severe withdrawal symptoms (such as internal unrest, tremor, palpitations, headache, nausea, vomiting, depression and desperation). Given the increased potency of the synthetic cannabinoids compared to naturally occuring THC, addiction potential is potentially strong when using these products regularly.
Are There Any Dangers Involved in Using Spice/K2/JWH Products?
The short answer is yes. Until a drug is tested, it cannot be considered safe. Not only have synthetic cannabinoids not been tested, nearly all were created for experimental use in animals and cell cultures, not tested for use in humans. Thus, one real danger is these products were never meant initially for human consumption and there is relatively very little information known about the impact they have on the body.
In 2010 there were 2,915 calls about synthetic marijuana products according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ (AAPCC) National Poison Data System (NPDS). As of April 30, 2012 poison centers reported 2,289 calls in 2012 (6,959 in 2011). Thus 2011 has doubled 2010 in the number of reported cases to the AAPCC.
2012 is set to either equal or surpass 2011:
From Jan 1 – Dec 31, 2010 there were 2,906 poison control center calls about synthetic cannabinoids.
From Jan 1 – April 30, 2011 there were 1,888 poison control center calls.
From Jan 1 – April 30, 2012 there were 2,289 poison control center calls.
“Statistics from NPDS show that this is an emerging phenomenon,” said Alvin C. Bronstein, MD, acting director of toxicosurveillance for the American Association of Poison Control Centers. “The symptoms can be life-threatening.” These numbers have drastically increased from the 112 reported calls in 2009.
There are good reasons to believe that some if not all of these drugs are unsafe. JWH-018 and its many cousins, for example, have a chemical structure shared with known cancer-causing agents according to Natinal Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). JWH-018 inventor John W. Huffman, PhD, puts it bluntly: "It is like Russian roulette to use these drugs. We don't know a darn thing about them for real." He added that his lab had developed them for research purposes only, and that “their effects in humans have not been studied and they could very well have toxic effects.”
Another cause for concern regarding the danger of these substances is because they are surreptitiously added to other substances, thus the amount of the compound present cannot exactly be measured. Spice and K2 are becoming alarmingly more popular among younger generations due to their accessibility, making the use of new drug testing technologies more significant to drug monitoring programs that involve youth outreach.
These synthetic cannabinoids have been associated with impaired driving incidents, attempted suicides, and emergency department visits, and have been linked to such adverse effects as increased anxiety, panic attacks, heart palpitations, respiratory complications, aggression, mood swings, altered perception, and paranoia. An article published on WFAA.com stated that doctor's are concerned over a possible link between K2 use and heart problems in at least two users in the Dallas TX area. Spice and K2 have since been banned in the metro Dallas area since these incidents occurred. A Hutchinson, Kansas article dated February 14, 2011 reported eight to ten people were hospitalized in the past month after smoking the products; with hallucinations, seizures and bleeding from the nose and mouth among symptoms reported.
Investigators add that no one is really certain what is in Spice and K2 type products since they are completely unregulated. Nor do they know what toxins possibly occur when burning the product and ingesting the smoke in one's body. People are arriving at emergency rooms with symptoms that would not normally be associated with marijuana or a synthetic form of the drug. The reactions being reported – including agitation, anxiety, an extremely fast, racing heartbeat and elevated blood pressure – are the opposite of what would be expected from marijuana, which is a source of concern.
How Legal/Illegal are Spice and K2 Nationally and in New Jersey?
The short read of this section is 5 chemicals are currently temporarily banned Federally (the 1 year anniversary of this temporary ban passed on March 1, 2012 and the Federal government has enacted a 6 month extention). On February 28, 2012 NJ passed a sweeping bill outlawing the entire class of synthetic cannabinoids (links can be found below).
On November 24, 2010, the Federal Government took action to ban JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP 47,497 and cannabicyclohexanol (CP 47,497 C8, which is a homologue of CP 47,497). The emergency ban was proposed to be in place for one year (December 24, 2010 - December 24, 2011) as federal officials study whether the products and chemicals should be permanently controlled. However, due to companies in at least two different states petitioning courts stating the ban is unconstitutional, the national ban was delayed. On March 1, 2011, the national ban on JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP 47,497, and CP 47,497 C8) was finally enacted. This will place these 5 synthetic cannabinoids into Schedule 1 Controlled Sustances.
White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske said "until the risks associated with ingesting these products and chemicals can be studied and understood, there is no place for them on the shelves of any legitimate business."
The Federal Government recently started an initiative to solve this problem as shown in the Poison Control Center Data, that there are so many synthetic cannabinoids, a ban on a small % will do nothing to deter use.
The Senate on May 24, 2012 passed the “Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act” which has in it, a synthetic drug section (Title XI, Subtitle D – Section 1152). They expect this bill to be signed into law by the president on or before July 4, 2012.
SEC. 1152. ADDITION OF SYNTHETIC DRUGS TO SCHEDULE I OF THE CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES ACT.
(a) Cannabimimetic Agents - Schedule I, as set forth in section 202(c) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812(c)) is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘(d)(1) Unless specifically exempted or unless listed in another schedule, any material, compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of cannabimimetic agents, or which contains their salts, isomers, and salts of isomers whenever the existence of such salts, isomers, and salts of isomers is possible within the specific chemical designation.
(2) In paragraph (1): ‘(A) The term ‘cannabimimetic agents’ means any substance that is a cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1 receptor) agonist as demonstrated by binding studies and functional assays.
Thus the Federal Government is banning anything that binds to cannabinoid receptors (CB1 receptor as any drug that binds to CB2 does not produce a “high”)
In addition to this, this act has listed more than the original 5 (18 to be exact) synthetic cannabinoids to be placed in Schedule 1 of controlled substances:
SEC. 1152. ADDITION OF SYNTHETIC DRUGS TO SCHEDULE I OF THE CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES ACT. (Which also specifically lists 18 chemicals)
‘(i) 5-(1,1-dimethylheptyl)-2-[(1R,3S)-3-hydroxycyclohexyl]-phenol (CP-47,497);
‘(ii) 5-(1,1-dimethyloctyl)-2-[(1R,3S)-3-hydroxycyclohexyl]-phenol (cannabicyclohexanol or CP-47,497 C8-homolog);
‘(iii) 1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-018 and AM678);
‘(iv) 1-butyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-073);
‘(v) 1-hexyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-019);
‘(vi) 1-[2-(4-morpholinyl)ethyl]-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-200);
‘(vii) 1-pentyl-3-(2-methoxyphenylacetyl)indole (JWH-250);
‘(viii) 1-pentyl-3-[1-(4-methoxynaphthoyl)]indole (JWH-081);
‘(ix) 1-pentyl-3-(4-methyl-1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-122);
‘(x) 1-pentyl-3-(4-chloro-1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-398);
‘(xi) 1-(5-fluoropentyl)-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (AM2201);
‘(xii) 1-(5-fluoropentyl)-3-(2-iodobenzoyl)indole (AM694);
‘(xiii) 1-pentyl-3-[(4-methoxy)-benzoyl]indole (SR-19 and RCS-4);
‘(xiv) 1-cyclohexylethyl-3-(2-methoxyphenylacetyl)indole (SR-18 and RCS-8); and
‘(xv) 1-pentyl-3-(2-chlorophenylacetyl)indole (JWH-203).’
It is questionable whether the term "cannabimimetic agents" will be sufficient enough to be binding to this whole class. In speaking with chemists who both work in the private sector and elsewhere, they all expressed concers that there are either no, or not enough binding studies and functional assays to support this bill/law.
Before the Federal ban was enacted, fifteen states had already taken action to control one or more of five chemicals used to produce synthetic marijuana, and state by state laws are still being enacted. Also, before the national ban on March 1, 2011, the only word heard from the Federal Government regarding synthetic cannabinoids was in March, 2009 when they spoke about these class of substances by listing JWH-018 "a drug and chemical of concern".
HU-210 (which again has been tested to be between 100-800 times more potent than natural THC) is classified as a schedule 1 drug in many states across the country, but legal in many others (it is still legal in PA and NJ). HU-210 is nationally scheduled as an illegal drug, but there still must be efforts to ban the substances state by state.
Just because a federal ban is enacted on a drug, it does not mean local authorities will take action on this drug. States still need to enact legislation to ban the substances in order for state (then local) authorities to take action.Federal bans will go after larger distributors, but it will be locally determined as to whether users and smaller, local distributors (such as convenience stores, gas stations and head shops) will be sought after without a state ban.
New Jersey Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini introduced legislation to ban Spice and K2 on May 13, 2010. Assemblywoman Angelini was hoping to get action on this proposal in 2010, but it does not look as if NJ will weigh in on this proposed legislation until 2011. This legislation has not been considered/voted on by either the NJ Assembly or Senate, and it is still pending review by the NJ Assembly Law and Public Safety Committe (the step needed before going before the Assembly) as of February 16, 2011. This bill's progress can be tracked here and the content of NJ Bill A2644 is here. It is proposing to ban only 3 synthetic cannabinoids: HU-210, JWH-018, and JWH-073, which is less than what PA's bill is seeking to ban (see below).
On January 11, 2011, The NJ Senate Introduced an identical bill, S2606. This bill was referred to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee where it currently sits. This Senate bill also only proposes to ban the same three (3) compounds the assembly bill proposes to ban, despite being introduced months after the proposed (and now enforced) emergency national ban (which has 5 substances listed). So it is now a race in NJ, the Assembly Bill has been stalled in the Law and Public Safety Committee since May, 2010, hopefully the Senate version of the bill won't suffer the same languishing time.
On March 11, 2011, Assemblywoman Angelini responded to our concern that banning compounds that are no longer being used in Spice/K2 anymore, she replied “The status it is supposed to come before Law & Public Safety, the next time they meet, which is late May or June [of 2011]. We are going to amend current version to include the general language that includes chemical compounds created solely to simulate a marijuana-like high.” We suggested using the language of "cannabinoid activating drugs" (first quoted by Bruce Talbot) or "cannabinoid receptor activating drug/compound" (our variation on Bruce's terminology).
That concern appears to have been answered in a sweeping NJ law that bans the entire class of substances as of February 28, 2012. Synthetic Cannabinoids are finally banned in NJ. Click here for the notice to law enforcement officials, click here for the actual legislation verbiage! The legislation was signed on February 28, 2012 and distributed on the 29th.
In Pennsylvania (on June 23, 2011), SB 1006 was passed by the House, Senate and approved by the Governor. This bill SB 1006 bans 6 synthetic stimulants including MDPV and Mephedrone (this PA bill bans the same 6 synthetic stimulants that NJ banned on April, 28, 2011). This bill is also proposing to ban sativa and 8 synthetic cannabinoids and their analogues. You can view SB 1006's history by clicking here.
An amendment added to the PA SB 1006 also includes language barring all chemicals that are similar to the substances that are currently found in bath salts, synthetic cannabinoids and 2C (hallucinogens such as 2C-E, 2C-I, 2C-P, 2C-H and their analogues, congeners, homologues, isomers, salts and salts of analogues, congeners, homologues and isomers), and prohibits those chemical compounds from being used to create the same effect as the current bath salts, sytnthetic cannabinoids and 2C chemical structures. This addition to the law will make Pennsylvania’s one of the stronger laws in the nation.
Internationally speaking, European nations took notice of K2 and Spice around 2007/2008 and began nationwide bans on the products. Thus far these products have been banned in Germany, Russia, Britain, South Korea, Poland and France.
Do not expect this national ban of five synthetic cannabinoids to be the end of this story. As stated earlier in this article, already on the internet there are the K2 and Spice portals of sale, stating that "there is a new generation of K2 products that are completely legal everywhere." Not covered by any ban, restriction or regulation! These are: K2 Sky, K2 Solid Sex, K2 Orisha, K2 Amazonian Shelter and K2 Thai Dream. One K2/Spice distributor even went through the trouble of having their product tested which reported none of the nationally banned substances were in their product.
The Federal Government (then followed by each State Government) should ban this entire class of substances, including the derivatives, analogues and homologues. Otherwise we will continue to see years of this 'dance' where the Government bans a small subset of synthetic cannabinoids, followed by the makers of Spice/K2 coming out with a new version of their product containing other synthetic cannabinoids not yet banned.
How Long Do Synthetic Cannabinoids Stay in Your System?
The psychoactive compounds found in Spice and K2 are purported to stay in a person's system for a shorter duration than regular marijuana, approximately 3 days. There have been unconfirmed and anecdotal reports of the drug staying detectable for longer periods of time. For example, when interviewed by WEBMD.com, Dr. Marilyn Huestis of NIDA stated "anecdotal reports say they stick around in the body for quite a long time."
Redwood Toxicology Laboratories stated their window for detection is up to 72 hours (urine) and 24/48 hours (saliva) for the metabolites they are testing, much longer in urine samples for chronic users. If the Spice/K2 market has indeed made a new crop of supplies with yet to be banned synthetic cannabinoids, we have an extremely limited ability to drug test for these substances. The laboratories will need to be able to react to what appears to be the moving target of synthetic cannabinoids.
Redwood Toxicology also just published a great product composition summary page that shows off 37 different Spice/K2 type products and exactly what compound was analyzed in each. One last note of interest is in Redwood’s analysis of 37 Spice/K2 products, not one of them contain JWH-200 (which has been made illegal by the Federal Government), but 5 of these Spice/K2 products contain JWH-250 (which is not listed in the Federal ban proposal, nor is it listed in either PA's or NJ's proposals).
With the next generation of Spice/K2 products out on the market, and with them touting that their products are 100% perfectly legal, there is question whether the current lab testing just became instantly irrelevant. One supplier of herbal products is even giving out a product analysis report allegedly showing that their product contains none of the banned substances.
The Next Generation of Spice/K2, What's Potentially In It?
This section is purely a theorycrafting section, based on plausible conjecture. Here is a partial listing of known synthetic cannabinoids:
AM-630, AM-679, AM-694, AM-1221, AM-1241, AM-2201
CP 47,497, CP 47,497 C8, CP 55,940
HU-210, HU-211, HU-308, HU-331
JWH-007, JWH-018, JWH-019, JWH-073, JWH-081, JWH-122, JWH-133 (non-psychoactive), JWH-200, JWH-201, JWH-203, JWH-210, JWH-250, JWH-251, JWH-398
WIN 48,098, WIN 55,212-2, WIN 55,212-3
MAM-2201, UR-144, XLR-11 (recently these recently discovered chemicals have been found in what is being called Gen3 of Spice/K2).
AM prefaced compounds are fluorinated and named for Northeastern University professor Alexandros Makriyannis. CP compounds were developed in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s by Pfizer. HU compounds are named after Hebrew University where these compounds were first created and investigated. As stated earlier, JWH products were named after John W. Huffman from Clemson University. RCS compounds appear to have their origins of development in a single lab in mainland China. WIN compounds were developed by Sterling Winthrop.
Since the new Generation of Spice/K2 products claim they are 100% legal, what is in them? Possibly the AM class: This class contains hyperpotent cannabinoids based on CB1 binding affinity, with a fluorine on the end of the pentyl chain in an apparent attempt to increase duration of effect.
More likely the RCS class: With a chemical structure reminiscent of JWH-081, this synthetic cannabinoid has similar potency and effects to JWH-250, all allegedly without legal issues or the known JWH ‘anxiety issues’. One report on the internet stated (when talking about the RCS class of snythetic cannabinoids) “prohibition made the production of these cannabinoids a huge cash cow, and now a self-sustaining independent industry.”
There have been anecdotal internet reports spotted in June and July of 2011, that some of these generation 2 synthetic cannabinoids have been analyzed and contain JWH-122.
As stated above, recently one supplier of herbal products is even giving out a product analysis report allegedly showing that their product contains none of the banned substances. Theorycrafting about what is in the next general of K2/Spice leans towards the RCS class. This report had 7 JWH class drugs represented in the analysis (015, 018, 019, 073, 081, 200, and 250). There were also 3 CP class drugs represented (47,497, 47,497 C8, 55,940); 4 HU class drugs represented (210, 211, 308, 331); 2 WIN (48,098, 55,212-2); and 1 AM class represented in this analysis report (694).
Conspicuously absent from this report were the RCS and CB classes. However, there is much more internet chatter regarding RCS class of synthetic cannabinoids than there are about the CB class (e.g., there is no CB class Wikipedia page, but there are rudimentary RCS class Wikipedia pages). Since there are much more legal synthetic cannabinoids than there are banned ones, the only thing certain is this issue isn't going off the cultural radar anytime soon.
Information from this article was gathered from the following sources:
Image taken from Phoenix New Times: 6 things you should know about smoking JWH-018