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The Big Business of Synthetic Highs
June 21, 2011 12:58 AM   Subscribe

A look into the industry behind synthetic cannabinoids featured in "legal weed" and "incense" products.

Synthetic Cannabinoids like JWH-250 are widely available to purchase in industrial quantities and are then repacked with plant-based materials to produce products like Kronic and K2 Spice.

Although these may be more expensive than actual cannabis, they are popular in industries like Mining as they are not detectable by standard instant result saliva tests. Some governments are banning them although since over 450 different compounds have been researched by John Huffman it may be more practical to take the New Zealand approach.
posted by cwhitfcd (36 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Summary of legal status in US states and countries.
posted by cwhitfcd at 1:02 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting but littered with stuff I've heard about every drug that every exists. Excited delirium. It was like news mixed with a little Reefer Madness. I'm not sure what to think. There was a lot of According to news reports . . .
posted by IvoShandor at 1:17 AM on June 21, 2011


Countyourculture has a great series of blog posts about synthetic cannabinoids.
posted by Taft at 1:23 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok. This can get all confusing unless you look at it like "designer drugs". The law will ALWAYS be slower than industry that feeds people's wants.

Does the government ACTUALLY want to look out for the well-being of people here, or just control their behavior?

I REALLY like how cannabis is legal(tolerated?) in the Netherlands, but fake cannabis (like spice, et al) is banned there. "Why?", you ask. Its because that shit is packed with 5x the amount of (synthetic) cannabinoids that one would find in a the same amount of marijuana.

Go ahead and ban whatever you want. Its only a matter of time before someone comes out with something that isn't banned, has worse effects...and is 100% legal. Then you can ban that and we can run through the cycle again.

Banning marijuana is a gateway to using drugs with worse side effects.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:27 AM on June 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


Looking at the alibaba prices, the good folk at Kronic are applying one hell of a markup. What would happen if somebody imported, say, 10g of pure JWH-250 - the equivalent of 100 joints - into Australia for personal use?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:43 AM on June 21, 2011


It is taking an increasing chunk of the market for recreational drugs, estimated by Jeffrey A. Miron of Harvard and the Cato Institute to be $121 billion in North America.

The market for non-recreational drugs in North America is about $500 billion so you can see why "big pharma" is so firmly against recreation.

Banning marijuana is a gateway to using drugs with worse side effects.

Banning marijuana forces users to deal with shady characters who are breaking the law and risking fines and imprisonment by growing or dealing marijuana and as result of this outlaw attitude are more likely to engage in other illegal behaviour such as, for example, selling drugs with worse side effects.

Illegal marijuana is not a gateway drug, it's an introduction and a contact to the broader supply chain and from this point of view any legal substitute is an improvement.
posted by three blind mice at 1:50 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It -is- intriguing that Chinese manufacturers are engaged in producing mass quantities of synthetic cannabinoids in a country where the use of cannabis is punishable by death. Perhaps they regard them as pharmaceutical companies?
posted by lemuring at 1:56 AM on June 21, 2011


Perhaps they regard them as pharmaceutical companies?

They pretty much are.

a) the products are not cannabis whilst in China either, so they are not explicitly banned;
b) the sellers sell mainly to the foreign market, so not a huge social issue;
c) the sellers are almost certainly connected politically, and people are getting paid.

All those factors create a place to hide in ambiguity. Who would want to kill off the golden goose?

(tl;dr: see Russian Spammers).
posted by jaduncan at 2:06 AM on June 21, 2011


obiwanwasabi, this appears to be the thread you're looking for.
posted by lemuring at 2:06 AM on June 21, 2011


It tastes like and feels like smoking soap laced with metal shavings. I don't know why anyone would want to do that to themselves.
These weed-replacements are a reasonable result of the drug war. Every time they ban a specific variant someone will just introduce a new molecule and the whole thing starts over again.
posted by tmt at 2:52 AM on June 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think New Zealands approach is really that much different Australias. Last weekend all the papers were full of reports of the dangers of Kronic-brand synthetic cannabinoids and ban-this-filth opinion columns. Minister Peter Dunne bravely announced he will severely restrict the sale within weeks.

Since I don't know the price of synthetic or organic cannibinoids, I was surprised to find out Cost-wise, it was roughly on a par with cannabis, without the risk of a criminal conviction. If cannabis was legal, it was unlikely Kronic would get a look in.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 3:17 AM on June 21, 2011


With 30 years of research, by thousands of scientists in many disciplines, confirming the reality and effects of human induced climate change that will affect the lives of billions of people for centuries to come, our political leaders decide to do sweet fuck all about it (the mantra at the moment being "well...we'll wait for other countries to act first!")

With a couple of newspaper articles and some mining companies kicking up a fuss for a couple of weeks about "legal weed", our political leaders find the courage to immediately and instantly ban it without any research of evidence into it at all.

Evidence-based policy. Great stuff.
posted by Jimbob at 3:23 AM on June 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Some of this shit is nasty. I spent the better part of an evening talking someone off the ledge because they smoked 3 hits of a certain brand of this stuff. Exactly like one would do when babysitting someone having a bad acid trip. And this person was a "seasoned" user of both this and The Real Thing. All I could think about was young people trying this and smoking it as if it were The Real Thing, and thinking the high would be the same.

Definitely not the same. I'm not an alarmist, but I was thisclose to calling 911.

I've always been in favor of legalization, and seeing what these chemicals can do only strengthened my feelings about legalization. I'm not one to favor government intervention in anything, but this shit really needs to be dealt with. Legalize the ganj and hopefully the market for the fake shit will disappear. Sigh.

In CT it's already been banned once, then put back on market. Will likely be banned again. Not that doing so will stop anyone from getting it. Sigh.
posted by sundrop at 4:13 AM on June 21, 2011


One of the things I remember said from the video in the previous thread was the insight that if somebody went into the jungle today and came out discovering cannabis they'd win the Nobel prize. A weed that can grow almost anywhere, which can be used for a variety of ailments—it'd be the next Aspirin.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:17 AM on June 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some of this shit is nasty. I spent the better part of an evening talking someone off the ledge because they smoked 3 hits of a certain brand of this stuff.

What was the certain brand?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:17 AM on June 21, 2011


A weed that can grow almost anywhere, which can be used for a variety of ailments—it'd be the next Aspirin.

I support the legalization of marijuana...but honestly, a lot of its "medicinal" property stuff is hooey.

Great for increasing appetite, great for relieving some types of pain for short term use...but seriously, it doesn't cure everything like some people claim.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:19 AM on June 21, 2011


The market for non-recreational drugs in North America is about $500 billion so you can see why "big pharma" is so firmly against recreation

This is just silly. The best selling drugs (without even getting into which ones have now gone generic and are therefore not nearly as valuable to "big pharma") include the following:

Lipitor (cholesterol-lowering)
Advair (asthma)
Nexium (gastrointestinal reflux disorder)
Plavix (anti-clotting)

They're not competing with any sort of recreational drug. The psychopharmaceuticals with the highest revenue numbers are drugs still under patent which are used for psychosis (i.e., they don't apply to a very big portion of the population to begin with). The more common anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medications are rapidly going generic, and you'd have to combine the sales numbers for all of them to even approach those of Lipitor alone (not even counting the other statins...)

I'll give you the asthma meds - maybe their niche would be endangered by some kind of cannabis extract. But odds are that even if cannabis were completely legal, people would still take their prescribed medications, even while using marijuana for subjective symptom relief.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:25 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It tastes like and feels like smoking soap laced with metal shavings. I don't know why anyone would want to do that to themselves.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

Honestly, I never encountered any spice-type product I would characterize in this way. Remember though that almost all the smoke you inhale is from whatever blend of plant material the manufacturer uses to carry the active ingredients (which themselves are only present in a very small quantity), so it is entirely possible you found brands that use (something that tastes like) soap and metal shavings as the "carrier".

Some of this shit is nasty. I spent the better part of an evening talking someone off the ledge because they smoked 3 hits of a certain brand of this stuff. Exactly like one would do when babysitting someone having a bad acid trip. And this person was a "seasoned" user of both this and The Real Thing. All I could think about was young people trying this and smoking it as if it were The Real Thing, and thinking the high would be the same.

I had one experience (out of many) that I would characterize in this way - intense, panicky feelings and an overall unpleasant high. I have friends who had similar experiences, and one who even had an experience like the one you relate, and who needed "talking down". In some cases, there seemed to be little or no consistency in the relationship between quantity smoked, and effects experienced, sometimes even from the same packet. To me, this suggests that the major problem is dosing consistency, which in turn presumably relates to the way the active chemicals are applied to and distributed among the carrier substances.

Overall though, I greatly enjoyed my spice experiences and wish I could still purchase it.
posted by kcds at 5:25 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just double up on cops, dogs, guns, and jail cells and we'll squelch this thing quick.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:31 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


They're not competing with any sort of recreational drug.

Point well-taken overeducated_alligator.

I used the snarky adjective "non-recreational" because what they are really talking about is legal and illegal drugs. There are many legal drugs used for recreational purposes and many illegal drugs used for non-recreational purposes.

I am not convinced that big pharma - whether collectively or individually - is unbiased with regard to the legalisation of marijuana. If people are spending 100bn annually on "recreational" drugs that's 20% of the total drug market and too big to ignore.
posted by three blind mice at 6:03 AM on June 21, 2011


I am not convinced that big pharma - whether collectively or individually - is unbiased with regard to the legalisation of marijuana. If people are spending 100bn annually on "recreational" drugs that's 20% of the total drug market and too big to ignore.

I agree with you on this. However, pharma stands to gain more than lose from the legalization of marijuana and its derivatives. If legalized, the pharmaceutical industry could gain a monopoly on the manufacture and marketing of cannabis-based medicines. Rescheduling is more likely than outright legalization, and rescheduling would be a boon to the pharma business.

Amphetamines (and even methamphetamine), cocaine and morphine are strictly controlled by the medical universe, and only pharmaceutical industries have the right to legally produce them. I would guess that in a "legal medical marijuana" world, you would still be jailed for growing your own.

True "medical marijuana" laws would also place authority in the hands of the FDA to approve cannabis for various indications. That process is time-consuming and expensive, and in the meantime it bars off-label prescription of the drug, even if there is anecdotal evidence in its favor. So, yes, medical marijuana (or, more likely, an industrially-produced spray like Sativex) is approved for neuropathy resulting from multiple sclerosis; but your doctor is prohibited from prescribing it to you for your chronic back pain. And that medical dispensary that used to be down the street was shut down long ago for distribution of Schedule II substances.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:20 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]




I never know what to say in these threads/discussions anymore. The solution is so obvious and comes from both logic and compassion. That it gets zero traction in US government is rather telling. Outrage fatigue to the max. Maybe one day logic and compassion will reach critical mass and win the day, but I'll probably be too old or dead to know or care.

HAPPY TUESDAY EVERYBODY!
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 7:09 AM on June 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I would guess that in a "legal medical marijuana" world, you would still be jailed for growing your own.

That's the rub overeducated_alligator: keeping out the competition is basically impossible so best to not have it as a legal product at all. This promotes the sale - and more importantly artificially inflates the price of - of legal alternatives. People are probably less offended by the price of legal drugs when illegal skunk weed costs 20 bucks a gram.
posted by three blind mice at 7:35 AM on June 21, 2011


Smoking incense?!?!?!?
posted by Mooseli at 8:01 AM on June 21, 2011


“Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.” --President Jimmy Carter

That'll never fly; it makes too much sense.
posted by acb at 8:08 AM on June 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have it on good authority (second hand, of course) that some of this stuff is actually pretty good for the money.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:27 AM on June 21, 2011


The psychopharmaceuticals with the highest revenue numbers are drugs still under patent which are used for psychosis (i.e., they don't apply to a very big portion of the population to begin with).

Point is taken. But consider also that basically the entire approved psychopharmacopeia is nasty crap that makes you feel dysphoric and tired and has a bunch of unsavory side effects (with exceptions for benzos and barbiturates, judiciously used). Patients in psychiatric hospitals do a brisk trade in cigarettes, mostly to get some sort of stimulation out of the drooling haze of neuroleptics.

Recreational drugs can't, shouldn't, and won't replace therapeutic drugs for the treatment of severe mental illness. But that doesn't mean there won't be a hell of a demand for them. And if I were a multinational pharmaceutical conglomerate, I would be wondering if legalisation came with a way for me to get a piece of that action or not.
posted by adoarns at 9:57 AM on June 21, 2011


In the end, it's not about substances. It's about receptors.
posted by telstar at 10:21 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can anyone comment on why synthetic cannabinoids are not categorically illegal in the US because of the Fedral Analog Act? These products would seem to be precisely the sort of thing the law was designed to prevent.
posted by shponglespore at 10:58 AM on June 21, 2011


I support the legalization of marijuana...but honestly, a lot of its "medicinal" property stuff is hooey. Great for increasing appetite, great for relieving some types of pain for short term use...but seriously, it doesn't cure everything like some people claim.

That's already a fairly broad spectrum, and you're leaving out a lot. Like, a proverbial shit-ton.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:28 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


shponglespore, this bit from the Wikipedia article you linked might go some way toward explaining it. Apparently, the courts have ruled the definition of an "analogue" under the act is unconstitutionally vague:
Furthermore the court ruled that the definition of controlled substance analogue given in the Federal Analog Act was unconstitutionally vague, in that “Because the definition of "analogue" as applied here provides neither fair warning nor effective safeguards against arbitrary enforcement, it is void for vagueness.”

The common law principle that the people should have the right to know what the law is, means that the wording of laws should be sufficiently clear and precise that it is possible to give a definitive answer as to whether a particular course of action is legal or illegal.

However despite this ruling the Federal Analog Act was not revised, and instead AET was specifically scheduled to avoid any future discrepancies.
So it's still on the books, but effectively legally void.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:42 AM on June 21, 2011


I'm with kcds. I bought one of the JWH variants off of ebay (I know...not the wisest way I could have gone about it) when it was still legal and....shit was STRONG. Just a couple of hits produced a high that I would associate with a full joint or bowl of marijuana.

IIRC, wikipedia explained that it is a "full agonist" while marijuana is a "half agonist" which basically means that the synthetic stuff (at least which JWH, not sure about the newer stuff) is more of a load for your brain to handle.

If you are looking for a legal alternative to marijuana, this is one way, but proceed with GREAT caution.
posted by mreleganza at 11:49 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


ain't nothin like the real thing, baby
posted by Hoopo at 1:41 PM on June 21, 2011


So it's still on the books, but effectively legally void.

According to a single district court in Colorado. I'd say the law is very much in effect.
posted by ryanrs at 2:24 PM on June 21, 2011


I'll give you the asthma meds - maybe their niche would be endangered by some kind of cannabis extract. But odds are that even if cannabis were completely legal, people would still take their prescribed medications, even while using marijuana for subjective symptom relief.

I think that the market for pharmaceuticals used for insomnia, such as Ambien, would be seriously impacted by cannabis legalization.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:20 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


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