There are three necessary ingredients: dry plant leaves (usually damiana leaf or marshmallow leaf), acetone (the active ingredient in nail-polish remover), and synthetic cannabinoids (white granular chemicals with alphanumeric names like JWH-018, AM-2201, and HU-210).On the health hazards of these substances:
These chemicals were invented during the '80s and '90s in the labs of legitimate scientists at universities and pharmaceutical companies who had been looking for ways to harness the therapeutic capacity of THC without any of the stoned side effects. After their research hit the pages of scientific journals and seeped onto the internet, rogue chemists with profit motives took it in a different direction.
Nowadays, industrial chemical plants in China and India produce enormous batches of synthetic cannabinoids. They're then sold through websites like Alchemy Incense as "research chemicals" or fertilizer — with a disclaimer that they aren't meant for human consumption.
Transforming the ingredients into a finished herbal-incense product doesn't require a chemistry degree: Manufacturers mix the powdery cannabinoids with acetone, spray the resulting liquid on the plant matter, and wait a few minutes for everything to dry; then the incense is ready to be packaged, shipped, and sold.
A synthetic cannabinoid like JWH-210 — the chemical used in the incense Dobner smoked — is a full agonist of cannabinoid receptors in the brain, known as CB1, meaning it has an affinity for binding to these receptors and activating them. THC, the active substance in natural pot, is only a partial agonist of these receptors. Synthetic cannabinoids "therefore have a greater potential for overdose and severe toxic effect," according to an article published this past April in the Cleveland Clinic Medical Journal.On the savvy lawyers:
Empirical evidence of these ill effects is hard to come by, but in 2010, the American Association of Poison Control Centers recorded 2,906 calls related to synthetic marijuana. In 2011, the number of calls spiked to 6,959. The most recent statistics available show that through June of this year, 3,273 such calls were logged.
Also alarming but barely studied is the potential for synthetic cannabinoids to trigger psychotic episodes. "It is possible that psychotic symptoms may be more prominent with synthetic cannabinoids than with natural marijuana because not only are synthetic cannabinoids more potent and work as full agonists, but, unlike marijuana, they do not contain cannabidiol, which is thought to have antipsychotic efficacy," according to the Cleveland Clinic Medical Journal article.
Then there's always the chance that bags of white powdery chemicals from China used to make the incense might be mislabeled and misrepresented by the sellers.
Their firm even offers a special compliance and protection package. For $3,500, Siegel and Wright will do their damnedest to make sure all of a client's business practices are 100 percent legal. On the website, incenselaw.com, that advertises the deal, the attorneys say, "The more information we have, the better we are able to protect you. All your information, formulations, and business methods are held in strict confidence."
Siegel and Wright often act as liaison between their clients and private laboratories. The lawyers will have their clients send incense samples to a lab, which runs tests to determine the specific cannabinoids that are showing up in the product. "Then we can issue an opinion as to whether or not that was legal in the jurisdiction where you are or where you want to sell," Siegel says.
If the lab tests show a problem — say, the cannabinoid was recently banned in a particular state or actually turned out to be a powerful hallucinogenic known as 2C-E — Siegel and Wright alert and advise.
Whenever a state or city bans another chemical, Wright and Siegel notify their clients, providing time to rid the banned substance from store shelves and factories, swap in a legal cannabinoid, and return to business as usual.
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