New Synthetic Drugs

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DEA Bans Synthetic Marijuana

By the time you read these words, the possession and sale of synthetic cannabinoids will be a federal crime. The DEA announced late Monday afternoon that its emergency rules banning the fake weed would go into effect Tuesday, March 1.

No legal highs for you, silly Americans! (Image via Wikimedia)
In recent years, synthetic cannabinoids sprayed on herbal matter and marketed as incense under names including Spice and K2 have become widely available. They are sold at head shops, convenience stores, truck stops, and via the Internet. The effects of such concoctions mimic those of marijuana.

The ban was originally scheduled to go into effect on Christmas Eve, but was delayed by legal challenges from retailers. The ban lists five chemicals commonly used in the compounds.

There has been "a rapid and significant increase in abuse of these substances in the United States," the DEA notice said. The agency is acting to avoid "an imminent hazard to public safety," it said.

But just as synthetic cannabinoids mimic the effects of herbal marijuana, the adverse effects reported by a subset of users mimic those of herbal marijuana. Those adverse effects include anxiety, paranoia, rapid heartbeat, and nausea -- all admittedly unpleasant, but not life threatening. No fake weed overdose deaths have been reported.

States have not been waiting for the feds to act against this legal high. At least 18 of them have criminalized synthetic cannabinoids, including Utah, Arizona, and Nebraska in the last week.

Washington, DC
United States

"Bath Salts," Fake Marijuana Banned in Utah

Utah has become the latest state to ban new synthetic drugs. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed into law Friday HB 23, which bans both synthetic cannabinoids and mephedrone, or "synthetic cocaine." The "emergency" measure went into effect immediately upon being signed by the governor.

No more buzz from Spice or "Bath Salts" in the Beehive State (Image via Wikimedia)
Synthetic cannabinoids are typically marketed as incense under brand names including Spice and K2. They are currently banned in more than a dozen states, with action pending in others. The DEA attempted to implement a nationwide ban as of Christmas Eve, but was blocked by legal moves on the part of retailers' groups until Tuesday, when a federal ban went into effect.

Mephedrone, a derivative of methcathinone, the stimulant substance found in the khat plant, is commonly sold as "bath salts," under names like Ivory Wave. Users report that it has cocaine-like or amphetamine-like effects. It has also been banned in Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana. The DEA has not yet moved against mephedrone.

The Utah law criminalizes 17 synthetic chemicals, all synthetic cannabinoid or methcathinone variants. They now go on the state's list of controlled substances, and their possession, sale, or manufacture becomes a criminal offense.

Gov. Herbert said after signing the bill that he didn't expect that to be the end of it. "Things change," he said. "What we face today is different than 10 years ago, and I expect my grandchildren will face different situations in the future."

Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Synthetic Marijuana Now Banned in Nebraska

Nebraska banned synthetic marijuana February 24, as an emergency measure passed by the legislature and signed a day earlier by Gov. Dave Heineman (R) went into effect.

No legal Spice for you, Cornhuskers! (Image via Wikimedia)
The bill, LB 19, adds a group of synthetic cannabinoid compounds to Schedule I of the state's Controlled Substances Act, and will punish their possession, production, and distribution like marijuana.

"It slams the door on manufacturers," said bill sponsor Sen. Beau McCoy (R), dealing a blow to the state's so far invisible synthetic pot manufacturing industry.

Synthetic cannabinoids mimic the effects of marijuana. The chemicals are typically sprayed on herbs and then packaged and marketed under names like Spice and K2. Such products began appearing in recent years and gained popularity as a legal alternative to pot, but their appearance also excited reflex prohibitionist instincts among police and politicians across the land.

Nebraska joins more than a dozen states that have moved against fake pot. The DEA had moved to ban the substances nationwide as of last Christmas Eve, but that effort had been blocked by organized retailers' groups until the DEA announced that the federal ban had gone into place Tuesday.

Lincoln, NE
United States

Virginia Legislature Passes Fake Marijuana Bills

By a vote of 98-0, the Virginia House Monday passed its version of a bill, HB 1434, that would outlaw synthetic cannabinoid products. Three days earlier, the state Senate passed its version of the bill, SB 745, on a 37-0 vote.

Busy with bans in Richmond (image via Wikimedia)
The House bill adds synthetic cannabinoids to the state's list of controlled substances, but the Senate bill does not. The House bill also has stiffer penalties for violators. That means the two bills will have to be reconciled for the ban to move to the governor's desk.

Products containing synthetic cannabinoids are sold in convenience stores, corner gas stations, and head shops in states where they have not been outlawed, and are also available on the Internet. They are typically marketed as incense and are sold under a variety of names, including Spice and K2.

The products are billed as a legal marijuana substitute, but hospital emergency rooms and poison control centers have reported numerous calls from people agitated or paranoid after using them. Still, the symptoms do not appear to be life-threatening, and no overdose deaths have been reported.

The DEA moved in November to take emergency action to institute an emergency federal ban on synthetic cannabinoids, but so far, that action has been blocked by legal action from retailers' associations.

Thirteen states have already banned synthetic cannabinoids. Similar actions are pending in a number of other state legislatures this year.

Richmond, VA
United States

Researchers Meet to Discuss Cannabinoid-Based Stroke Therapy

Location: 
Philadelphia, PA
United States
The Cannabinoid Discussion Group at Temple University reviewed a recent scientific publication from a German Laboratory. The presenter was Zachary Reichenbach, an MD/Ph.D student at Temple, who is currently working in the laboratory of Dr. Ron Tuma. The Tuma lab is focused on studying cannabinoid based therapies for the treatment of cerebral ischemia resulting from stroke. Reichenbach led the discussion on a research paper which showed that the cannabinoid JWH-133 activates the cannabinoid type 2 receptor (CB2R), resulting a decrease in infarct size or brain damage during reperfusion following an ischemic event.
Publication/Source: 
Examiner.com (CO)
URL: 
http://www.examiner.com/medical-marijuana-in-philadelphia/researchers-meet-to-discuss-cannabinoid-based-stroke-therapy

Schumer Wants to Ban Synthetic "Bath Salts" Drugs

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) told the Associated Press Saturday that he wants the federal government to criminalize the new synthetic stimulant drugs mephedrone and MPDV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone). Although he said he was announcing a bill Sunday, it had yet to be filed as of Monday afternoon.

mephedrone ad (image via Wikimedia)
Marketed as "bath salts" under brand names including Ivory Wave, Zoom, and White Lightning, and sold in head shops, convenience stores, and corner gas stations across the land, as well as on the Internet, the drugs have effects on users similar to those of cocaine or amphetamines.

The substances are already banned by emergency action in three states -- Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi -- and similar actions are likely in other states. Alarm-raising press reports are typically followed by hasty administrative or legislative action at the state house.

Now, Sen. Schumer wants to ban the substances nationwide. The bath salts "contain ingredients that are nothing more than legally sanctioned narcotics," he said.

The DEA is aware of the bath salts drugs and have them listed as drugs of concern, but it has so far not moved to enact a ban.

Drug War Chronicle has been following the mephedrone story for the past year. Read our recent overview here.

Washington, DC
United States

Retailers Fight Efforts to Ban "Fake Marijuana" [FEATURE]

Although the DEA's bid to ban synthetic cannabinoids at the federal level has been stymied, at least temporarily, bills to ban it at the state level are moving through legislatures in at least a half-dozen states and more will probably follow this year. They are already banned in a dozen other states. But retailers' representatives say that "fake pot" is a multi-billion dollar a year industry that should be regulated, not prohibited.

synthetic marijuana -- gone in some states, going in others? (image via Wikimedia)
In products going under a variety of brand names, such as Spice and K2, and sold widely in head shops, convenience stores, and gas stations, as well as via the Internet, synthetic cannabinoids are sprayed onto dried plant matter. Although the products are marketed as incense and sometimes marked "not for human consumption," they are typically smoked by purchasers in a bid to replicate a marijuana high with a legal substance.

While advocates of banning the synthetic cannabinoids describe them as harmful and dangerous, there is little evidence they are addictive or especially toxic. There are no known overdose fatalities from Spice, although at least one suicide has been linked by grieving parents to recent use. Other reported adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids include panic attacks, anxiety, agitation, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, hallucinations, tremors, and seizures.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported last week that it had received more than 2,800 calls about Spice last year and another 217 through January 18. The calls were "causing increased concern among doctors and clinicians," the group said.

"These products present a health risk that is not worth it for consumers," said Missouri Poison Center Medical Director Anthony J. Scalzo, MD, who first noticed increased calls about these products to his center last fall. "The products are meant to create a similar reaction to marijuana, but in fact, patients often report the opposite -- a fast, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure and nausea."

But representatives of retailers say the concerns are overblown. They point to a relatively low number of reported adverse events, a lack of evidence of life-threatening side effects, and fending off Puritanism as reasons to regulate instead of prohibit synthetic cannabinoids.

"My estimate is that this industry is worth $2 to $3 billion at the retail level, so we are talking about up to 100 million $30 doses," said Dan Francis of the Retail Compliance Association, the group representing retailers that forced the DEA to back away, at least for now, from its emergency ban on synthetic cannabinoids. "If we're talking about 3,000 reports to poison control centers, it would seem that the incidence of problems is extremely low."

Francis also reacted to some of the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding the danger of synthetic cannabinoids and the need for emergency action. "The typical side effects that are being reported are anxiety, agitation and nervousness," he said. "There are no reports of any side effects lasting more than a few hours."

"These substances are very widely used and they've been around for awhile. They're sold in head shops across America and a large number of gas stations, and there have been a few cases where people have freaked out and gone to the hospital, but that happens with marijuana, too," said Dustin Bayer of the Small Business Alliance, a group representing entrepreneurs challenging the federal ban effort. "It's not physical problems, but more like anxiety attacks."

The complaints of the retailers' representatives notwithstanding, bills to ban the synthetics are moving in the following states:

In Arizona, HB 2167, an emergency measure adding synthetic cannabinoids to the state's list of dangerous drugs and providing the same penalties as those for marijuana, passed the passed the House Judiciary and the House Rules committee last week on unanimous votes. It now heads to the House Floor.

In Indiana, SB 57, which outlaws synthetic cannabinoids and punishes them like marijuana, passed the Senate on a 47-0 vote last Friday. Two days earlier, the House Criminal Codes Committee approved its version of the bill. It now awaits a House floor vote.

In Minnesota, HF 57, which make sale of fake pot a gross misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and possession a misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail, passed the House Public Safety Committee Monday and has been referred to the house Judiciary Policy Committee.

In Utah, HB 23, which would add synthetic cannabinoids to the state's controlled substances list, passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and is headed for the House Floor. A less restrictive bill that would ban their sale to people under age 19, HB 200, passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, but its sponsor said he would withdraw it if the more draconian bill passed.

In Virginia, SB 748, which add a new category of controlled substances to include synthetic cannabinoids, was passed by the Senate Committee on Courts and Justice Tuesday. The bill would make punishments similar to those for marijuana.

In West Virginia, SB 63, which would ban fake pot in the Mountaineer State, passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday, but only after being amended. The original version of the bill also included a ban on salvia divinorum, but that was dropped in the version approved by the committee.

Indiana state Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), who sponsored the Indiana ban bill, provided a typical rationale in an interview with the South Bend Tribune. "This is something that is just a real, real bad substance," he said, adding that "the hallucinations produced by synthetic cannabinoids are 10 times stronger than those from marijuana."

Alting said doctors and police had told him of people falling into comas, being temporarily paralyzed, or trying to kill themselves after using fake pot. And he said teenagers in his home district convinced him of the need for a ban when he asked them why anyone would smoke synthetic cannabindoids.

"They looked at me and said, 'Because it's legal,'" he said."Let's put an end to that comeback from young people and anyone else using this."

"Why do they want to make criminals out of store clerks?" asked an exasperated Francis. "It's an insane endeavor to enforce felony-quality laws on people who are just struggling to get by. Why don't they consider regulation instead? There's a myriad of those chemicals out there -- we could have good manufacturing regulations, batch and lot numbers, restricting it to people over 21. Those are the kinds of things we're working on right now."

"I would ask those legislators what danger does this pose?" said Bayer. "There is no shown danger. The people who want to ban it want to ban it for moral reasons, the same way they want to ban marijuana. It's not a scientific issue or an issue of danger, it's really more of a moral issue."

If You Thought Fake Marijuana Was Crazy, Here Comes Fake Cocaine

As DEA works to drive synthetic marijuana products like Spice and K2 off the shelves, a new legal drug menace is already taking its place.

The half-gram bottle of bath salts promises an "invigorating" and "energizing" experience.

These products being sold as bath salts are not those commonly to be used in baths, authorities say. Some manufacturers are making designer drugs being sold as bath salts, said Wendy Stephan, health educator with the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami.

The Department of Justice says "numerous brands are marketed in all 50 U.S. states and via Internet web sites. Common brand names include Blue Silk, Charge+, Ivory Snow, Ivory Wave…and White Lightening." [Sun-Sentinel]

I'm so glad it's not my job to try to stop people from getting high. How hilariously frustrating it must be to spend one's time banning all the ridiculous crap people use to catch a buzz, only to watch as new legal drugs pop up everywhere you look. First there was "incense" that got you stoned, next came "bath salts" that get you jacked, and before you know it, head shops will be selling mailing envelopes for $15 each that make you trip when you lick the seal.

For all the time, money, and lives lost in the war on drugs, we've got several times as many crazy drugs on the scene than when we started, and the old stuff is still kicking our ass as well.

DEA Emergency Ban on Synthetic Marijuana NOT in Effect

Contrary to previous reports that a DEA emergency ban on synthetic cannabinoids had gone into effect on December 24, that emergency ban has been delayed. The DEA published a notice in the federal register dated January 7 that its November 24 notice of intent to institute an emergency ban had to be revised due to "administrative errors."

Still legal under federal law -- at least for now. (image via Wikimedia)
Sold under a variety of names, including Spice and K2, the synthetic cannabinoid products have been criminalized in about a dozen states, with more states on track to join the list.

DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno confirmed to the Chronicle January 13 that the ban was not yet in effect. "We're still writing the regulations," she said, explaining that, "While we must give the public 30 days notice, that doesn't mean it automatically becomes illegal. We're working diligently on it and hoping to get it done quickly."

The delay was forced by legal challenges from the Retail Compliance Association, a newly-formed retailers' organization created to block the DEA ban. "They need to stop hurting the small businesses that sell these products, and at least have a grip on the basics of the laws that govern their actions" said Dan Francis, the group's executive director, in a press release. "These rule do apply to them, they can't just declare that they don't and have it that way, we are a country of laws, passed by congress, not dictated by the DEA."
 

Washington, DC
United States

Meet Mephedrone, the Latest "Drug Menace" [FEATURE]

Poison control centers, hospital emergency rooms, and law enforcement are all raising the alarm about a new, uncontrolled stimulant drug, and the first moves to ban the drug at the state level have already taken place. But the DEA has yet to act, and drug policy analysts say that a reflexive move to ban the drug may not be the answer.

Going, going, gone in Louisiana. Who's next?
The drug is 4-methylmethcathinone, also known as mephedrone, a synthetic derivative of cathinone, the psychoactive stimulant found in the khat plant. (To be completely accurate, there are actually a number of methcathinone analogues involved, but for brevity's sake we will refer simply to mephedrone.) It produces a stimulant effect that users have likened to that of cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines, or Ritalin.

The drug is being sold as bath salts, plant food, or plant fertilizer and typically marketed with the words "not for human consumption" under product names including Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, Pure Ivory, and Sextacy. Marketers also use names with a local charge, such as Hurricane Charlie in Louisiana and White Lightning in Kentucky.

After hysterical press coverage of unproven mephedrone overdose deaths in England early last year, the drug was banned in the United Kingdom, and in November, the European Union banned mephedrone in member countries, citing a risk assessment from the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA).

But while that risk assessment found that mephedrone can cause acute health problems and lead to dependence, it found only tenuous links between mephedrone and any alleged fatalities. The risk assessment also cautioned that banning the drug could create its own problems. "Control measures could create an illegal market in mephedrone with the associated risk of criminal activity," EMCDDA warned.

But the European Union didn't listen, and now, politicians in the US states where mephedrone is most prevalent, are jumping on the ban bandwagon. Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued an emergency rule making the possession, distribution, or manufacture of mephedrone illegal and placing it in Schedule 1 of the state's controlled substances act. That means violators could face up to 30 years in prison.

"These drugs have crept into our communities and they are hurting our kids," said Jindal as he announced the rule. "We have to do everything in our power to protect our children and to make sure our streets are safe for our families. The reality is that the chemicals used to make these dangerous substances have no legitimate use other than to provide a high for the user. Today’s announcement gives our law enforcement officials the tools they need to crack down on the people pushing these dangerous drugs. Indeed, our law enforcement officials can immediately take these drugs off the shelf -- and at the same time, it's now illegal to possess and use these dangerous chemicals."

This week, neighboring Mississippi is moving against the substance. At least two bills to ban mephedrone have been introduced and are moving through committees. The bills are likely to be combined. As in Louisiana, the bills envision harsh penalties, with offenders facing up to 20 years in prison.

News media reports warning of the new "menace" and urging authorities to act have also appeared in Georgia and Texas. Such news reports are often a precursor to legislative or administrative action.

That these first moves to ban mephedrone are taking place on the Gulf Coast makes sense because that is where the drug has made the deepest inroads. Louisiana Poison Control Center director Dr. Mark Ryan went public with news of mounting calls about mephedrone just before Christmas, and on Monday, the American Association of Poison Control Centers issued a nationwide alert about mephedrone.

The alert shows that, at this point, mephedrone is very much a regional phenomenon. Poison control centers around the country have taken more than 300 calls about mephedrone, 69 of them in just the first days of 2011. While poison centers representing 25 states have received calls, 165 of them were in Louisiana. Kentucky was second with 23 calls. In the Upper Midwest, however, there have been no calls about mephedrone.

"We got notice a few weeks ago about reports from other poison centers, but we're not aware of any coming to our regional center," said Rachel Brandt of the Sanford Poison Control Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which covers Minnesota and the Dakotas.

It's a much different story in Louisiana. "We got our first case on September 29 and shortly thereafter we began getting calls just about every day," said the Louisiana Poison Control Center's Dr. Ryan. "We reported to the state health department that this was coming up on our radar, that we were getting people with bizarre, off-the-wall symptoms, with some of them staying in the hospital for five to seven days and the symptoms not resolving very well. The state became very concerned, and so did we as the number of calls continued to increase."

According to Dr. Ryan, adverse responses to mephedrone can be extreme. "We are seeing people describing intense cravings even though they don't like the high," he said. "We're seeing guys discharged from the hospital showing up again a few days later. We're seeing people who are very anxious or suffering from extreme paranoia, we're seeing people with suicidal thoughts, we're seeing people with delusions and hallucinations. A common thread is that they describe monsters, aliens, or demons."

But while the adverse reactions can be disturbing, and while three deaths have been "linked" to mephedrone, there have been no verified mephedrone overdose fatalities. In one case, a 21-year-old man named Dickie Sanders committed suicide three days after ingesting mephedrone. Louisiana media also referred to two other deaths "linked" to the substance, but the connection to mephedrone use remains unproven.

"They're saying the other two are related, but there is no toxicology to back that up," said Dr. Ryan.

Dealing with new designer drugs is difficult and frustrating, Dr. Ryan said. "We banned six different substances after looking at the ones abused in European countries," he said. "But you can't ban everything, and you could make a different designer cathinone every day. It's like a cat chasing its tail."

The DEA is also taking a look at mephedrone. But unlike state legislators, which can act without the least bit of evidence, the DEA is charged with actually finding good reasons to add a new drug to the list of proscribed or controlled substances. While more than a dozen states have criminalized the psychedelic salvia divinorum based on little more than the fear someone somewhere might get high on something legally, the DEA has had salvia on its radar as a drug of concern for nearly a decade, but has yet to find the evidence it needs to schedule it. On the other hand, the DEA is susceptible to political pressure, as indicated by its quick action last November to ban synthetic cannabinoids after being asked to do so by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Mephedrone has been on the DEA's radar since at least September 2009, when an analysis of drug samples containing mephedrone was published in the agency's Microgram Bulletin. But a DEA spokesman told the Chronicle this week the agency has yet to act.

"This is a drug of concern," said DEA public information officer Michael Sanders. "We're looking into it right now. We see those drugs out there, but there is a lot of research that goes into actually scheduling something."

The DEA may be well served by not rushing to judgment, said drug policy analyst Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. Prohibiting drugs has not worked in the past and there is no reason to assume it will now, he argued.

"Regulation is pretty much always better than prohibition because it means you can actually control the drug," he said. "You can regulate potency, quality, and all that stuff, but prohibiting it just drives it further into an unregulated market. Prohibition certainly has not controlled cocaine, ecstasy, or meth," Piper pointed out.

"It seems really strange that the political position around drugs in this country is that the only drugs people can legally use from now until the end of time are apparently alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine," Piper said. "And at least two of those substances are more dangerous than most of the other drugs. Every new substance is either banned immediately or eventually. This should be something for policymakers and voters to discuss and debate instead of just having knee-jerk responses."

That unfortunately has yet to happen, for mephedrone or for most drugs, and the drive to prohibit mephedrone is gaining steam.

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