We had our departmental annual lunch today, with a trip to the local Brazilian steakhouse. It was quite tasty and good to chat with a few people.
For the dessert, as it were, Jenny Wiley (who joined RTI recently) gave a talk on her work and in particular about the synthetic marijuana products such as Spice, K2 and the like. I knew something about the subject already, partly from the studies at RTI and also from blogs and web articles. It has certainly been a growing problem.
What struck me is quite how savvy the people selling these products are. Analysis of the incense shows several of the JWH series of indoles (from the chemist John Huffman, who made these for his own work at Clemson) and the makers have picked out some of the more active analogs. That they are following the literature is surprising enough, what struck me was the discovery of a JWH compound that they have not published yet. Are the Spice makers doing their own SAR as well?
Aside from the ingenuity they are showing (and also the story of the head of our department going into a local head shop to get some samples for his analysis), the make-up of these products is disturbing. There is a lot of different synthetic marijuana compounds turning up in the analysis and what’s more they are absorbed onto plant matter which in some cases may have its own effect on the central nervous system. The synthetic products are also significantly more potent than the active product in marijuana (delta-THC) and are delivered ‘pure’. The risk of over-dose must be much larger. That these products are rapidly becoming well known to college and high school students is a worrying trend, I will be looking forward to seeing any progress from the pharmacology end (as well as legally) to see that it is brought under some kind of control.
Update to add this article in the Washignton Post about synthetic marijuana use at the Naval Academy.