Came across this post from Neurobonkers, talking about 26 new additions to the Schedule 1 list of chemicals. Quite a lot of them are cannabinoids from either the JWH series or AM series, with some which I thought were already on the list (JWH-018, for example), from an initial effort to stem the tide as it were which put 5 such compounds on the list. Consulting of all things the Wikipedia page for JWH-018, I find that they were indeed put on Schedule 1 in November 2010 but only temporarily while further studies were done and this had expired.
The Neurobonkers article makes some good points, but I would hardly classify the DEA move here as “knee-jerk”. The people making things like Spice and K2 have shown a high level of sophistication in what they choose to add to their product (picking out the more active compounds, showing they have read up on Huffman’s J Med Chem papers). The number of available known active cannabinoids is large and realistically this is not much more than a speed bump. As I noted already, they made the first rather tentative step in regulating these chemicals in 2010 and have been struggling with how to deal with this growing problem.
And it is a problem. I got the impression of the neurobonkers folks saying that this is the man coming down on their fun, but the strange problem here is that the illegal drug (THC in marijuana) is notably safer to use than the until-now legal highs. THC is only a partial agonist, which means its effects on the brain and body are necessarily limited. It is hard (maybe impossible) to actually overdose on THC. The trouble is that medicinal chemistry has been able to exceed the natural potency – nature is so very good at making things only as potent as it needs to be – the synthetic cannabinoids are full agonists and are thus much more potent; the danger in using them is greater, the potential for overdose is higher and the anecdotal evidence of extended highs and racing heart rates is worrying. Putting them into Schedule 1, using the time to study their effects and even extending the time allowed to study them (an additional provision in the new legislation) would make our understanding of these substances much more complete.
Some of that work is ongoing. I know colleagues here who are working on both the pharmacology of the synthetic cannabinoids and also on the analysis of the incense/ bath salts samples in order to determine what is in them. This is important because even now the newest batches of K2 incense will have an altered mix of active ingredients, which are all still legal, if not any less potentially dangerous.
Though there is some effort included in the new legislation to combat the moving target here, to wit a definition of “cannabamimetic agents”. I am digging into the bill itself (it is Section D if you are feeling brave enough to join me) and I will have to comment on that once I have digested it. My short version is that this is a potential mine field for both law makers and chemists – though at least they don’t appear to have simply made an indole a cannabamimetic.
In addition to the 15 cannabinoids, some cathinones and some C2 compounds were included. I don’t know much about either, though as the cathinones are amphetamine based it is not a big surprise to see them on the list. The C2 compounds I hadn’t read about before. They are the work of Alexander Shulgin, phenethylamines related to mescaline, psychedelics and hallucinogenics. Included due to a case of accidental overdose, it strikes me that these are less of a public danger than the other two classes, but studies should bear this out.