New Synthetic Marijuana Arrives to Replace Spice, K2

By Dirk Hanson 07/05/11

Designers are already busy with the second generation of cannabis-like drugs.

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Chemical cat and mouse game.
Photo via 101easy

It took underground drug chemists less than four months to replace five banned synthetic marijuana compounds with near-beer equivalents that are proving as popular—and as questionable—as the original batch. In corner stores, and at new online outlets, the newest chemical formulations are being sold as incense under names like the newly-reformulated Barely Legal, and the already-defunct Mr. Nice Guy.

On March 1, five chemicals used to make Spice, K2, and other synthetic cannabis products were placed under a yearlong ban by the DEA, after Senate committee hearings focused attention on legislation that would classify this first round of designer cannabis compounds as Category 1 drugs similar to heroin and cocaine. Dozens of states have since moved to do the same. But the new versions may or may not be legal—it depends on how well prosecutors manage to fit the new examples of designer cannabis into the Federal Analog Act, which is supposed to protect enforcement officials from these perpetual games of bunny hop. The problem is that successful enforcement under the analog act hinges on winning the argument over the legal definition of "substantially similar." But that should be easier this time around, with the first set of marijuana analogs already booked as evidence, so to speak. Anybody in it for a quick buck better get out fast. Drug Monkey, a pseudonymous researcher with the National Institutes of Health, and one of our primary go-to scientists when it comes to designer drugs, told us he is fairly certain that “analog prosecution awaits.” In the meantime, says Wendy Stephan of the Florida Poison Information Center, emergency calls about synthetic cannabis are on the rise again. Stephan told the South Florida Sun Sentinel: “It’s not the mellow marijuana experience people are expecting.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]