The unclean history of Spice

Spice is a form of synthetic cannabis which so far has been commercialized as “herbal legal high” for around £20 for three grams. Its main problem is that the herbal content is full of chemicals that mimic the effects of cannabis.

For that reason on the 23rd of December spice will be classified as a Class B drug. According to sources from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) cited in a FT article most of those herbal plants are indeed substitutes of marihuana. The article continues explaining that:

 “Blue Lotus [flowers] are smoked for a mild sedative effect; Dwarf Skullcap is said to be as potent as marijuana; Indian Warrior [buds] are smoked for their psychoactive effects; Lion’s Tail is good for inducing a deep meditative sleep, calming, relaxing and enhancing dreaming because of its euphoric effect; Maconha Brava dried leaves are smoked by Indians in Brazil as a visionary aide, it is also known as ‘false marijuana’; Pink Lotus has narcotic and euphoric effect; Siberian ¬Motherwort is commonly used in Brazil and Chiapas [with] the nickname ‘little marijuana'".

However the real concern of spice in words of Paul Griffiths, of the European drugs agency, is that the drug contains a new compound, JWH-018, which was the first synthetic cannabinoid,  the active ingredient in marijuana, and which was very potent even at low doses. JWH 018 is tempting for manufacturers because it acts very fast triggering the receptors in the human body that stimulates the calming effects of the cannabis. In addition this ingredient is many times more potent than the natural plant and will remain in the body much longer.

Another reason why spice has become so popular is that because its structure is different to real cannabis it cannot be detected in conventional police or workplace urine or blood tests.

J. W. Huffman, the man behind JWH-018 recently declared to The Guardian that he created the substance while conducting experiments for a US research institute. Research into cannabis-simulating substances began in the 1930s, moving through "an idiot phase when the American government planned to make 'happy moms' in the 1950s", to become of great interest to pharmaceutical companies in the 80s and 90s, hopeful that a medicine might be crafted that could recreate the pain-relief effects of cannabis without the intoxication. JWH-018 was "nothing special", Dr Huffman remembered, but it was one of the more potent compounds ever made, and it was so easy to make that any undergraduate could make it.