Special Assignment: A Legal High?

By: Ashley Jeffery Email
By: Ashley Jeffery Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock, May 17, 2010

AUGUSTA---You can buy fake weed, spice, K2 or Mojo in smoke shops in Georgia and South Carolina. It's marketed as an incense, but users like "Chad" are smoking it for a legal high.

"I've used it a handful of times, mostly with my friends who were getting drug tested and couldn't do the real stuff so they just went and picked some of that (spice) up," said Chad.

The drug is made using a synthetic compound called JWH-018. This is important because it can mimic the effects of marijuana. Its inventor, Dr. John Huffman, says the compound has only been tested on mice, and no one knows what it can do to the human body.

"The best analogy i can think of is if you use this stuff, it's the same as playing Russian roulette," said Dr. Huffman, who invented the compound more than ten years ago. He said until a German blogger emailed him, he didn't know the compound was being used to get high .

"Some kids go out and spend $40 for a bag of leaves with something on it," Dr. Huffman said. "They don't know what they're getting."

There's a number of Augusta stores that sell spice. News 12 found it on sale for between $20 and $65. The cost and not knowing what's in it doesn't stop smokers like Chad from lighting up.

"It's all about what comes out in your urine tests," Chad said. "This doesn't show up, so it's worth a little but more if you have to do a drug test. I don't think anything bad is going to happen from it."

Chad may be one of the lucky ones who hasn't suffered adverse effects of using spice. He says he just feels relaxed after using the drug. But teens from all over the country have been hospitalized with seizures and extremely elevated blood pressure after using spice.

Dr. Huffman says he may have an idea why. "This compound has the same properties as THC, which is the active chemical in marijuana, except it's about ten times more potent," he said.

News 12: "Is JWH the most potent?"
Dr. Huffman: "No."
News 12: "There's something stronger?"
Dr. Huffman: "Oh yes. The most potent of the compound of that class is one I can't remember the number, it's in the 200's."
News 12: "How much more potent is that over marijuana?"
Dr. Huffman: "Almost a hundred times."

The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says spice is made of one of six main compounds. JWH-018 is the most common, and only one, HU-210, has been outlawed as an illegal controlled substance. But there's no regulation and no way of knowing which of the six compounds are being used in spice being sold in stores. In fact, the packaging clearly states "not for human consumption".

News 12: "It wasn't meant to be smoked?"
Dr. Huffman: "No, it wasn't meant to be smoked, wasn't meant to be eaten."
News 12: "It wasn't meant to be used as an incense?"
Dr. Huffman: "Not at all, none of that."

Lawmakers in several states, including Georgia, are talking about outlawing the compounds. But the question is, why can't the federal government regulate the compounds?

"The trouble is, they write the laws specifically for JWH-018," Dr. Huffman said. "I know there are a bunch more compounds out there in these spice concoctions, and they have to write a separate law for all of them."

And that is close to impossible to do. Dr. Huffman says if legislators make the entire class of the compound illegal, it would make basic amino acids like tryptophan illegal. That would be impossible, because everyone's body makes it.

Meanwhile, the DEA says it's taking them awhile because the scheduling process to make each compound illegal can take up to a year.

"I think that at the end of the day, whether you ban it or make it legal or illegal, people are going to do what they want," Chad said. "I mean look at all the drugs that are illegal, and I can just go up the street and get them. It really comes down to supply and demand, if people want it or not."

"As long as there are people who want to get high and people who want to make money, this is going to be a problem, whether it's our compounds or other people's compounds," said Dr. Huffman.

But until there's regulation on fake weed, Dr. Huffman says it's up to buyers to be smart and think about their purchase, because no one really knows what's going up in smoke each time a user lights up.

Right now there's a bill in the Georgia House that would ban the sale of all spice products that have one of the six synthetic compounds in them. The DEA says Kansas has already banned spice all together.

News 12 visited about a half a dozen Aiken County convenience stores to see if they had spice or K2. None of them had it, but one store owner offered to check with his distributor to see if they could get it.


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