Wednesday, November 24, 2010

DEA moves to ban synthetic cannabinoids sold as "K2" and "Spice"

DEA announced it is going to ban 5 synthetic cannabinoids using emergency powers Congress granted in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 (21 U.S.C. 811(h)). (Yes, I handled this legislation.)

Does the government have any scientific burden of proof to demonstrate danger or harmfulness before it bans a product?

What, exactly, is the evidence that these synthetic cannabinoids are harmful? There are news reports that some poison control centers report that they have had telephone calls from persons saying that they are having some kind of reaction to ingesting something that they report to be K2 or Spice. Of course, the callers have no certainty about what they in fact have ingested. These are completely unverified anecdotes by persons who are in fear.

Considering that K2 and Spice are legal and cannabis is illegal, some persons may be selling cannabis claiming it is K2 or Spice to minimize their risk of arrest, and the demand is probably higher since buyers will believe what they have acquired is not contraband and won’t get them into trouble. An unethical drug seller may be selling Cannabis as K2 or Spice to maximize profit.

Considering that a feature of K2 and Spice is that they supposedly are not detected in the usual drug screens of probation departments or the military, K2 and Spice are much more valuable to many customers that cannabis. Again, an unethical drug seller may be selling Cannabis as K2 or Spice to maximize profit. Of course this lack of routine and inexpensive detectability really annoys drug court judges, probation officers, etc.

Someone may have a joint or pipe passed to them and told it is K2 or Spice, but it may actually be Cannabis.

It is entirely plausible that some or many of those who are calling poison control centers with reports of adverse reactions are reporting reactions to strong forms of Cannabis. After all, the government says there are thousands of reports of adverse reactions to very potent forms of cannabis every year, and certainly some of those result in calls to poison control centers.

To summarize, the government is attempting to ban a legal substance on the basis of unsubstantiated second hand claims that unidentified materials are causing unspecified and unquantified harms.

It may be the K2 or Spice are causing problems, but the government has not offered any legitimate scientific evidence that this is the case.

Anyone who has picked up High Times over the past 25 years or so, has encountered ads for “legal highs.” Most readers assumed that these ads are bogus rip offs. Many people have also assumed that K2 and Spice were equally bogus rip offs. DEA’s action today will establish K2 and Spice as drugs that people can get high on. The ban is being reported from The Wall Street Journal to WTOP radio.

DEA has no evidence that K2 or Spice is harmful, but state legislators are passing bans based on unverified anecdotes. DEA is being embarrassed by questions about why it has not banned them.

DEA’s ban is being conducted in manner that is almost exactly like the situation in 1985 when DEA banned MDMA on a temporary basis. Then, instead of following the scientifically based administrative process for determining appropriate scheduling (21 U.S.C. 811 (a) - (c)), DEA used its power to ban a chemical on a temporary basis. At that time, DEA’s action took an almost completely unknown compound, used in a very small subculture, and through its press releases and banning transformed it into a global brand, ecstasy! Instead of following the advice of doctors and scientists and scheduling MDMA as a medicinal compound, DEA’s emergency scheduling on schedule I glorified the potency of MDMA. DEA is shamefully, once again advancing its institutional agenda at the expense of public safety and due process of law.

Penn State Professor Michael Kenney explained this dynamic succinctly in his excellent book, From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation. In describing the way in which the drug bureaucracy makes sense of the intelligence that it gathers, Kenney explains,

“Prosecutors construct plausible narratives of criminal activity that satisfy the evidentiary standards of trial law procedure, convince jurors to convict defendants, and secure additional resources to continue their efforts. Policymakers create memorable narratives of organized criminality that capture the public interest, build support for bureaucratic and legislative agendas, and communicates messages laced with political symbolism that the United States is fighting, and ultimately winning, a war against drugs.”

DEA could not figure out a strategy to control K2 or Spice, and fell back on their traditional failed strategy. Sadly, this is the completely expected reaction of a bureaucracy like DEA. This action is another example of why Michelle Leonhart is not clever enough to be a modern, effective Administrator of DEA.

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ChristMotForbud said...

Great write up.

You mean to say those glasses I used to read about in the back of comic books couldn't really give me x-ray vision?! ;-) I'll never trust ads again.

k2 herb said...

Our penal system needs a major overhaul as it is and these petty drug laws aren't helping matters. The authorities will never be able to keep up with K2 incense and the like as it is ever-changing. It is bonkers the money and effort they are putting into these bans when apparently people can still legally buy k2 smoke if they want to!

Anonymous said...

Having dosed 13 human subjects (in controlled dosing sessions) and conducting nursing and DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) evaluations before and after dosing...I know these substances to cause distinct psycho-physical impairment (intoxication). While the "typical" high from cannabis brings intoxication, the high is more mellow and rarely creates anxiety, frustration or anger. We found these reactions to be common with the synthetic cannabinoids...particularly JWH 018, JWH 073, JWH 081, and JWH 250. Psychological exams (before and after dosing) were particularly disconcerting. This is not "just pot". These chemicals hit the CB1 and CB2 receptors very strongly and even Dr. John W. Huffman believes using them recreationally is extremely risky. You should check out the webinars at NMS Labs in order to determine the facts about these synthetic cannabinoids. As for the federal government abusing its power...what's new about that?