U.S. moves to ban chemicals in synthetic marijuana



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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C.– Cracking down on fake pot, the government began emergency action Wednesday to outlaw five chemicals used in herbal blends to make synthetic marijuana. They’re sold in drug paraphernalia shops and on the Internet to a burgeoning market of teens and young adults.

The Drug Enforcement Administration responded to the latest designer drug fad by launching a 30-day process to put the chemicals in the same drug category as heroin and cocaine. The agency acted after receiving increasing numbers of reports of seizures, hallucinations and dependency from poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement.

It was the fastest action the agency could take to get the products off the legal market. DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said makers of fake pot blends such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze” and “Red X Dawn” labeled the mixtures as incense to try to hide the intended purpose.

There were indications that the producers were already moving to reformulate their products using chemicals not covered by the impending ban.

The fake pot — smokeable plant leaves coated with chemicals — has been the target of lawmakers and law enforcement around the country. At least 15 states have moved to regulate or ban one or more of the chemicals, as have some European and Scandinavian countries.

The man who created three of the chemicals as part of his government-sponsored research nearly 20 years ago said, “They are dangerous and anyone who uses them is stupid.”

John W. Huffman, a retired organic chemistry researcher from Clemson University, said in a telephone interview from his Sylva, N.C., home, “They seem to be pretty toxic.”

He said the reported medical problems had included overdoses, cases of addiction and suicide.

As of Sept. 27, the American Assn. of Poison Control Centers had reported receiving more than 1,500 calls from 48 states and the District of Columbia about products spiked with the drugs, the DEA said.

The agency first became aware of the designer drugs in November 2008 when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency analyzed Spice. Sometimes the chemicals are produced abroad and shipped into the United States; this year, customs agents seized a 110-pound load of two of the chemicals.

E-mail and telephone messages left for companies that manufacture and sell K2 and Red X Dawn were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Huffman said his research developed three compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but have very different chemical formulas. The idea was to study how they interact with the brain, said Huffman, who added that they were tested only in animals.

Carreno said the DEA, the Health and Human Services Department and the Food and Drug Administration had been studying fake pot with an eye toward stiff regulation or a ban but “the review process was taking too long.”

In the meantime, synthetic pot has been readily available on the Internet, at drug paraphernalia shops and even convenience stores for about $10 to $20 a gram.

Mark Tucci, owner and chief executive of Customs Blends Tobacco of Hilton Head, S.C., said he had already heard from suppliers promising new products with different chemicals that complied with the new regulations.

“They knew about this thing coming down, and they said they are working on other blends,” said Tucci, whose company has four franchises and two company-owned stores, all in Pennsylvania, that sell K2.

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