The birth of ‘synthetic marijuana’

Addiction Inbox has an interview with pharmacologist David Kroll where he discusses the origin of the countless synthetic cannabinoids that have recently flooded the market as ‘legal highs’ and ‘incense’.

You may know Kroll better as the author of the long-running top-notch pharmacology blog Terra Sigillata where he has been tracking the ‘synthetic marijuana’ story since its early days.

In this recent interview he gives a fantastic brief description of how these compounds were born and became big business as ‘legal highs’.

Every area of CNS pharmacology has chemists who try to figure out the smallest possible chemical structure that can have a biological effect. In fact, this is a longstanding practice of any area of pharmacology. Huffman was an excellent chemist who in the 1990s was trying to figure out the most important part of the active component of marijuana that might have psychotropic effects. These compounds made by him and his students, surprisingly simple ones, I prefer to call cannabimimetics since they mimic the effect of the more complex cannabinoids in marijuana. These basic chemistry and pharmacology studies are what ultimately lead to new drugs in every field – a facet of chemistry called “structure-activity relationships” or SAR.

But since they are simple, they are relatively easy to make – some of Huffman’s work at Clemson was actually done by undergraduate chemistry majors. So, it was no surprise that they would be picked up by clandestine drug marketers, even though cannabis (UK) and marijuana (US) are freely available. The attraction to users was, until recently, that Huffman compounds (prefixed with “JWH-” for his initials) could not be detected in urine by routine drug testing. Hence, incense products containing these compounds have been called “probationer’s weed.”

In the interview he also discusses drug legality, drug development and prescription. Well worth checking out.

Link to David Kroll interview at Addiction Inbox.

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