On the perimeter of the synthetic cannabinoids

The synthetic weed story has just taken an interesting turn. Until now, all synthetic cannabinoids found in ‘herbal incense’ products have been taken from the scientific literature but a new previously unknown compound has just been discovered suggesting the underground labs are starting to innovate.

Cannabinoids are a type of compound related to the active chemicals in the cannabis plant. It turns out that a massive range of diverse compounds are cannabinoids and have a similar effect in the brain.

Synthetic cannabinoids have been researched for years. Both universities and pharmaceutical companies have churned out hundreds of variations both aiming to further our knowledge of the molecules and to look for potentially useful commercial compounds.

Since the mid-2000s, clandestine labs, thought to be based in China, have been synthesising cannabinoids that get you high, adding them to inert plant matter, and selling it as ‘herbal incense’ or ‘spice’ products for stoners.

Until now, almost all have been taken from scientific journals. The labs have been rifling through published research, picking out synthetic cannabinoids that look smokeable (and that haven’t been banned yet) and synthesising them.

Most are from the JWH series, named after John W Huffman, the chemist who first synthesised them in the 80s.

However, a new study in Forensic Science International reports on an analysis of a ‘herbal smoking mixture’ seized in Germany that contained both a banned known cannabinoid called JWH-073 alongside a completely new compound.

The chemical name is 1-butyl-3-(1-(4-methyl)naphthoyl)indole but it’s just called “compound 2” in the study.

Now it’s possible that this is just a by-product unknowing included in the mix, but I suspect this is unlikely.

In a new (excellent but locked) article on the chemistry of ‘designer street drugs’ the authors note that new molecule is a previously unknown hybrid of two existing high-potency synthetic cannabinoids. They also say the existence of this new molecule supports the idea that the clandestine labs are working on new compounds for street products.

What this means is that the labs are likely branching out from simply grabbing existing compounds from the literature to innovating new cannabis-like drugs, showing a surprising level of sophistication.

On a side note, it’s also interesting that this compound turned up in Germany, the same place that the original ‘herbal smoking mixtures’ appeared, perhaps suggesting that the country has the most direct links with the clandestine labs.

Link to locked report of novel cannabinoid.

7 thoughts on “On the perimeter of the synthetic cannabinoids”

  1. Where there is demand, supply will follow. The actions of governments only serve to increase the equilibrium price, which ironically, attracts new suppliers to the market.

  2. Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that the guy who synthesized a series of smokable cannabinoids was… Huffman?

  3. ^ Ha! Tis sad that our country will risk killing its people on this crap instead of just leaving it to personal choice. I remember actually buying that fake crap once, I can’t believe people are actually using this stuff. It’s in no way pleasant, and the high is definitely not so ‘weed’ like.

    1. The biggest problem for me was there was nothing natural about it at all. Each portion was different than the other with different mixtures of who knows what. Yeah and I would say that Huffman guy lived up to what he was meant for.

  4. Maybe the labs aren’t clandestine. Maybe they are university labs being used “after hours” to do extracurricular research.

    With most labs, the only people who ever set foot in them are the researchers who work there, and they’re the only people who understand what everything is anyway. So assuming people in the lab were “on board”, no-one would ever find out.

    And the financial incentives are obvious.

  5. @Julie, You’d be surprised at the various highs you can get from the increasing number of spice blends. There are even a couple that are really psychedelic, albeit shorter lasting. These kids definitely know what they’re doing.

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