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.