DEA

How the National Institute for Drug Abuse Helped Create the Dangerous Marijuana Alternative Known As "Spice"

More than a decade after NIDA spent an unreported amount creating Spice, the Drug Enforcement Administration spent millions destroying it.

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A top priority for the National Institute on Drug Abuse has always been to find a way to make illicit drugs chemically unenjoyable. As recently as this year, NIDA Chief Nora Volkow* told 60 Minutes that her agency was looking for "a cure" for getting high. 

But it appears NIDA's quest to cure Americans of their enjoyment of marijuana has backfired. According to a report in The New Orleans Times-Picayune, funds from NIDA helped create the dangerous marijuana alternative known as "Spice" and "K2."

The funds were disbursed in the mid-1990s to a Clemson University researcher named Dr. John W. Huffman. It was while searching for a cure to marijuana "addiction" that Huffman developed the formula for Spice:

Former Clemson University chemistry professor Dr. John W. Huffman is the namesake of JWH-018, JWH-073 and JWH-200, three of the synthetic cannabinoids banned by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2011.

"The National Institute of Drug Abuse wanted to research marijuana," said Dr. Victor Tuckler, the emergency room toxicologist at Interim LSU Public Hospital in New Orleans. "They were looking at different receptors of the brain to see if they could come up with a way that people wouldn't get addicted to this stuff."

Huffman and his colleagues created more than 400 synthetic cannabinoid compounds during the 1990s.

"Who knows how this got out," Tuckler said. "Pretty soon, it's on the Internet and people are making it over in China."

Recently, the circle completed itself. More than a decade after NIDA spent an unreported amount creating Spice, the Drug Enforcement Administration spent millions raiding gas stations and headshops across the county reported to be selling it. Here's the DEA press release about "Operation Log Jam":

As of today, more than 4.8 million packets of synthetic cannabinoids (ex. K2, Spice) and the products to produce nearly 13.6 million more, as well as 167,000 packets of synthetic cathinones (ex. bath salts), and the products to produce an additional 392,000 were seized.

Operation Log Jam was conducted jointly by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with assistance from the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, as well as countless state and local law enforcement members in more than 109 U.S. cities and targeted every level of the synthetic designer drug industry, including retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers.

"Although tremendous progress has been made in legislating and scheduling these dangerous substances, this enforcement action has disrupted the entire illegal industry, from manufacturers to retailers," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "Together with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we are committed to targeting these new and emerging drugs with every scientific, legislative, and investigative tool at our disposal."

You can read the full press release here, but you won't find any mention of Huffman, Clemson, or NIDA. 

This post originally said Natalia Volko was head of NIDA. Nora Volkow is the head of NIDA, Natalia is her sister. 

NEXT: Glenn Greenwald: The Unthinkable Becomes Mainstream

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  1. Begin references to Dune….now!

    1. The art on the little foil packet is totally wrong. Everyone knows that spice addiction gives you completely blue-in-blue eyes.

      1. Didn’t some guy in some film series smuggle Spice for another guy who looked like a giant brown slug, who also inhabited a planet that the hero of the series and the secondary antagonist both hailed from? I believe the first guy got into an altercation with a green guy and shot first.

  2. Natalia Volkow told 60 Minutes that her agency was looking for “a cure” for getting high.

    Ending compulsory education would be a good start.

    1. How about a cure for the desire to be a scold?

      1. Bullets?

    2. “We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science.”

      1. Is that you, comrade Leonhart?

    3. That certainly would be a first step in curing the desire to get high.

  3. Sherry in ‘Logjammin’: [on video] You must be here to fix the cable.
    Maude Lebowski: Lord. You can imagine where it goes from here.
    The Dude: He fixes the cable?
    Maude Lebowski: Don’t be fatuous, Jeffrey.

  4. Man, there isn’t even a dog involved in this tail chasing anymore; it’s just a ragged strand of fur and muscle doing its best Ouroboros impression.

  5. I am in the mood to start a good zombie apocalypse, or continue the existing one. Which makes you want to eat face more, spice or bath salts? I ate some of my wife’s bath salts earlier, but they didn’t do a damn thing to me, just made me really thirsty, damnit.

    1. Try some really good barbecue sauce.

    2. You’re not supposed to eat them, you snort it up your nose with a straw. Try it that way, and report the results here. Hope this helps!

      1. I will let you try it first.

  6. Somewhat related:

    “The first hoax press release purporting to come from the U.S. attorney was sent to local news media at 7:05 a.m., claiming that legal proceedings, including criminal charges and forfeiture, would be brought against targeted pharmacies in La Jolla, Carmel Valley and Pacific Beach due to the high rates of pharmaceutical drug abuse. It further said the businesses had to shut down in 45 days.”

    Our local U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy is now pissed, and is looking into charges of impersonating a federal official.

    Also, the new website looks like shit, but I’m sure you already knew that.

  7. Oh man I had no idea that the NIDA funded the invention of the JWH compounds. That just made my day.
    It should also be noted that despite recent bans there is still a multitude of psychoactive synthetic canabinoids avaliable on the market. The fight against legal drugs is like a giant game of whack-a-mole where the government is not only always 100 steps behind, but they actually create the problem. By banning every new sythetic drug that gets popular enough, they incentivise the development of new drugs. Do you think we would have 100+ synthetic stimulants being sold ulabeled as bath salts if amphetamine and cocaine were still legal? Would people be smoking spice if you could buy a pack of joints at any convienence store or smoke shop?

  8. “Would people be smoking spice if you could buy a pack of joints at any convienence store or smoke shop?”

    Nope. I’d just smoke weed then.

    Because, you know, the War on real Drugs is going so well…

  9. I’m sure the people who do the actual work on these things have no interest in ending marijuana “addiction”, that’s just how they write their grants.

  10. If elected, I will institute a bold new government program to protect us from the unintended consequences of the last bold new government program.

  11. As of today, more than 4.8 million packets of synthetic cannabinoids (ex. K2, Spice) and the products to produce nearly 13.6 million more, as well as 167,000 packets of synthetic cathinones (ex. bath salts), and the products to produce an additional 392,000 were seized.

    these are not even considered cannabinoids, I would call Marinol, and Sativex “synthetic cannabinoids” first. Spice is nothing like cannabis chemically at all.

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