John W. Huffman is the retired Clemson University chemist whose non-cannabinoid cannabimimetics synthesized in the 1990s have spawned a legal highs industry in the United States. So-called herbal incense products like K2 Spice are sprayed with some of Huffman’s compounds such as JWH-018 and sold in head shops and convenience stores across the US.
However, many municipalities and 15 states have issued bans on the sales of these products. Nationally, the DEA is currently revising a final order to temporarily place some of Huffman’s compounds on Schedule I of controlled substances. Recreational use of these compounds came on the scene in Germany and across Europe several years ago and are now illegal there. The US military has been particularly aggressive in penalizing soldiers for use of synthetic marijuana products. In fact, Reuters reported yesterday afternoon that seven midshipmen at the US Naval Academy have been expelled for using Spice.
Yesterday, Julie Rose at the Charlotte, NC, NPR affiliate WFAE-FM caught up with Huffman for an interview at his home in Sylva, NC. The 78-year-old chemist closed up his lab in December and now works on his hobby of model trains in the North Carolina mountains. The Huffman interview runs about 6:40 – the text and podcast is available at the station’s website.
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Purdue chemist and pharmacologist David Nichols on how he was surprised that entreprenurial chemists were applying his schemes to make legal highs. In contrast to Nichols’ commentary in Nature, Huffman doesn’t have much sympathy for those who dabble with his compounds:
As for any feelings of responsibility that he made the drug, Huffman says “you can’t be responsible for what idiots are going to do.”
And those “idiots” now email Huffman wanting to know how to make JWH-018.
The messages are usually poorly written and ask Huffman for help in making it.
“I just hit the delete button,” says Huffman.
Chemists will also get a kick out of this passage:
The only reason Huffman doesn’t tell his fans to go ahead and smoke marijuana instead, is because it’s illegal. Huffman does not break the law. He says he’s never even gotten a speeding ticket. The one time he tangled with the police, he was 15. He and a buddy started a fire in the street with stuff from his chemistry set.
“We got a free ride to the police station, and it scared the daylights out of both of us that they would notify our parents,” says Huffman.
Please go over to the WFAE-FM site and listen to Julie Rose’s interview with Dr. Huffman.
And if you are in the Charlotte, NC/Rock Hill, SC area, please consider becoming a listener-member of the radio station.
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