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Strong chemistry in NC bills banning legal highs

Carolina Chemistry. Source: Raven Maps/Medford, OR

On Wednesday, two bills passed unanimously in the North Carolina State Senate that would outlaw synthetic cannabimimetics and mephedrone. These compounds are currently sold as Spice incense (e.g., K2, Black Mamba) or “bath salts” (e.g., Ivory Wave), respectively. (Many thanks to WRAL-TV Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and fellow blogger DrugMonkey for alerting me to these bills via Twitter.).

Legislatively, similar bills have been passed and laws enacted in states and municipalities around the US while a proposed scheduling rule by the federal drug agency, the DEA, languishes in an administrative and legal morass.

The synthetic marijuana bill, House Bill 12 (Senate 9) and the mephedrone bill, House Bill 13 (Senate 7), were originally both put forth in the NC House by co-sponsors led by Representative George Cleveland (R, NC-14) of Jacksonville, North Carolina, home to the US Marine base Camp Lejeune. Cleveland himself is a retired, 25-year US Marine. The US military has been far ahead of other state and federal agencies in prohibiting use of these chemicals and associated products.

But for readers of this blog, the part of the NC bills that most impressed me was the exhaustive and near-encyclopedia listing of chemicals to be outlawed under the bills. For example, while the DEA has proposed to only regulate five compounds (and implied prohibition of structural analogs), take a gander at this list:

The following controlled substances are included in this schedule:

(6) Synthetic cannabinoids. – Any material, compound, mixture, or preparation that contains any quantity of the following substances, their salts, isomers (whether optical, positional, or geometric), homologues, and salts of isomers and homologues, unless specifically excepted, whenever the existence of these salts, isomers, homologues, and salts of isomers and homologues is possible within the specific chemical designation:

a. Naphthoylindoles. Any compound containing a 3‑(1‑naphthoyl)indole structure with substitution at the nitrogen atom of the indole ring by an alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, 1‑(N‑methyl‑2‑piperidinyl)methyl, or 2‑(4‑morpholinyl)ethyl group, whether or not further substituted in the indole ring to any extent and whether or not substituted in the naphthyl ring to any extent. Some trade or other names: JWH‑015, JWH‑018, JWH‑019, JWH‑073, JWH‑081, JWH‑122, JWH‑200, JWH‑210, JWH‑398, AM‑2201, WIN 55‑212.

b. Naphthylmethylindoles. Any compound containing a 1H‑indol‑3‑yl‑(1‑naphthyl)methane structure with substitution at the nitrogen atom of the indole ring by an alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, 1‑(N‑methyl‑2‑piperidinyl)methyl, or 2‑(4‑morpholinyl)ethyl group, whether or not further substituted in the indole ring to any extent and whether or not substituted in the naphthyl ring to any extent.

c. Naphthoylpyrroles. Any compound containing a 3‑(1‑naphthoyl)pyrrole structure with substitution at the nitrogen atom of the pyrrole ring by an alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, 1‑(N‑methyl‑2‑piperidinyl)methyl, or 2‑(4‑morpholinyl)ethyl group whether or not further substituted in the pyrrole ring to any extent and whether or not substituted in the naphthyl ring to any extent. Another name: JWH‑307.

d. Naphthylmethylindenes. Any compound containing a naphthylideneindene structure with substitution at the 3‑position of the indene ring by an alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, 1‑(N‑methyl‑2‑piperidinyl)methyl, or 2‑(4‑morpholinyl)ethyl group, whether or not further substituted in the indene ring to any extent and whether or not substituted in the naphthyl ring to any extent.

e. Phenylacetylindoles. Any compound containing a 3‑phenylacetylindole structure with substitution at the nitrogen atom of the indole ring by an alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, 1‑(N‑methyl‑2‑piperidinyl)methyl, or 2‑(4‑morpholinyl)ethyl group whether or not further substituted in the indole ring to any extent and whether or not substituted in the phenyl ring to any extent. Some trade or other names: SR‑18, RCS‑8, JWH‑250, JWH‑203.

f. Cyclohexylphenols. Any compound containing a 2‑(3‑hydroxycyclohexyl)phenol structure with substitution at the 5‑position of the phenolic ring by an alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, 1‑(N‑methyl‑2‑piperidinyl)methyl, or 2‑(4‑morpholinyl)ethyl group, whether or not substituted in the cyclohexyl ring to any extent. Some trade or other names: CP 47,497 (and homologues), cannabicyclohexanol.

g. Benzoylindoles. Any compound containing a 3‑(benzoyl)indole structure with substitution at the nitrogen atom of the indole ring by an alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, 1‑(N‑methyl‑2‑piperidinyl)methyl, or 2‑(4‑morpholinyl)ethyl group, whether or not further substituted in the indole ring to any extent and whether or not substituted in the phenyl ring to any extent. Some trade or other names: AM‑694, Pravadoline (WIN 48,098), RCS‑4.

h. 2,3‑Dihydro‑5‑methyl‑3‑(4‑morpholinylmethyl)pyrrolo[1,2,3‑de]‑1, 4‑benzoxazin‑6‑yl]‑1‑napthalenylmethanone. Some trade or other names: WIN 55,212‑2.
i. (6aR,10aR)‑9‑(hydroxymethyl)‑6, 6‑dimethyl‑3‑(2‑methyloctan‑2‑yl) ‑ 6a,7,10,10a‑tetrahydrobenzo[c]chromen‑1‑ol 7370. Some trade or other names: HU‑210.

Wow. Now that’s comprehensive. My only criticism elsewhere in the bill is the use of “cannabinoids” instead of the more accurate “cannabimimetic.” You can see the somewhat smaller list for the mephedrone bill here, although I don’t see one of the “bath salt” compounds listed there, MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone).

With all due respect to Rep. Cleveland and his co-sponsors and Senate sponsor Sen. Harry Brown (R, NC-6 – also a military district), I don’t see that any of them hold any particular expertise in chemistry. I have to admit to never having given much thought to this subject but I’m wondering where legislators get their scientific expertise in drafting accurate language in bills like these.

I’ve put in a request for information with Rep. Cleveland’s and Sen. Brown’s offices. But have any of you ever consulted with your local representatives for verbiage on local, state, or federal legislation?

Should you be interested, the video below from WRAL-TV shows the NC Senate dispensing with these two bills in just over eight minutes. Both bills have now been sent on to the NC House.

(Note: Embedding doesn’t seem to be working today so here is the link – just be aware that the video begins playing automatically.

Update, 10:54 am – Within an hour of my request on a Saturday morning, Rep. Cleveland provided me with this response:

Mr. Kroll- Several chemists from various States helped with this bill. I personally do not have all their names and do not feel that it would be right for me to disclose any of the names I do have.

I was motivated by the proximity of Camp Lejeune. However, I would have pursued this matter in any case. The possible destruction of any of our youngsters through drug use must attacked vigorously.

George G. Cleveland

Update, 11:02 am – WRAL-TV Capitol Bureau Chief, Laura Leslie, just tweeted me with her information:

I think the lawmakers got drafting help from state tox lab – SBI [State Bureau of Investigation] tox lab official explained the bills in committee.

Update, Mon 14 Feb, 6:26 am – The student-run newspaper of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ran an editorial overnight in opposition to the ban. It sounds a little petulant and melodramatic to me, invoking politics without acknowledging that the bills passed with votes of 50-0 and 49-0:

While the general populace is, no doubt, supposed to feel thankful that our government has acted so forcefully to keep allegedly harmful substances out of consumers’ bodies, we would prefer it limits its actions to substances we have no choice in consuming — fire retardants in pillows, heavy metals in paints and other substances widely regarded as toxic…

…Synthetic marijuana should be in the same category as alcohol and tobacco — substances that can be dangerous, but are highly regulated and heavily taxed.

Update, Mon 14 Feb, 11:45 pm – Today I received the following response from Susanne Gunter, Legislative Assistant to State Sen. Harry Brown. Brown is sponsor of the Senate bills and also Majority Leader of the NC State Senate:

Sen. Brown asked me to let you know that the person whom he consulted on Senate Bills 7 and 9 is Ann Hamlin who is on staff at the NC SBI Lab.

His interest in these synthetic substances originated last year with a request from the leaders at the military base, Camp Lejeune, but as the year progressed, he heard more and more about these substances from constituents and in the media.

Also, he thanks you for your kind words. Please let our office know if we can be of help to you in the future.

So, as I suspected, the military use of these compounds was the original catalyst for this legislation in North Carolina. Ann Hamlin, the scientist mentioned by Sen. Brown’s assistant, is section leader for the State Bureau of Investigation’s Drug Chemistry & Toxicology laboratory.

11 Comments

  • Feb 12th 201113:02
    by Dan in Fla

    Reply

    Why is this necessary? So the Tox lab can double its workload? Has anyone been hurt by these? Has anyone been killed? Why waste taxpayer dollars and law enforcement resources? Can someone explain their irrational fear of someone getting high, especially legally and responsibly?

    • Feb 16th 201118:02
      by SWIM

      Reply

      Most of the scare tatic stories fail to highlight that the people that have had problems were on medication(s) or had consumed large ammount of a particular legal drug…. alcohol. If the real, natural thing was leagal then nobody would have to think up crazy chemical versions of a drug that is not very harmful when used properly in the first place.

  • Feb 12th 201117:02
    by Neutral Mage

    Reply

    I’m with Dan on this one. If there is a bad problem with the drug harming people in mass, then fine. But how is any of this any different from alcohol? If they had the alcohol company’s level of money, this wouldn’t happen. It won’t do any good, they will all just find more chemicals to process and refine, making this bill useless.

  • Feb 13th 201100:02
    by Mark Montgomery

    Reply

    I don’t believe any of the scare tactics being used all over the country against the bath salts MDPV and methylone, the media has just run with rumors and each news report exaggerates the horrors of these two drugs even more than the last. Set up a Google “alert” for MDPV and just read the reports, they will make you laugh. I bought a gram of methylone and a gram of MDPV, and they’re not cheap, with shipping they cost $42 a gram. I had to eat the entire gram of methylone to get a 3 hour buzz and half a gram of MDPV to get a lousy, jumpy high. These two drugs are too expensive to use to get high, you’re better off buying a gram of meth or cocaine. I was not impressed. Remember the old adage: “Don’t believe everything you read”. Mark Montgomery NYC, NY boboberg@nyc.rr.com

  • Feb 13th 201111:02
    by Dan in Ohio

    Reply

    This definition of a Cannabinoid encompasses tens of thousands of chemicals. It is the result of asking DEA chemists how you could possibly write a legal description that would ban all possible cannabinoids. The problem is that thousands of other useful chemicals are banned as well. These synthetic cannabinoids were invented because scientist wanting to study newly discovered cannabinoid receptor in the brain were not allowed to get access to THC and other naturally produced cannabinoids for their lab research. Schedule I status for a chemical makes is near impossible for most labs to obtain. Now this bill would put whole classes of useful chemicals into Schedule I, chemicals that show great promise of being important medicines, chemicals that are needed for doing basic research. This bill will stop all such research in North Carolina for years to come.

    Also, by banning thousands of chemicals, they make in impossible for labs to test for compliance. Testing for a few chemicals is possible with modern technology. No method could test for the presence of all chemicals described by these broad definitions. The bill outlaws any quantity of any chemical in any of these wide classes of chemicals in a product. Most products on a grocery store shelf would not pass this test if you could perform it.

    This need for this law is based on the most flimsy of evidence. It will only make these products more popular and drive them underground making them more dangerous. The burden on the chemists and store owners will be extreme. More stupid politicians tricks.

  • Feb 16th 201103:02
    by Curtis Fromke

    Reply

    These laws are police state wet dreams. Police can make arrests and then wait months for the lab results since the cut backs in reducing the size of government will grind all of this forensic science to be supported. Analytical chem should be good major. This is almost as good as legislation coming out of South Dakota justifying terminating abortion doctors.

  • Mar 3rd 201116:03
    by Mike

    Reply

    Hooray for the Mexican Drug Cartels, they win again thanks to misguided conservative fools.

  • Mar 4th 201111:03
    by daedalus2u

    Reply

    If the problem is the use by the military, why doesn’t the military prohibit any military personnel from using them? Problem solved.

  • Mar 5th 201112:03
    by Alchemist

    Reply

    They do NOT care about any health effects, otherwise as most of you have stated alcohol would be ILLEGAL, though our lovely representatives sit back hypocritically sipping there scotch while both marijuana and synthetic marijuana are now illegal. I find this utterly appalling that such a law could be passed. We have a population issue and if this IS harming people then they are stupid for consuming it, let them consume all the drugs they want and die, that will only create more jobs for those of us out of work. At some point people need to stop thinking about their own self-righteousness and let things happen…because they will happen anyway. Its time for a change in our governmental structure and our four-fathers be damned if they would allow this to happen–they wouldn’t.

  • Mar 10th 201107:03
    by ncincensemaker

    Reply

    Personally i have been making my own incense for the past 9 months. It is for personal use and i sell to a few family members only because they like to relax in the evenings in the privacy of their own home. Also to cover some of my costs. I have safely and privately seen the effects of herbal incense and have also used most of the potent ones as well. Some of them correct should be banned i do believe. But i use in moderation and have seen none if any side effects to these. But i do have a tolerance to them. jwh-018 to be specific. By its own its potent. But most of the other jwh’s out there arent really that good. jwh-122 is an extender type and jwh-73 is more a glow. none of the same magic as 018. But the other ones by themselfs arent much to shake a stick at. but the way they word this they really wanted to attack most of the ones used period. Personally i think this proves a point…Widespread panic of the common person who doesnt smoke pot is going to be the same if its chemically synth. or natural thc. Now the outcome of the common person getting high on legal or illegal substances are the same. nothing. people get high behind closed doors all the time. all these chemicals being invented are leading to the legalization of marijuana and thc like products. we will see it in the next few months if not years. specially in 2012 when california will pass legalization. alcohol and tobacco claim 700,000 lives a year. marijuana to this date – 0. It all boils down to the government flexing its muscles again and telling us what we can and cant do as free citizens.

  • Nov 28th 201113:11
    by tom smith

    Reply

    marijuana is safer than all of the prescription drugs and over the counter drugs in existence. take a bottle of tylenol or advil to the face and you are most likely going to die. take a bag of marijuana to the face and you WILL not die. trust me i know hundreds of people that wouldve been dead long ago. i know SO MANY functioning good hearted members of society that smoke marijuana recreationally much like alcohol. its doesnt hurt anyone. like someone said its been used for 5000+ years and no known deaths or illnesses. ive been using it daily for about 25 years and now i only vaporize it, so that im not ingesting burning plant matter. (all burning plant matter contains benzene and toulene which are known aromatic compounds that cause cancer) the actual active ingredient in marijuana(THC) helps fight cancer cells due to its anti-angiogenic properties. look that up if you need to david, its true. ask Dr. William Li. im also living proof. so yes i agree, to the fact that large quantities of the synthetic stuff cause unwanted side-effects. however large quantities of marijuana (would have to be cooked and eaten to consume the most possible) will only make you drowsy…in small amounts ( ajoint) it acts as a stimulant, like coffee. its true i smoke with my coffee every night. you lawmakers are the biggest group of idiots ive ever seen. period.

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