“Synthetic marijuana” chemist John W. Huffman interviewed on regional NPR program
Jan26

“Synthetic marijuana” chemist John W. Huffman interviewed on regional NPR program

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...

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WSJ Feature on “The Other Chemistry”

Jeanne Whalen, a Wall Street Journal reporter based in London, had an article yesterday on the European aspects of a phenomenon we've been discussing here at Terra Sig since the beginning of the year: the adoption of academic chemistry to produce legal intoxicants that are just on this side of the law. Whalen spends the first half of her article talking with David Llewellyn, a middle-aged Scotsman in Belgium who works with a chemistry colleague to scour the literature for synthetic schemes and basic pharmacology to manufacture "legal highs." I've spoken before about Clemson University chemistry professor emeritus, John W. Huffman, and his cannabimimetic naphthoylindoles synthesized in the 1990s that are now creating a buzz, as it were, in the US in the form of herbal incense and synthetic marijuana products. In Whalen's article, Llewellyn is quoted as finding the work of Purdue University pharmacologist, Dr. David E. Nichols, as a particularly fruitful information source. Nichols, the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology in the College of Pharmacy is not particularly pleased: "The drugs we make often end up on the black market, and it's very troubling to me," he says. Particularly worrying is that the drugs are rarely tested in humans before hitting the street. Random people sometimes write to him to ask for help in making certain chemicals, he says. He doesn't reply out of caution. "When people use this stuff chronically, on a weekly basis—suppose it produces liver cancer?" he asks. Also of concern are effects on the kidneys and bone marrow. Most of the designer drugs haven't been tested in humans at all, let alone in large clinical trials. Dr. Nichols says he himself only ever carried out animal tests of the compounds that others are now copying and selling. Whalen also speaks with St. George's University of London toxicologist, Dr. John Ramsey, about his efforts to keep up a database from identification of street drugs as they appear. It's a fascinating article on an issue that chemists and law enforcement have been dealing with for decades. Source: Jeanne Whalen (with Kersten Zhang), In Quest for 'Legal High,' Chemists Outfox Law, Wall Street Journal, 30 October 2010. Hat-tip: Aaron Rowe via...

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