The federal Drug Enforcement Administration will add five chemicals commonly used in herbal blend products that mimic the effects of marijuana to its list of controlled substances.
The emergency ban on the synthetic marijuana compounds makes it illegal to sell or possess products that contain such chemicals for at least a year and is set to take effect in December. The herbal blends, with names such as Spice, K2, Freedom and Genie, have grown in popularity in recent years and are sold in smoke shops nationwide and on the Internet.
The synthetic marijuana compounds have never been approved for human consumption, according to a pharmacologist who uses them in research.
“There’ve been no controlled clinical trials to tell us how dangerous they are to humans,” Steve Childers, a pharmacology professor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, said in a July interview with The Olympian.
In July, a 17-year-old Tumwater boy smoked an “herbal spice” product that had been purchased at an Olympia smoke shop, putting him in a hospital emergency room with muscle contractions, low blood pressure and a heart rate of 170 beats per minute.
The teen’s emergency room physician said he could have died. The teen’s mother, Jhanna Parker, said an 18-year-old friend of her son’s had obtained the product at Fire & Earth on Fourth Avenue. After the incident, Fire & Earth owner Sarah Schwarz said she would no longer sell the brand of herbs.
Schwarz said in July that the product label on herbal spice blends warns that “it is not fit for human consumption” and is meant to be sold as incense.
Fire & Earth announced Aug. 13 on its website that the store would resume selling herbal spice products, but only to people 21 and older.
“After much consideration, we have decided to continue offering herbal incense,” the announcement read, adding, “We strongly discourage misuse of these products and will continue to require a signed consent regarding dangers of misuse.”
Schwarz could not be reached Friday to comment on the federal ban.
The DEA’s “notice of intent” to temporarily control the chemicals found in herbal spice products was published Wednesday, and after an additional 30 days, the DEA will publish its final rule temporarily controlling the chemicals for one year. The chemicals will be designated as Schedule I substances, “the most restrictive category, which is reserved for unsafe, highly abused substances with no medical usage,” according to a news release from the DEA.
The DEA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will continue to study the chemicals used in herbal blends to determine whether they should be permanently controlled, the DEA news release states.
The DEA reported that since 2009, it has “received an increasing number of reports from poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement regarding these products.”
In the news release, DEA acting administrator Michele M. Leonhart stated: “Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that ‘fake pot’ is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case. Today’s action will call further attention to the risks of ingesting unknown compounds and will hopefully take away any incentive to try these products.”
Jim Williams, executive director of the Washington Poison Center, reported to The Olympian in July that the number of people being hospitalized after smoking herbal spice products was growing.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org