"The scientific record demonstrates that the cost of discontinuing the pursuit of potentially life-saving medications, because such compounds could be illegally diverted and abused, would be unacceptably high."
You might expect that the quote above came from MPP or some other medical marijuana activists in response to critics who oppose medical marijuana laws. You’d be wrong. It’s actually from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the same agency that recently forced the National Cancer Institute to change its story after posting information on its website about marijuana’s efficacy in the treatment of cancer and chemotherapy side effects.
So what’s with the quote? You’ve probably heard of synthetic marijuana – K2 or “Spice” – which many people use instead of marijuana because (a) it’s legal (at least under federal law and in some states) and (b) it’s not going to get them fired if their employer drug tests. The chemicals are sprayed onto herbs which users smoke with the hopes of achieving a marijuana-like high. Unfortunately, while the chemicals are intended to mimic those in marijuana, they are actually much more dangerous and have led to numerous hospitalizations for rapid heart rate and blood pressure increases, anxiety, and hallucinations.
So where did the drug come from? Former Clemson University scientist John Huffman and his students discovered the compounds after obtaining a research grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). With a grant of just over $2.5 million dollars, Huffman and his students and colleagues spent a decade developing over 500 synthetic cannabinoids. NIDA had originally asked him to synthesize the human metabolite of THC, but later modified their request to ask Huffman to focus on potential medical applications and THC’s effect on the brain.
Now that the DEA has placed an emergency ban on several of the chemicals used to make it, NIDA is defending itself from accusations that it’s responsible for the scourge. When ABC News asked NIDA officials to comment on an upcoming story, they gave the quote above and pointed out that “[r]esearch into cannabinoids has the potential to usher in the next generation of pain medications as well as possible treatments for obesity and multiple sclerosis."
Of course, I don’t point all this out to belittle NIDA’s comments – it’s true that this research is incredibly important. But given their position, you’ve got to wonder why NIDA officials have been working so hard to stifle research of real marijuana for so long.
As for the popularity of the more dangerous fake marijuana, that’s prohibition for you. If people had a legal, regulated way to obtain real marijuana without fear of repercussions, there wouldn’t be a need to create more dangerous fake alternatives. As Dr. Huffman himself says, “I talked to a marijuana provider from California, a doctor, a physician, and he said that in California, that these things are not near the problem they are in the rest of the country simply because they can get marijuana … and it's essentially decriminalized. And marijuana is not nearly as dangerous as these compounds.”