Synthetic Marijuana

Organic chemist, John Huffman invented the formula for synthetic marijuana

Synthetic Marijuana - A Bag of Spice Brand
Synthetic Marijuana - A Bag of Spice Brand. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons

Synthetic marijuana or cannabis is any of a number of different herbal and chemical blends that mimic the effects of the psychoactive properties of THC, the active ingredient found in real marijuana.

The exact blend of herbs and chemicals is different in the varying brands of synthetic marijuana, partially due to the changing laws, a chemical ingredient that might have been legal yesterday or today could be made illegal tomorrow.

As of March 1, 2011, five active ingredients, JWH-018, JWH-073, CP-47,497, JWH-200, and cannabicyclohexanol are now illegal in the United States.

Who Is John W. Huffman?

John Huffman is the unwitting inventor of the first synthetic marijuana, which he never intended on inventing. Huffman is a professor of organic chemistry at Clemson University, and it's his intials JWH that are used to name chemicals such as JWH-073 and JWH-018, since he is the one who first synthesized them.

Around twenty-five years ago with funding by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, John Huffman began researching a class of compounds known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids bind to receptors in the brain, in the same way that the THC in real marijuana does. In the summer of 1995, the first one hundred milligrams of JWH-018, a synthetic cannabinoid, was manufactured by Huffman's students, tested on laboratory mice, and a report was written.

JWH-018 was forgotten about by John Huffman and his research team. However, a few years later JWH-018 resurfaced as part of a smoking mixture intended as a substitute for real marijuana, that allowed a user to pass a drug test, avoid arrest, and get high.

John Huffman has received considerable negative criticisms for his research, a Moscow TV station accused Huffman of trying to poison Russia's youth.

To be fair his research shows promise for the treatment of nausea, glaucoma and use as appetite stimulants. Huffman himself likens smoking synthetic marijuana as playing Russian roulette since you don't know what it's going to do to you. He was/is not involved commercially with any synthetic marijuana products. Entrepreneurs have copied John Huffman's formula's after reading his published papers.

Brand Names and Trademarks

Synthetic marijuana has been sold under a variety of brand names, including: Spice, K-2, King Krypto, Puff, Tribal Warrior, Sleep Walker, Black Mamba, and Skunk. It is often sold as herbal incense and marked as not for human consumption.

Spice was the first commercial brand of synthetic marijuana that went on sale in Europe in 2004, manufactured by a company called The Psyche Deli in London, UK. Around 2008, competitive brands started appearing. Since the name Spice has been used so often in referring to synthetic marijuana. Spice has become a genericized trademark.

John Huffman - Background of Inventor

Doctor John Huffman earned his B.S. in 1954 from Northwestern University followed by his A.M. and Ph.D. in 1957 with the late Professor R. B. Woodward at Harvard. He began his academic career at Georgia Institute of Technology from 1957 to 1960.
He joined Clemson University as an assistant professor in 1960. He was an NSF Predoctoral Fellow at Harvard and received an NIH Career Development Award (1965-70). He was a visiting professor at Colorado State University in 1982.

According to his curriculum vitae, the principal emphasis in Dr. Huffman's research group is on the synthesis of analogues and metabolites of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol THC, the principal active component of marijuana. The long term goals of this research are two-fold and include the potential development of new pharmaceutical products and an exploration of the geometry of both the cannabinoid brain (CB1) and peripheral (CB2) receptors.