Thursday, March 12, 2009

Concerns expressed over Spice in European countries

At the end of 2008, concern was expressed in some European countries in relation to ‘Spice’, a herbal mixture monitored since early last year by the EMCDDA’s early-warning system (EWS) on new psychoactive substances. Spice refers to a blend of plant or herbal ingredients, including Indian Warrior and Lion's Tail (1).

A number of Spice products can be bought on the Internet, as well as in head shops and smart shops in some Member States, and are sometimes sold as a mix of air-freshening herbs. A 2008 EMCDDA study into ‘legal highs’ sold via the web, found that Spice was frequently offered as a smoking blend (i.e. 37 % online shops investigated) (2). Different blends and flavours are marketed under a variety of names including: Spice silver, Spice gold, Spice diamond, Spice tropical synergy and Spice Yucatan fire.

Some users have reported that, when smoked, Spice products can have similar effects to those produced by cannabis. This may be due to the fact that a new psychoactive substance, JWH-018 (Naphthalen-1-yl-(1-pentylindol-3-yl) methanon) (3) — a synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist —has been identified in Germany and Austria in at least three Spice products (gold, silver and diamond). It is currently unclear whether JWH-018 is present in all Spice products or merely in some types or batches. It is also possible that other natural or synthetic psychoactive substances are being surreptitiously added to Spice products.

Responding to potential health concerns, Germany and Austria have taken legal action in recent weeks to ban or otherwise control Spice products. In Austria, a directive under the Medicines Act of 7 January 2009 declares that ‘smoking mixes containing JWH-018’ are Towards the better treatment of addiction.

Ongoing research can make a valuable prohibited from being imported or marketed in the country. And the Austrian authorities continue to review whether control is required under its Narcotic Drugs Law. In Germany, following rapid control under the national Pharmaceutical Law in 2008, an emergency regulation (in effect from 22 January), brought five cannabinoids found in Spice mixes under the Narcotic Drugs Law (one of which is JWH018).

Jennifer Hillebrand, Brendan Hughes and Roumen Sedefov

(1) Others include: Baybean, Blue Lotus, Dwarf Scullcap, Honey, Lousewort, Maconha Brava, Marsh mallow, Pink Lotus, Red Clover, Rose, Siberian Motherwort and Vanilla.
(2) Hillebrand, J., Olszewski, D., Sedefov, R. (in press) Substance Use and Misuse, Vol 45.
(3) Another chemical name is (1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl) indole).