Spice / K2 Is Now Illegal

We wrote in January about the fact that Spice, despite popular belief, was still legal according to federal law (see Spice Still Available? for the details). Individual states (18 at the last count) had made it illegal according to state law but the majority of people in America still had access to the synthetic marijuana product Spice. Some rejoiced, some were chagrined. In fact I took note of Spice products in local stores this past month. So shop owners were exercising their rights regardless of the warning issued Nov. 24th that Spice would eventually be taken off the market. (And they may continue selling Spice products even though it’s not illegal for a number of reasons we’ll look at below).

Yesterday the DEA put its notice making Spice / k2 products illegal on the Federal Register. You can check out the full notice on the DEA website. Basically, it temporarily places five of the compounds that make Spice mimic marijuana on Schedule I (the same Schedule where marijuana and heroin reside). Those compounds are: JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, CP-47,497 C8 homologue. Since they are on Schedule I, the same regulations and penalties that apply to other illegal drugs on that Schedule now apply to Spice…which just yesterday was being sold in your local corner store. The law is effective as of yesterday, March 1, 2011.

The controversial products that people call "fake pot" are still on the market.

One of the products targeted by the ban

Spice is being placed on Schedule I because it has been deemed an “imminent hazard” to public safety. To do this the Attorney General had to determine “the history and current pattern of abuse,” the “scope, duration, and significance of abuse,” and the “risk there is to public health, including actual abuse, diversion from legitimate channels, and clandestine importation, manufacture or distribution.”

Some of the aspects of synthetic cannabinoids flagged in the notice include:


  • The substances were not intended for human consumption;
  • Healthcare professionals and law enforcement suggest that the substances are used for their psychoactive properties;
  • Spice/k2 compounds are associated with adverse health effects;
  • No non-research related legitimate use for Spice/k2, such as a therapeutic/medical use, has been found;
  • There is no evidence that their addiction to incense products adds any value, as the substances have no odor [one of the aspects Spice smokers most liked about the product - Ed. note];
  • There have been very few clinical investigations of Spice / k2 so there is almost no information regarding the pharmacology, toxicology and safety of the product;
  • The cannabinoids are manufactured overseas or in private homes without any regulation or quality control;
  • The packaging is also without regulation or quality control.

The other thing about the packaging is that it is a bit reminiscent of cigarette packaging, before the many regulations were passed to prevent tobacco companies from advertising to kids.  Although the DEA does not explicitly come out and say this, there is a concern that the way they are packaged is suggestive of their inappropriate use and of their psychoactive properties.

So, Spice is now illegal.  While we knew it was coming, the notice may leave us with more questions than it does answers.  For example, have shop owners been notified?  How are they supposed to dispose of the product (David Kroll goes into that and similar questions in his blog entry “6 Big Questions on the DEA Ban of K2 Spice Synthetic Marijuana “Fake Pot” Compounds”)?  The notice explains that the five compounds and their isomers are targeted by the law…but does that include all the possible synthetic cannabinoids available?  Finally, spice drug testing is now available, and will soon be coming to the home market as well (in fact we will be carrying home drug test kits from Confirm Biosciences very soon), but is detection technology advanced and ubiquitous enough to be effective?  Some states (such as Massachusetts) have passed laws to decriminalize marijuana, presumably to avoid applying valuable resources to a very commonly used drug.  How will police departments have to change procedure or adapt resources to deal with this notice?

In any case, this story will no doubt continue to develop.  But the word is out, for shop owners and consumers alike – as of yesterday, you have to stay away from Spice.

Picture of K2 varieties from “The Pitch”

3 comments

  1. joseph granillo says:

    Im confused as to why spice is still being sold over the counter? Why is it illegal, yet people are still selling it in stores and markets?

  2. Jordan says:

    There is no possible way to test for Legal marijuana, The chemicals are constantly changing the test are not up to date .

  3. admin says:

    There are many tests available, see Redwood Toxicology. I agree the makers will keep changing the chemicals in Spice, but I think the drug testing industry will keep changing just as quickly.
    On the official website for the US Navy, they said
    “In March 2012, the Navy announced that it has begun random testing of urine samples for synthetic chemical compounds like Spice. The Navy’s capacity for testing for designer drugs will continue to expand. During fiscal year 2012 the Navy will invest $1.73 million to test for synthetic chemical compounds and expects to increase that amount to $2.9 million in fiscal year 2013.”