Synthetic cannabis strikes again. Also known as “spice”, the drug is made by spraying man-made cannabinoid compounds onto a different herb. The product is often smoked and is thought of as a safe substitute for cannabis. Unfortunately, that could not be farther from the truth. A new type of spice has been making the rounds, and this one is 85 times more powerful than cannabis and turning people into zombies. The mastermind behind the drug? Pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer.
A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a new designer drug has hit the black market. While the focus has been on opiates for the past several months, this one is a synthetic cannabinoid.
This time, it’s in the form of a drug is called AMB-FUBINACA, which was patented by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in 2009.
By January of 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified AMB-FUBINACA as a Schedule 1 drug. A few months later, a derivative of the cannabinoid was being sold as Train Wreck 2 in Louisiana.
It was quickly banned through an emergency ruling by the State of Louisiana.
This year , the drug was found again in Brooklyn. Emergency workers arrived at a “Zombieland”. 33 people, all men, had taken an unknown drug and were listless. 18 were rushed to local hospitals.
Upon arrival, examiners were met with blank stares, groaning sounds, slow movements, and delayed communication from the patients. Bystanders interviewed at the scene described the group’s behavior as zombie-like.
Say no to spice
AMB-FUBINACA was disguised as a spice brand called AK-47 24 Karat Gold. The product is confusingly named after a cannabis strain, but this stuff is more Frankenstein than peaceful flower.
Though the original variant of the drug was created by Pfizer, the versions sold as quasi-legal products in convenience stores and smoke shops are manufactured overseas.
Much of the synthetic cannabis available to the public comes from illicit laboratories in China, which create chemical concoctions based on research conducted by pharmaceutical companies, universities, and medical institutions.
Pfizer confirmed to MarketWatch that the company has stopped development on AMB-FUBINACA. A Pfizer spokesperson commented,
Years ago we investigated a class of compounds for potential therapeutic value in treating cancer pain and inflammatory pain. Our work in this area was confined to the lab, never tested in patients, and eventually discontinued.
Yet, as the New York Times reports, access to a public patent may have opened doors to the creation of knockoff drugs. Synthetic cannabis is the fastest growing drug class on the market. Of 540 new psychoactive drugs that have been submitted to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 177 are synthetic cannabinoids.
Roy Gerona, a clinical chemist at the University of California in San Francisco, has concerns. He tells the New York Times,
There is this cat and mouse chase, with clandestine labs synthesizing new drug, waiting until it becomes scheduled and then moving to a new compound.
And they just keep getting stronger. Gerona closes out with the concern that while no single drug from illicit labs has killed thousands, it is a “scenario that is becoming more and more close to reality.”
Fortunately, a safer alternative is also rocketing around the United States. It is impossible to fatally overdose from real cannabis and the herb has a high margin of safety when compared to other, legal substances.
Unfortunately, synthetics are cheaper and will not show up positive on standard drug tests. Combatting this problem will take some serious reform.