By Robert B. Barnett Jr., J.D.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has published notice of its intent to place temporarily five synthetic cannabinoids (the chemicals found in marijuana) on schedule 1 of the United States Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. §801 et seq.). A drug is placed on Schedule 1 because it has high abuse potential, no medical use, and serious safety concerns. Once a drug is placed on schedule 1, manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense that drug becomes illegal (Proposed rule, 83 FR 24696, May 30, 2018).
Background. According to the DEA, the first occurrence of the illicit use of synthetic cannabinoids in the U.S. was in November 2008, when it was seized by Customs and Border Patrol. In the intervening years, various versions of synthetic cannabinoids have been included on schedule 1. As those versions are made illegal, distributors have developed new versions, typically slight variations of those versions deemed illegal. The five newer versions targeted by this notice are known as: (1) NM2201, (2) 5F-AB-PINACA, (3) 4-CN-CUMYL-BUTINACA, (4) MMB-CHMICA, and (5) 5F-CUMYL-P7AICA.
Justification. To justify its decision to include the variants on schedule 1, the DEA notice argues that the synthetic cannabinoids cause altered mental status, hallucinations, seizures, confusion, loss of consciousness, tachycardia, and slurred speech. It contends that acute and chronic abuse has been linked to adverse health effects including signs of addiction and withdrawal, emergency room visits, toxicity, and death. It also warns that use of the synthetic cannabinoids can lead to the need for psychiatric treatment. These five versions, the DEA says, are easily available in the U.S. and are easily abused. Placement on schedule 1 is necessary to avoid "an imminent hazard to the public safety." The synthetic cannabinoids have no accepted medical use in the U.S.
Effective date. The temporary placement of the five synthetic cannabinoids on schedule 1 will take effect on the date that a temporary scheduling order is issued, which will not be before June 29, 2018.
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