Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

'Spice' Users Left High and Dry?

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

'Spice' Users Left High and Dry?

Article excerpt

Most drug screens include a test for marijuana use, so it's no surprise that a "legal" substitute grew in popularity so quickly. For over a year, we've heard about synthetic THC being sold legally in "herbal incense" products, marketed under names like "Spice," "Genie" and "K2."

"People would take these substances hoping to prevent a positive drug screen," explains Sean Kobavashi, marketing director at Redwood Toxicology Laboratories, a national drug testing lab based in Santa Rosa, Calif. "They're being used as a way to beat the system."

Derived from chemical compounds, synthetic marijuana compounds, or cannabinoids, are usually produced in powder form, then d issol ved i nto I iquids and sprayed on herbal materials. They have been readily available on the Internet, in tobacco shops, gas stations, and even convenience stores. And not onlv were these "legal" substitutes for a marijuana high, but they were also undetectable to drug tests.

At least until recently.

On March 1, hve of the synthetic cannabinoids identified in Spice and K. 2 were classified as Class I controlled substances by the U.S. DrugEnforeemcnt Ad ministration (DEA). And even before these ingrethents were banned nationally, numerous labs had alYeadv been developing methods to add Spice and its counterparts to their drug testing panels.

"We were getting a lot of inquiries from customers who were run ning i nto issues w ith Spice," notes Matt Woc dcock, Ph D, d i rector of Rev D for Dominion Diagnostics, a Rhode Island-based drug testing lab. "There was a clear need to develop a test tor this."

Developing a reliable detection test

Over the last several months, labs have identified two compounds currently found in all Spice products as well as a number of chemically similar variations. The two. known as JWI 1-018 and JWlI-(Fs, serve as the primary receptor agonisrs that enable the synthetics to produce the marijuana-like effects.

"Most things we test tor are very defined and characterized, so this was definitely different," explains Woodcock. "Initially we had to look at everything, but once we knew what to look tor we were able to narrow it down and simplify the assay."

In order to come up with a test, labs had to develop standards based on the commercially available synthetics. Redwood Toxicology confirmed that JWl LOlK and JWH-073 were the active ingrethents in 2~ herbal mixtures. Then, it established methods to test tor the presence ot each compound's metabolites.

Dominion Diagnostics assembled a pool ot 25 patients whom clients had identified as potential Spice users. "Some were positive and so me were negative ," Wm id eoe k explains, "but we saw a trend where three metabolites were present at all times when we found a positive case."

Identifying the correct metabolites has been critical to developing reliable tests, accordingto Kobavashi. "When wewere Inst developing our test, some labs were claiming they had a K2 test, but it involved parent drug detection, which is completely unreliable - and not legally defensible." he says.

In fact, the compounds themselves don't usually appear in urine samples, so "voti really have to resi tor the metabolite to catch anyone usingSpice," says Woodcock. "lfyou only test for the compounds, you probably aren't going to catch many users."

Weighing test options and costs

In the few months that tests have been available, labs have had a surge of inquiries. "As soon as [tests were] launched, we started seeing a very high percentage ot positive results," notes Kobavashi. "So it very much con fi rmed ou r suspicions about how popula r this drug has become."

From an organizar ion's perspective, implementing Spice testing is easy; this specialty test is simply added to the more routine drug test panel. …

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