13 Jan Nailing Jelly to the Wall

You can’t nail a jelly to the wall, it doesn’t work. If you doubt that claim there’s blog here that explains the difficulties, but to be fair most people would accept it’s a pointless thing to try to do. The main reason you can’t nail a jelly to the wall is not that you can’t get a nail through the thing, but that it breaks up into lots of small bits and the nail ends up not doing anything useful. The jelly still exists of course, but now it’s in a different shape and somewhere else.

The government’s drugs advisory committee the ACMD is having a similar problem with its attempts to add Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists (SCRAs), so-called “legal highs”, to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MoDA).

Now SCRAs present a very real problem; they are not, as is often claimed, “synthetic cannabis”. They are totally new chemicals unrelated to the cannabis plant or anything the cannabis plant produces. They are complex hydrocarbon molecules that act on the same part of the brain as does THC; “agonists” is scientist speak for a substance that goes to work on receptor areas of the brain and the receptor areas THC works on are called “cannabinoid receptors”.

Now brain chemistry is very complex stuff and even small changes in molecular structures can have huge differences in the effect chemicals have on the brain. By way of an example the two most common chemicals in cannabis are THC and CBD, they are very similar chemicals and yet have almost opposite effects on the brain. SCRAs are very different chemicals and although they do work on the same receptors as THC and so produce an effect a bit like getting stoned, nothing is known about what else they do or what happens if you have too much of them.

We have thousands of years of experience of cannabis, we know what it does. We have no experience of SCRAs, no understanding of any long term effects or even really that much knowledge of short term effects. The danger posed by SCRAs is very real and totally unquantifiable.

Hence the ACMD recommends they be added to the system they laughably call “drug control” and ban them under the MoDA, because as we know, prohibition is such an effective way of controlling drugs, ‘honest guv’. So the ACMD set out to define what SCRAs are so that they may be banned. The first nail was driven through the jelly with the publication of the ACMD definitions to be added to the MoDA with the “The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2013” (here).

4. For paragraph 1(c), substitute—
“(c)[2,3-Dihydro-5-methyl-3-(4-morpholinylmethyl)pyrrolo[1, 2, 3-de]-1,4-benzoxazin-6-yl]-1-naphthalenylmethanone.
[9-Hydroxy-6-methyl-3-[5-phenylpentan-2-yl] oxy-5, 6, 6a, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10a-octahydrophenanthridin-1-yl] acetate.
9-(Hydroxymethyl)-6, 6-dimethyl-3-(2-methyloctan-2-yl)-6a, 7, 10, 10a-tetrahydrobenzo[c]chromen-1-ol.

What could be difficult with that? It goes on

Any compound structurally derived from 3-(1-naphthoyl)indole, 3-(2-naphthoyl) indole, 1H-indol-3-yl-(1-naphthyl)methane or 1H-indol-3-yl-(2-naphthyl)methane by substitution at the nitrogen atom of the indole ring by alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cyanoalkyl, hydroxyalkyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, (N-methylpiperidin-2-yl)methyl or 2-(4-morpholinyl)ethyl, whether or not further substituted in the indole ring to any extent and whether or not substituted in the naphthyl ring to any extent.

This is starting to get a bit impractical you might think, but there’s more

Any compound structurally derived from 3-(1-naphthoyl)pyrrole or 3-(2-naphthoyl)pyrrole by substitution at the nitrogen atom of the pyrrole ring by alkyl, haloalkyl, alkenyl, cyanoalkyl, hydroxyalkyl, cycloalkylmethyl, cycloalkylethyl, (N-methylpiperidin-2-yl)methyl or 2-(4-morpholinyl)ethyl, whether or not further substituted in the pyrrole ring to any extent and whether or not substituted in the naphthyl ring to any extent.

And indeed it goes on like this for another six paragraphs and then adds another sub-section

1-Phenylcyclohexylamine or any compound (not being ketamine, tiletamine or a compound for the time being specified in paragraph 1(a) of Part 1 of this Schedule) structurally derived from 1-phenylcyclohexylamine or 2-amino-2-phenylcyclohexanone by modification in any of the following ways, that is to say,
(i)by substitution at the nitrogen atom to any extent by alkyl, alkenyl or hydroxyalkyl groups, or replacement of the amino group with a 1-piperidyl, 1-pyrrolidyl or 1-azepyl group, whether or not the nitrogen containing ring is further substituted by one or more alkyl groups;
(ii)by substitution in the phenyl ring to any extent by amino, alkyl, hydroxy, alkoxy or halide substituents, whether or not further substituted in the phenyl ring to any extent;
(iii)by substitution in the cyclohexyl or cyclohexanone ring by one or more alkyl substituents;
(iv)by replacement of the phenyl ring with a thienyl ring.”.

How is all this supposed to be enforced and, perhaps more importantly, how is anyone supposed to obey it? It all makes for a lot of substances which would now come under the prohibition laws, a lot of nails gone into the jelly. So how well fastened to the wall is this jelly? Well, as predicted, not at all. In the time all this was being written the development of SCRAs has moved on and they are now something else, chemicals not covered by the detailed list so painstakingly proposed. So all of the above is redundant before it’s even enacted. Dr Les King wrote in a blog on the ISCD site

“The latest report from ACMD proposes that those earlier definitions should be expanded to capture a wider range of cannabinoid agonists. Yet by the time that report appeared in October 2012, manufacturers had moved on. Table 1 (below) lists twelve substances (i.e. nearly half of the year’s total) that were notified to EMCDDA during 2012, none of which would be captured by the new ACMD recommendations.”

Dr King is wrong to call them “cannabinoid agonists”, they are “cannabinoid receptor agonists” as I’m sure he would accept – the difference is actually very important. You can see his table of substances on the blog by following the link, basically the recommendations are out of date before they’re even enacted, the jelly has fallen off the wall.

“Trying to stay one step ahead of the clandestine chemists would seem to be a futile exercise, involving the publication of regular and probably endless Modification Orders to the Misuse of Drugs Act. On the other hand, cannabinoid agonists are not harmless substances; they act in a similar way to THC. Furthermore, their varied, often high, potency relative to THC and their sale in unregulated products presents a real risk that users could consume excessive amounts in a way that is much less likely with cannabis or cannabis resin.”

That’s a somewhat begrudging way of saying they are more dangerous than cannabis. So what does Les King suggest?

“In conclusion, the answer is perhaps to do nothing.”

Stop putting any more nails in. Another way of saying this is the MoDA has failed, it cannot control these substances. Presumably then he is accepting they can be sold openly as a “safer” alternative to cannabis on the grounds that they are not illegal and therefore will not bring the user into conflict with the law. Also – as a bonus, will not show up on drug tests for employment or driving. Prohibition has been beaten, clearly for all to see.

If this is what happens, the prohibition law will really have created a problem. In its attempts to ban something known and relatively harmless – cannabis – it will have created an unknown, unquantifiable and uncontrollable problem. So in truth, “do nothing” is really not an option either. What we need to do is something different, something actually workable and which stops trying to do something that doesn’t work.

The market for SCRAs only exists because people want cannabis. The way to kill the trade in these synthetic drugs is to allow access the what people want – the real thing; cannabis.