Do you like zombies? Based on the ratings of all the shows that feature flesh-eating former humans having their rotting domes blasted off by sweaty survivors with 12-gauge shotguns, probably yes. Based on that info, would you be excited to hear that we have a drug on the market that is causing people to actually act like zombies? (Because of your probable aforementioned enjoyment of zombies is why I ask.) I hope so, because today we are going to look at "synthetic cannabis" and the Walking Dead.
We start with the discovery in the late 1980s of the cannabinoid receptor—the receptor in the brain that is stimulated by THC. Enter a Clemson University researcher named John W. Hoffman, or JWH as he is known, along with his legacy of products. JWH used funds from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to develop hundreds of "synthetic cannabinoids," named solely because they bind to the cannabinoid receptor, not because they get you stoned. Until then, THC from cannabis was what would "bind" to these receptors, so to discover that you could synthesize compounds that would also bind was a breakthrough for researchers. In 1993, JWH created a synthetic compound called JWH-018. He published the formulas through standard scientific information sharing channels, and a book called "The Cannabinoid Receptors."
Some 15 years later, in 2008, some very creative Germans with rather dark and disturbing intentions (who aren't Werner Herzog ) sprayed some synthetic cannabinoids, including JWH-018, onto some leaves, and sold it under the innocuous name "Spice."
This is where it gets bad.
Spice spread and calls to poison control centers grew. In 2009, 112 calls were made about synthetic cannabinoids. By 2011, it was 6,549. That year the Drug Enforcement Agency banned five synthetic cannabinoids, three of which were the work of JWH, who never intended his work to be used this way, and called the chemists who used his formula in this matter "idiots." In 2015, emergency rooms in New York City reported 6,000 visits related to Spice, and two deaths.
The formulas evolved and grew more sophisticated, which brings us up to the summer of 2016 (such an innocent time), when the zombies finally arrived. Say hello to K2, the zanier cousin of Spice. In July 2016, a group of regular users of the drug in Brooklyn had a very bad reaction to a new batch. There were 33 regular users, to be exact, who exhibited "altered mental states" and other serious effects, enough to be taken to hospitals. They were recorded by a passerby who said "..."It's like a scene out of a zombie movie, a horrible scene. This drug truly paralyzed people." He shot footage showing a real life hellscape of the unconscious and the soon-to-be-unconscious, most stumbling, empty-eyed, moaning, staggering and exhibiting other classic zombie-like behaviors.
This batch was sold under the very Trump-ish name AK-47 24 Karat Gold, and had a synthetic cannabinoid as its active ingredient known as AMB-FUBINACA. (But don't blame our buddy JWH, as this one was made by our newest, bestest friends, the good people at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.) AMB is 50 times stronger than its predecessor, K2. The Brooklyn batch tested at 85 times the potency of THC, and had 16 milligrams of AMB per 1 gram of product.
What twisted soul sucker of a pusher is slinging this poison? Until recently, convenience stores, which openly sold products labeled with such unambiguous labels as "Dank Potpourri." Yup, a quart of milk, chips and some Zombie Powder, please. It's been banned from store shelves recently, but enforcement can be spotty, and is readily available via street dealers.
This is (one reason) why your friendly neighborhood cannabis industry participant is in tears most days— because they are being choked into extinction by regulatory agencies treating them as a far greater threat to the community than stores that sell this garbage. It's hard to understand why the restrictions placed upon them are far more stringent than for other products that can turn you into a zombie.
Fuck synthetics, stick with organic, locally-sourced craft cannabis and avoid powders from foreign labs. These days are scary enough without real life zombies.