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JWH "Synthetic Marijuana" Drug Tests Coming Soon


Urinalysis: They could be looking for "synthetic marijuana" soon.
Urinalysis: They could be looking for "synthetic marijuana" soon.
Wikimedia Commons

Since we first reported on a synthetic cannabinoid compound called JWH back in February, "herbal incense" blends containing the compound have been selling like crazy on the Internet and at head shops. An Arizona company even claims to now sell pure, lab-made JWH in powder form.

But for all its popularity (and potential impending illegality in the 44 states where it is still unregulated, which include Arizona), one frequently asked question remains: Will JWH show up on a drug test?

The answer, until now, has been "probably not." But last month, scientists in the United Kingdom developed a test to detect JWH compounds in herbal incense, and a multi-million dollar drug testing company in the U.S. is currently working on a JWH test they hope to introduce by the end of the year.

One reason JWH and herbal incense blends have been popular with military personnel and athletes (both jobs that generally require drug tests) is because JWH won't show up as marijuana on a test that's specifically looking for pot. Though JWH is believed to have the same effect on the human brain as THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana), it is a synthetic substance and does not produce the metabolite (THC-COOH) in urine that indicates marijuana use.

To put it simply, a drug test would have to specifically screen for JWH chemicals to detect them. Until last month, no such tests existed -- but they are being developed and they will be coming stateside soon.

A chemical diagram of the JWH-018 compound.
A chemical diagram of the JWH-018 compound.
Wikimedia Commons

Last month, scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University in England developed a test capable of quickly identifying the presence of JWH compounds in herbal incense blends like Spice and K2. Dr. Craig Banks and his colleagues took a Spice blend called Gold Spirit, and through a complicated process known as standard gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), they were able to isolate the JWH compounds and determine the quantity inside the herbal blend.

The test is being hailed as a potentially vital tool for law enforcement; it would allow forensic labs to find JWH in consumer products (JWH is illegal in the United Kingdom). The fact that Manchester Metropolitan University's test is geared more toward product policing and not human urinalysis might be a comfort to JWH smokers -- it if weren't for the fact that a urinalysis test for JWH is being developed right now in the United States.

Drug Free Sport, a company that handles drug testing for the NFL and NCAA, is currently working on a test to detect JWH chemicals in athletes. The National Center for Drug Free Sport Inc. hopes the test will be available by the end of this year.

The focus on athlete testing might be a comfort to non-athletes who smoke JWH, but given the pace at which U.S. states are making JWH illegal (six since February, with seven others considering similar bans), there's always the chance that a JWH test will soon be readily available -- and used -- in areas where the compound is controlled.


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