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JWH-018 is a synthetic cannabinoid developed by J.W. Hoffman in 1995. This compound was originally developed for the treatment of cancer. Over time, studies showed that JWH-18 and its halogenated derivatives (JWH-018-Br and JWH-018-Cl) are potent agonists at the CB1 and CB2 receptors. This means that JWH-018 can effectively substitute natural cannabinoids in animal model experiments and are expected to induce natural cannabinoids’ actions in humans. In 2013, the Journal of Toxicology and Pharmacology published the report of a study investigating the effects of JWH-018 and its metabolites in humans. Results from this research indicated that JWH-018 exhibits high affinity and demonstrates distinctive signaling properties at cannabinoid receptor type 2.
Why are JWH-018 and other synthetic cannabinoids popular?
Synthetic alternatives to natural products used in modern medicine are commonly developed to reduce the cost burden on patients. Many times, these compounds are developed to increase drug supply, especially in cases where the natural origin for the original drug is scarce. Since research inquiries have revealed the potent actions of JWH-018 and other synthetic cannabinoids on the cannabinoid receptors, marijuana users have turned to this drug for recreational purposes. Synthetic cannabinoids are popular for many reasons.
- Synthetic cannabinoids are readily available.
In 2016, Market Watch reported that a synthetic cannabinoid originally developed by Pfizer had been linked with the Brooklyn Drug Outbreak. Pfizer responded by explaining that the drug, JWH-018, was only investigated in the lab as a potential drug candidate for the treatment of cancer pain and inflammatory pain. Pfizer maintained that the drug was never tested in humans as development was eventually discontinued. Over time, many chemists have developed synthetic cannabinoids that are now marketed under different brand names. These drugs are also cheap and readily available in smoking mixtures sold online and in retail shops.
- Synthetic cannabinoids induce cannabis-like psychoactive effects.
Depending on quantity and frequency of use, many users have described the range of psychoactive effects observed using synthetic cannabinoids. In a large part, these effects are similar to those observed in long-term marijuana users. JWH-018 and other synthetic cannabinoids are potent agonists on the cannabinoid receptors and, as expected, induce a characteristic high linked with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Many reported that the mind-altering effects of JWH-018 are more pronounced than that of THC. This observation agrees with the report of a study published in 2010 by the European Journal of Pharmacology. In-vitro studies showed that compared to THC, which is only a partial agonist on cannabinoid receptor type 1, JWH-018 acts as a full and potent agonist at this receptor site.
- Synthetic cannabinoids are loosely regulated and perceived as safe.
Until 2011, there were no strict regulations guiding the distribution and use of synthetic cannabinoids in humans. In 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a notice of intent to temporarily place five synthetic cannabinoids, including JWH-018, into the Controlled Substances Act. Before 2010, synthetic cannabinoids were readily distributed across state boundaries and sold as ‘Legal Highs.’ These compounds were not strictly controlled and, at the same, not expressly legalized for use. Since these products were readily available and loosely controlled, many manufacturer label products containing these compounds as safe. These claims are not proven by any research and are, in many cases, profit-oriented. First-time users are often hooked to the pleasurable smell and taste of JWH-018 and, in some cases, experience addictive effects.
Cannabidiol and the use of JWH-018
JWH-018 and other synthetic cannabinoids are commonly used as alternatives to cannabidiol and other natural cannabinoids. Online websites and retailers sell these products without any age restrictions with unverified claims about therapeutic effects on the management of rare and chronic diseases in man. In the United States, under federal law, products containing JWH-018 are legal, although there are different state laws regulating the use and distribution of products containing synthetic cannabinoids.
JWH-018 is the active ingredient in many products labeled as “Natural Cannabinoid Alternatives” or “Synthetic Cannabinoids.” These products are used by users to induce a heightened feeling of happiness and overall well being. JWH-018 has also been reported to induce a state of calmness, relaxation, and sedation. However, there are different reports suggesting that JWH-018 can induce a dangerous level of sedation that causes coma in high doses. Generally, synthetic cannabinoids increase a user’s interest in enjoyment and food. This explains why users have reported increased appetite stimulation after using synthetic cannabinoids. JWH-018 is also used for pain relief and in the management of high blood pressure.
Synthetic cannabinoids are becoming increasingly popular among marijuana users, especially in countries where cannabis products are strictly regulated. There are limited research inquiries on the toxicology and safety of these products in humans. Many side effects have since been reported in long-term users of JWH-018 and other synthetic cannabinoids. However, there are reviews and publications investigating the potential of these products in integrative healthcare.