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EX-SCRA – Exposing Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists

CLEAR has launched a new campaign called of “EX-SCRA – Exposing Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists” (See here) because this is an issue the cannabis law reform campaign has not so far been active in, but which is very relevant to the cause of cannabis law reform; the so-called “legal highs” trade in synthetic imitation cannabis.

Prohibition – the basis of the laws that apply to cannabis – is justified by its supporters as being in place to protect people from the claimed dangers of cannabis use. What was supposed to happen was prohibition would prevent the commercial trade and no trade was supposed to prevent a large scale demand for cannabis; people were expected to obey the law in other words, hence the deluded idea that prohibition represented a form of “control”. It has, over the years, become a very well funded delusional form of control with dire consequences.

As we know, things haven’t turned out as planned; millions of British people use cannabis, the vast majority without harm. This huge demand has produced the industry that now illegally supplies this demand. The police spend countless millions of pounds trying to close the trade down, which simply pushes the price up, increasing the profit incentive. Not only that but money spent on trying to support the prohibition regime has created yet another new problem to add to the anarchy and uncontrolled mayhem  we are all so familiar with.

We have the pressure cooker effect of ever greater repression; ever greater expenditure fueling ever bigger profits and therefore ever more organised criminal involvement in the trade. There is a constant supply of entrepreneurs looking for a way into this trade and an eager reserve of consumers ready to support the supply. Add to this funding from the US National Institute of Drug Abuse  which created a whole wad of new chemicals that simply never exited before, the globalisation of  trade and the internet to supply the product and suddenly prohibition has found a new and potentially very dangerous way to fail; a true own goal of epic proportions funded by the American tax payer.

The important thing to remember about cannabis is that it isn’t a new drug,  it’s been used for thousands of years – the earliest documented use being around 5000 years ago in China (2,700BC). Indeed, what scientists now know about the workings of the brain is very mixed up with the study of cannabis, so much so that the part of the brain which cannabis compounds (Cannabinoids) work on are called “Cannabinoid receptors”. The brain doesn’t make Cannabinoids, it produces Endocannabinoids which share some of the same properties as the cannabis compounds.  All this has lead to the discovery of the “Endocannabinoid system” (wikipedia) , which turns out to be a vital, although very complex regulating system for the human body.

But what is clear to see from all the recent hype about so-called “skunk” is that a change – not in the actual chemicals made by the cannabis plant but simply in the proportion of those chemicals (THC/CBD) – is thought to be capable of leading to mental health problems for some vulnerable people, albeit a small proportion of consumers. What we have now is the introduction of entirely new compounds which target the same parts of the brain as cannabis does, chemicals who owe nothing to evolution or the natural world and everything to drug war research. Anyone want to bet this is a good thing?

Given that cannabis and the products it produces were illegal, scientists were bound, sooner of later, to look for other compounds that interacted with the Cannabinoid receptors in the brain, either because the law makes it illegal to work with cannabis compounds or- as seems to have happened – prohibition simply provided the funding to do so. Such compounds are called “Agonists” (wikipedia) and so these new synthetic chemicals are termed “Synthetic Cannabinoid receptor Agonists” or SCRAs (google scholar search)

The important point to make is that SCRAs are not cannabis type Cannabinoids – they are not the product of the cannabis plant. Hence they are described as “Synthetic Cannabinoids”, They should not as is often done be called  “Synthetic cannabis”. They are totally new compounds which work on the same parts of the brain as do Cannabinoids, but what they do in the process to the workings of the endocannabinoid system will be different to the effect real Cannabinoids  have; it will be specific to each individual SCRA. The long term impact of these chemicals isn’t clear yet – indeed no-one has a clue of what it might be. In the short term apparently they produce an effect that is a little like getting stoned and of course, that’s all the business people who want to make money are interested in; they have a new product to sell that the prohibition laws don’t cover.

John Huffman

John Huffman, inventor of SCRAs

The scientist responsible for all this has retired now, but is still alive; Dr Huffman of Clemson University in the US. According to the” Central Science” website

 The only reason Huffman doesn’t tell his fans to go ahead and smoke marijuana instead, is because it’s illegal. Huffman does not break the law.

Interestingly it seems these compounds were developed with money provided by perhaps the world leader in prohibition promotion: The USA’s “National Institute of Drug Abuse”  (NIDA) ABC news claims

Professor John W. Huffman of Clemson University was given a grant by the National Institute of Drug Abuse to create drugs that mimic the effects of THC.


The U.S. government might not be scrambling to ban “Spice,” the “legal marijuana” that’s sending teens to emergency rooms across the country, if it hadn’t helped invent the drug in the first place.

Huffman first obtained the NIDA grant in 1984, which ultimately totaled $2,564,000, when the government asked him to synthesize the human metabolite of THC. In the 1990s, NIDA asked him to switch gears, and either develop medicine or study the “cannabinoid receptors” in the brain, which respond to marijuana.

The suspicion is NIDA wanted to produce an “Antagonist” for cannabis; a product which would block the effects of Cannabinoids and so prevent people getting stoned. It’s  a sort of sick minded antidote to pleasure, the idea of inoculating people against drugs is still a dream of prohibitionists. Either way, the pedigree of SCRAs realy couldn’t be worse, they were actually created by drug war funding, an own goal of stupefying proportions, seriously you couldn’t make this up. As a result of this drug war money, Dr Huffman synthesised around 500 different SCRAs, by now there are probably many more.

SCRA’s first turned up here as products such as “Spice”,  “K2” and various other brands. They are made up to look like a herbal high, inert herbs are sprayed with the SCRA chemicals or gooey brown stuff  mixed up with SCRAs to look like hash. Of course, the government has banned some SCRAs, but prohibition is never going to control the flood of new variants now hitting the market; ever more untested products produced without any form of regulation or control and sold by people with not the slightest idea of the real nature of the product they are selling. It’s easy enough to find SCRA products on the internet and this isn’t likely to stop any time soon.

Make no mistake, this has only come about because of the workings of prohibition which has created the perverted economic situation that opened the door to the trade in the products it created. There is only one way to close this door and to end the trade in SCRAs; legalise the trade in real cannabis.

So the CLEAR campaign called EX-SCRA is more than just an awareness campaign, it’s also a campaign for real cannabis.