The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has temporarily shut down access to five chemicals used to produce "fake pot" products now being marketed in stores and online, making the possession and sale of the chemicals or the products that contain them illegal in the U.S. for at least a year.
The ruling will remain in effect while the DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services further study whether these chemicals and products should be permanently controlled. The smokable herbal blends have gained in popularity in recent months, primarily among teenagers and young adults.
"The American public looks to the DEA to protect its children and communities from those who would exploit them for their own gain," said DEA acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that 'fake pot' is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case.
"Today's action will call further attention to the risks of ingesting unknown compounds and will hopefully take away any incentive to try these products," she said.
A "Notice of Intent to Temporarily Control" was published in the Federal Register on Wednesday to alert the public concerning the action. After no fewer than 30 days, DEA will publish in the Federal Register a "Final Rule to Temporarily Control" these chemicals for at least 12 months with the possibility of a six-month extension.
They will be designated as "Schedule I" substances, the most restrictive category, which is reserved for unsafe, highly abused substances with no medical use.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, sent a letter earlier this month to Mrs. Leonhart asking that the fake pot be regulated, saying use of the products was reaching "epidemic proportions" in his state.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that at a time when drug use among America's youth is on the rise, "it is critical that parents act today to talk to young people about the harms of drug use, including synthetic marijuana products like Spice and K2 that are marketed as 'incense.'"
"I commend the DEA for using their emergency scheduling authority to protect public health by keeping these substances away from young people," the White House drug czar said. "Until the risks associated with ingesting these products and chemicals can be studied and understood, there is no place for them on the shelves of any legitimate business."
Over the past year, the DEA said smokable herbal blends have been marketed as being "legal" and that they provide a marijuanalike high. These products, according to the DEA, consist of plant material that has been coated with research chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet.
But the DEA said these chemicals have not been approved by the FDA for human consumption and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process. The agency said brands such as Spice, K2, Blaze and Red X Dawn are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.
Since 2009, the DEA said it has received an increasing number of reports from poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement regarding these products. Fifteen states have already taken action to control one or more of these chemicals.
The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to allow the DEA administrator to emergency schedule an abused, harmful, nonmedical substance in order to avoid an imminent public health crisis while the formal rule-making procedures described in the CSA are being conducted.
Synthetic pot has been developed over the last 30 years for research purposes, according to the DEA. The substances haven't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human use. Multiple shipments of the chemicals have been intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and bulk loads have been seized by U.S. law enforcement.
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