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Yesterday’s news has become today’s news, and likely will be tomorrow’s news, too.

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Synthetic cannabinoids are not new, and yet, they continually find their way back into the news. They return in the form of dangerous new variations, with more menacing and ironic names; while promising greater potency, and, so, more thrills. But these familiar and still illicit substances can be 85-times more powerful than marijuana. This “industrial strength” poison threatens users with both new symptoms and possibly significant harm. 

Synthetic cannabinoids first made national news on July 12, 2016, when the New York City Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were summoned to a block party in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. On the street, groups of partiers exhibited altered states of consciousness that would later be described as “zombie-like.” The zombie name struck a chord and stuck. The actual name of the substance, AMB-FUBINACA, was not nearly as well known. 

Two years earlier in Louisiana, a similar outbreak was attributed to an AMB-FUBINACA analog with the “trademarked” name “Train Wreck 2.” We don’t want to be seen as not taking this problem seriously. We do, so much in fact, that we’ve committed substantial resources to bring our panels to the fore of the industry. But we also think it would be a mistake for the medical industry and substance abuse specialists not to recognize the ingenuity and creativity of those who manufacture and distribute these substances. Ignoring this reality could prove detrimental to our finding new ways to detect new drugs through clinical testing. This is particularly true as the makers of these drugs are constantly innovating and creating new products, often with only slightly varied recipes.

In response to this shape-shifting phenomenon, Acutis has launched its updated Spice Menu, with new assays to reflect these barreling trends. 

These include 20 new analytes, including our AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB tests for the substances which represent over 61% of reported synthetic cannabinoids used in the U.S. These steps are of critical importance, particularly as young people are increasingly vaping drugs like K2, 24K Gold, and AK-47. The vaping trend is growing even as smoking in the traditional sense has fallen out of fashion.

As the article, “‘Zombie’ Outbreak Caused by the Synthetic Cannabinoid AMB-FUBINACA in New York” in the December 2016 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine by Axel J. Adams, B.S, Samuel D. Banister, PhD., Lisandro Irizarry, M.D. et al, made clear: Commonly abused drugs are undergoing a period of proliferation and diversification … [while] new psychoactive substances are providing users with alternatives to older and better-characterized drugs, such as amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, and cannabis.” The article reports that more than “540 new psychoactive substances have been reported to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.” 

And, of these, synthetic cannabinoids are the fastest growing class. Since 2008, there has been a significant uptick in the use of synthetic cannabinoids. First called “K2” in America and “Spice” in Europe, these designer drugs have a completely different chemical structure from plant-based THC, and so there’s nothing natural or predictable about the high.

We can expect to see an increase in the use of these drugs because of their low cost and the potential for dilution into large volumes of product. In light of these facts, Acutis will work with the medical community to develop ever and ever more sensitive tests to help identify even the faintest presence of the metabolites indicating AMB-FUBINACA and other, newer synthetics. 

We will also continue to research and expand our tests because as the article from The New England Journal of Medicine observed: The analysis of new psychoactive substances requires more than the typically targeted drug panels, [which is to say] success will rely on more sophisticated analytic platforms. [Platforms] that have the ability to rapidly identify previously unreported compounds.” 

We will judge our progress not only by developing the science and technology to detect very low concentrations of a drug or its metabolites, but also to predict and rapidly generate reference standards for previously unknown psychoactive substances. 

To learn more about Acutis’ work in this area, contact

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