Synthetic pot developed with help of taxpayer money

by: Tom Regan Updated:

ATLANTA,None —

Congress is now cracking down on synthetic marijuana, a health danger made illegal in the state of Georgia after a Channel 2 Action News investigation. Channel 2's Tom Regan has learned the original compound in synthetic marijuana was discovered by taxpayer-funded research.

Synthetic pot is far more powerful and more dangerous than real marijuana. The substance has triggered nearly 5,000 calls to poison control hotlines and sent users, including Josh, a college student from metro Atlanta, to the hospital after a near fatal seizure.

"I wake up three hours later with my mom crying next to me. It was scary to think that could definitely have been the end of my life," said Josh.

Ironically, the original compound in synthetic pot was developed through a $2 million research grant from a government agency whose job it is to curb drug abuse and addiction.

"I think it's unfortunate that some people have decided to take this information and use it to potentially harm others," said Dr. David Shurtleff.

The Institute on Drug Abuse told Regan the purpose of the taxpayer funded project was to study the interaction between THC and cannabinoid receptors in the brain in hope of finding a formula to treat cancer obesity and chronic pain.

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Instead the published research was hijacked to create a new dangerous high, by underground chemists, including some in China.

"We can't not publish this information. It has to be there so people can build on the knowledge base," said Shurtleff.

The original compound in synthetic THC is JWH-018. The initials of its creator retired chemistry professor John W. Huffman.

"You never designed this for consumption?" Regan asked Huffman.

"No, no, they were designed as research tools only," replied Huffman.

"Once I got the first report I knew this stuff was going to spread," said Huffman.

Regan recently sat down with the 79-year-old Huffman at his North Carolina home. Huffman talked about his decade-long research project at Clemson University and said that he never could have imagined his work would end up getting sprayed onto plant material, packaged and sold in shops worldwide.

"I did an interview for Russian TV. They accused me of trying to poison the youth of Russia because a young woman had been smoking it and she dove out a 10-story window," said Huffman.