24 February 2011

Drugs and Chemicals of Concern > Spice Cannabinoid > JWH-073
Information and Legal Resources Banner

Drugs and Chemicals of Concern

[Synthetic Cannabinoid in Herbal Products]

November 2010


JWH-073 is a synthetic cannabinoid agonist without the classical cannabinoid chemical structure. It is used in scientific research as a tool to study the cannabinoid system. The substance has been identified in the herbal products “Spice”, “K2”, and others sold via the internet and head shops. Although JWH-073 might have similar effects in humans as Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the main active ingredient of marijuana, it is not controlled in the U.S.

Licit Uses:

JWH-073 is used in basic scientific research to identify cannabinoid receptors in the brain and study Δ9-THC’s mechanisms of action.


1-Butyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole or JWH-073 (Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) Registry Number 208987-48-8) has been identified as a substance that has some pharmacological similarities to tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) contained in Cannabis sativa L. (marijuana). However, it is not related in chemical structure to tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), or other cannabinoids contained in marijuana. Nor is it structurally related to other substances controlled under the CSA.

The chemical structure of JWH-073 (left) and Δ9-THC (right), a compound representative of THC substances that occur in marijuana, are shown below.

The chemical structure of JWH-073 (left) and ? 9-THC (right), a compound representative of THC substances that occur in the cannabis plant,

Based on the structural analysis, JWH-073 is not categorized as a THC substance, and is not similar in chemical structure to other substances controlled under the CSA.


Behavioral pharmacology studies show that JWH-073 has Δ9-THC-like activity in animals. In mice, it decreases overall activity, produces analgesia, and decreases body temperature. Together with the production of catalepsy (effect for which JWH-073 was not tested), these four effects are used by scientists to predict Δ9-THC-like psychoactivity in humans. JWH-073’s activity in the three tests conducted suggests that it might have Δ9-THC-like psychoactive effects in humans.

In vitro studies show that JWH-073 binds to both the brain cannabinoid receptor CB1 with higher affinity than THC and the peripheral cannabinoid receptor CB2 with similar affinity as Δ9-THC, suggesting that it would have the same effects as Δ9-THC in vivo.

Illicit Uses:

JWH-073 has been identified in numerous herbal products including “Spice”, “K2”, and other similar products which may be smoked for their psychoactive effects.

User Population:

The primary abusers are youth purchasing these substances from internet websites, gas stations, convenience stores, tobacco shops and head shops.

Illicit Distribution:

The System to Retrieve Drug Evidence (STRIDE) is a federal database for the seized drugs analyzed by DEA forensic laboratories and the National Forensic Laboratory System (NFLIS) is a system that collects drug analysis information from state and local forensic laboratories. These systems contain more than 500 reports of various synthetic cannabinoids in seized exhibits from over 20 states. In addition, there have been more than 1,500 reports about these drugs to Poison Control Centers nationwide as of September 2010.

Control Status:

JWH-073 is not currently controlled under the CSA. However, some of the synthetic cannabinoids and herbal products have been controlled in numerous states including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee.