Hijacking of basic research The case of synthetic cannabinoids

By Jenny Wiley, Julie Marusich, John W Huffman, Robert L Balster, Brian Thomas

Gathering and communicating knowledge are important aspects of the scientific endeavor. Yet presentation of data in public forums such as scientific meetings and publications makes it available not only to scientists, but also to others who may have different ideas about how to use research findings. A recent example of this type of hijacking is the introduction of synthetic cannabinoids that are sprayed on herbal products and subsequently smoked for their marijuana-like intoxicating properties. Originally developed for the legitimate research purpose of furthering understanding of the cannabinoid system, these synthetic cannabinoids are being abused worldwide, creating issues for regulatory and law enforcement agencies that are struggling to keep up with the growing number of compounds of various structural motifs. Besides describing the history of this emerging public health problem, this Occasional Paper highlights opportunities for research related to health issues caused by the new synthetic cannabinoids.


Wiley, J., Marusich, J., Huffman, J. W., Balster, R. L., & Thomas, B. (2011). Hijacking of basic research: The case of synthetic cannabinoids. (RTI Press Publication No. OP-0007-1111). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press. https://doi.org/10.3768/rtipress.2011.op.0007.1111

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Jenny WileyJenny L. Wiley, PhD, is a leading expert in behavioral pharmacology. Dr. Wiley designs and supervises a program of in vivo research at RTI International, including the synthesis and development of candidate medications and investigation of neural mechanisms underlying substance abuse. She also conducts independent NIH grant-supported research in the area of cannabinoid pharmacology.

Julie MarusichJulie A. Marusich, PhD, is a research pharmacologist at RTI , where she works as part of the behavioral pharmacology team, focusing on the behavioral effects of drugs of abuse.

John W HuffmanJohn W. Huffman, PhD, is a professor emeritus of chemistry at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Robert L BalsterRobert L. Balster, PhD, is director of the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies and a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia.

Brian ThomasBrian F. Thomas, PhD, is Principal Scientist, Analytical Chemistry and Pharmaceutics, at RTI International. He has more than 20 years of experience in analytical chemistry and mass spectrometry. He is the principal investigator/co-principal investigator on two National Institute on Drug Abuse repository and purity specification contracts. His principal duties include overseeing the development of chromatographic assays and spectrophotometric assays for the qualitative and quantitative analysis of bulk chemicals or chemicals in dosage formulations, biological fluids, tissues, or other complex matrices. Dr. Thomas was recently awarded RTI’s President’s Award for his scientific contributions to the institute.

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