State and local police and the Washington County district attorney’s drug task force raided nine retail establishments today as part of a nationwide crackdown on businesses suspected of selling a chemical compound with a marijuana-like effect on the brain, Washington County First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas said.
According to a press release from the district attorney’s office, undercover detectives and police officers have been buying the compound from Washington County stores for months.
Search warrants were granted and teams that included state, county, and local police searched the establishments this morning, Mr. Lucas said.
Mr. Lucas said officials would not disclose the locations of the searches because the searches are ongoing.
The Pennsylvania State Police have called a press conference for 4 p.m. today to discuss the warrants.
The raids reflected growing concern nationwide over the traffic of the compound, also known by the names “K2” or “Spice.”
The district attorney’s office said the compound can cause respiratory injuries, paranoia, vomiting, and erratic behavior.
“These products are of unknown origin and are imported into this country,” Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone II said in the press release. “They present a serious recognized health risk.”
Mr. Lucas said search warrants targeting sellers of the compound were also being executed in Allegheny County and locations around the country today as part of an effort that incorporated “all levels of law enforcement.”
The district attorney’s office said that officers have been able to trace the drugs sold in Washington County to mainland China.
First synthesized in 1995 by a Clemson University undergraduate student working under a research professor of organic chemistry, the compound was first called JWH-018 — a reference to the professor’s initials.
That professor, John W. Huffman, has been quoted widely saying calling the compound “synthetic marijuana” is a misnomer and makes it sound too benign. The compound does attach to the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain that respond to marijuana, he has said, but is chemically different from THC, the active compound in marijuana, and was not designed for recreational use.