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Synthetic cannabinoids abused in South Korea: drug identifications by the National Forensic Service from 2009 to June 2013


The rapid increase in the number of new psychoactive substances and their abuse is the most recent drug abuse issue worldwide. Although abuse of synthetic cannabinoids is highly restricted in South Korea, the rapid increase in the number of new substances is forcing the legal regulation authority to continuously improve the drug regulation act. As a result of drug screening by the National Forensic Service from 2009 to June 2013, 26 species of synthetic cannabinoids were identified in materials seized mainly by the Police Agency and the Prosecutor’s Office in South Korea. One of the most remarkable trends in synthetic cannabinoids is the increase in halogenated derivatives and new substances, including UR-144 and A-836,339 originally developed as analgesics by Abbott Laboratories. The N-pentyl fluorinated analog of UR-144 (XLR-11) has become the most frequently found synthetic cannabinoid in 2013 since its first appearance in 2012, whereas abuse of A-836,339 analogs has been little reported despite their abuse potential. Until early 2011, nicotine was the most frequently found active coingredient with synthetic cannabinoids. However, various psychoactive substances such as Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, α-pyrrolidinobutiophenone, α-pyrrolidinovalerothiophenone, and N,N-diallyl-5-methoxytryptamine have often been found as coingredients in herbal highs since late 2011. These coingredients should also be systematically regulated, because they can cause unexpected side effects. It is suggested that authorities in different countries share information about synthetic cannabinoids and their coingredients.

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This study was supported by funding from the National R & D Program of the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (2012-0009836) and the National Forensic Service of Korea.

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Correspondence to Jaesin Lee.

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Chung, H., Choi, H., Heo, S. et al. Synthetic cannabinoids abused in South Korea: drug identifications by the National Forensic Service from 2009 to June 2013. Forensic Toxicol 32, 82–88 (2014).

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  • New psychoactive substance
  • Synthetic cannabinoids
  • XLR-11
  • Coingredients
  • National Forensic Service
  • South Korea