Loophole in Japanese weed laws reaches tens of thousands of dollars

Japan, cannabis, cannabis, marijuana, legalization, HHC, THC-O, THC, illegal, drugs

In Japan, where THC is illegal, synthetic cannabis compounds are emerging and rapidly gaining popularity. Photo: Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The straw-colored drug, sold in sleek vape cases, looks surprisingly similar to the cannabis oil Hiro tried overseas. When it’s smoked, he said the difference is even harder to tell.

“I can’t believe I can get this high in Japan, and I’m not breaking the law,” the 24-year-old Tokyo man said of smoking hemp-derived THC-O which contains a chemical similar to the highly inducing substance in grass. He requested the use of a pseudonym because he is concerned about the legal repercussions of using the unregulated substance.

In Japan, possessing anything containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is illegal and carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison.

But synthetic cannabis compounds, like what Hiro smokes in Japan, aren’t banned. As long as they are THC-free, products made from cannabis stems and stems can be imported as oils or edibles. Through this loophole, synthetic cannabinoids that provide similar or even superior effects to THC fly under the radar and into Japanese pockets.

Authorities are slowly figuring it out, but attempts to ban THC-like substances have quickly turned into a mole game.

In March, the Japanese government banned HHC, a synthetic cannabis compound that came into vogue late last year after a rapper promoted it. But HHC’s long line of cousins ​​- THC-O, HHC-O, THCV and 9beta – quickly emerged to take HHC’s place among Japanese users, underscoring the challenge of drug regulation in a country who sees weed as a “gateway” to harder substances. .

Weed advocates attribute this free-for-all cannabis to the government’s strict ban on THC, which they say drives people to try derivatives that are more potent and dangerous than the weed products that are consumed and studied for much longer.

“Since everything is made underground, there is no structure in the way it is made, it is like moonlight,” said Yuji Masataka, doctor of internal medicine and representative of the pro research group. -cannabis Green Zone Japan, to VICE World News, referring to the unregulated production of THC-like substances.

Although relatively little is known about THC-O, one of the emerging synthetic cannabinoids also known as THC-O acetate, some weed vendors claim it is around three times as much potent than THC and also gives a borderline psychedelic high.

Synthetic cannabinoids have been linked to strokes, delusions, and heart attacks. US lawmakers have already sounded the alarm, with 17 states banning synthetic cannabinoids in the past year. In 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration in the United States also clarified that synthetically derived substances, such as THC-O, were indeed illegal, except when used for research purposes.

A representative from beHIGHnd, a company that sells products containing CBD, a non-intoxicating extract from the marijuana plant, fears these potential risks are being lost on new users.

He recalls that just 10 years ago, users fell in love with another quasi-cannabis called dappo habu, which literally means “escape weed”. Similar to K2 found in the United States, synthetic marijuana has gotten people high, dangerously.

In 2014, in the midst of the dappo habu boom, a Japanese driver suspected of being high on drugs drove down a sidewalk, killing one pedestrian and injuring seven others. Two weeks later, another driver who appeared to be under the influence of drugs crashed and injured three people in Tokyo.

But a THC-O seller who goes by the name “Joint boy” said it was too early to consider THC-O a dangerous substance.

“I used it myself, my friends tried it too, and no one complained about its dangers,” he told VICE World News, requesting the use of his pseudonym because his employer is not aware of his parallel activity. However, he admitted that he could not guarantee his safety.

“To be honest, I say at your own risk,” he said.

Some users of synthetic medical marijuana fear that the abuse of substances similar to THC invites a general crackdown that would deprive them of remedies that relieve conditions such as anxiety and insomnia. Vendors estimate that tens of thousands of Japanese regularly use these chemicals.

Masahiro Tajimi, a 30-year-old man who works in construction, knows the risks of taking THC-O. But he swears by its effectiveness in treating his depression.

“My life has become richer, I can now eat more and watch movies on the weekends,” which he couldn’t do when he suffered from anxiety and lack of appetite, he said. told VICE World News.

Saki Furoiwa, 34, also started taking synthetic cannabinoids to treat her severe insomnia and anxiety. She regularly used HHC until the government made it illegal in March.

“It was frustrating and I was very angry that something I was doing for my own health suddenly became a criminal offence,” she told VICE World News.

After the ban, she strictly stuck to taking CBD and its derivatives. She stayed away from THC-O, citing its potential risks.

Although legalization does not appear to be on the government’s horizon, public attitudes towards cannabis in Japan are slowly changing.

According to a government survey, 1.4% of the country’s population have tried the weed, more than double the number 10 years ago. Japan is also witnessing the start of a “green rush”, with citizens taking CBD for its supposed medicinal benefits. By 2024, the CBD market is expected to reach $800 million in Japan. CBD cafes, health stores, convenience stores, and vending machines selling these products are already popping up in cities.

But the government seems to want to continue playing cat and mouse. On Tuesday, it announced a ban on another synthetic cannabinoid, Cumyl-CBMICA, giving users until July 8 to get rid of their supply. Since last June, the government has also indicated that it will tighten its ban on cannabis use, with revisions expected as early as this year.

Hiro, the 24-year-old THC-O user in Tokyo, said he would play the government at their game. Even if authorities banned the substance, he would venture into other similar drugs that he could put on. by hand – legally.

“I guess if the government really bans every possible drug I can smoke, I’ll reconsider my habit or go abroad,” he said.

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.