National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Weekly Briefing


Announcement: NIDA establishing 5mg of THC as the standard unit for research

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), along with the National Cancer Institute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the National Institute of Mental Health, published a notice in the National Institutes of Health Guide directing researchers funded by these institutes to measure and report their findings from clinical research on cannabis using a standard unit of THC of 5 milligrams (mg). NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow wrote that “utilizing a THC standard unit in cannabis research will help us gain a better understanding of the effects of cumulative THC exposure.” The 5mg standard unit will only apply to THC, not to other psychoactive constituents of the cannabis plant such as cannabidiol (CBD). Read the full announcement here.

Update: Illegal pill presses

The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators and the Partnership for Safe Medicines released an update on illegal pill presses. Pressed counterfeit pills made with fentanyl have been found in all 50 US states and between January 2016 and February 2021 there were 92 incidents in 37 states in which law enforcement seized at least one pill press. More information can be found in the report here.

Study: MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD

A study published in Nature Medicine this week examined MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD. The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that MDMA-assisted therapy was effective in individuals with severe PTSD. It also showed rapid onset of treatment efficacy, even in those with severe PTSD, and in those with associated comorbidities including dissociative PTSD, depression, history of alcohol and substance use disorders, and childhood trauma. Read the full study here.

Study: Mescaline use

The Journal of Psychopharmacology published a paper this week on patterns of mescaline use. Using a web-based survey, researchers interviewed 452 respondents about their experiences. Findings showed that mescaline may produce psychedelic experiences associated with spiritual significance, improvements in mental health, and low potential for abuse. Read the full study here.

Review: Rise of fentanyl

An article by NDEWS Scientific Advisory Group Member Dr. Dan Ciccarone was just released by Current Opinion in Psychiatry in the section of Addiction. The paper reviews recently published literature regarding the rise of fentanyl use, overdose, and co-morbid substance use. The Co-Editor of the Addiction section is NDEWS PI Dr. Linda B. Cottler. Read the full review here.


N-Methyl-2-Aminoindane (NM-2-AI)

DEA TOX recently released an alert regarding the identification of a newly identified NPS in the United States. The synthetic cannabinoid N-Methyl-2-Aminoindane (NM-2-AI) was sourced in April 2021 from samples from individuals in California, Idaho, and Minnesota. Read more from DEA TOX here.

N-Pyrrolidino Etonitazene (Opioid)

NPS Discovery issued an alert regarding the identification of novel opioid N-Pyrrolidino Etonitazene in the US this week. N-Pyrrolidino Etonitazene is not explicitly scheduled in the United States. Read the full alert here.



China issues total ban on synthetic cannabinoids

The Associate Press first shared yesterday that China has issued a full ban on all synthetic cannabinoids and 18 other psychoactive substances. This is the second time that Chinese authorities have imposed a class-wide ban on a substance, after all fentanyl-related drugs were controlled in 2019. The ban will go into effect July 1, 2021. Read the article here.

More states banning delta-8 THC

Several states are currently clarifying legality of delta-8 and delta-10. The DEA issued an interim final rule in late 2020 declaring all synthetically derived THC are Schedule I controlled substances, and at least five states are considering or updating their laws to specifically govern delta-8 THC. Read more from North Dakota here and Washington here.


Readers from Central Arkansas and North Central Florida reported to NDEWS the use of new synthetic cannabinoids in transient populations with effects lasting up to two weeks. Various names, including “toochie, tuchi” were reported.

A reader from North Dakota reported to NDEWS on the use of counterfeit tablets containing etonitazepyne and protonitazene. The reader is seeing a surge in fentanyl and synthetic benzodiazepines in their area.

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