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EDITORIAL |  Gummies? Piecemeal Designation of Dangerous Drugs Won't Work

Toxic compounds were found in gummies. However, regulation won't be effective if, every time a designation is made, a new synthetic drug is introduced.

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The Gummies shown are believed to contain a chemical compound similar to that found in cannabis. (Screenshot from an online store site where they were sold.)

A number of people who consumed gummies containing HHCH (hexahydrocannabihexol), a synthetic compound with properties similar to the toxic component of cannabis (marijuana), have reported vomiting, cramps, and other health problems. 

The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) has added this synthetic compound to the list of designated drugs. Effective December 2, the designation is taken under the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Law.

Up to now, HHCH has gone unregulated. Its designation means that the manufacture, sale, or use of products containing the substance will be prohibited. The only exceptions are for therapeutic or research purposes. Violators will be subject to imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to ¥3 million JPY (over $20,000 USD), among other penalties. 

People walk past a cannabis gummy store in Osaka city: Afternoon of November 17th, Chuo Ward, Osaka city (© Sankei by Ji Amari)

Designation Alone is Not Enough

Nevertheless, the designation alone cannot be considered adequate. Regulatory effectiveness also cannot be maintained if every time a designation is made, a new synthetic drug is introduced. 

Just this August, the Ministry of Health made THCH (tetrahydrocannabihexol), a synthetic compound similar to HHCH, subject to similar control. We need to escape this merry-go-round routine of dealing with one drug at a time, which has become akin to playing whack-a-mole. 

These synthetic compounds have strong neurological effects. They can cause convulsions, vomiting, and breathing difficulties. In at least one case in Tokyo, a person who ate gummy bears believed to contain HHCH temporarily lost consciousness. 

The health ministry is considering a “blanket designation” to regulate HHCH and similar compounds in toto. Such a comprehensive designation is urgently needed to deal with partial changes in the structure of a drug. 

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A Cannabis gummy store in Osaka city: Afternoon of November 17th, Chuo Ward, Osaka city (© Sankei by Ji Amari)

Public Beware: It's Not Just Gummies

Gummies are not the only form in which these dangerous drugs are sold. They have also been infused into everyday foodstuffs, such as cookies and chocolates. 

Consumers find it hard to recognize the danger since they are accustomed to eating such foods. In some cases, incense or aromas may be used to disguise the ingredients. Warnings are needed to prevent people from indulging in thinking that "just a little won’t hurt" or deciding to try such substances out of curiosity.

In this recent wave, more than 20 people have reported becoming sick. Moreover, the locations of the reported side effects are scattered across Japan. 

Among those transported to the hospital complaining of sickness, some reported they acquired the gummies through social networking sites. They said they bought a 10-drop package for ¥7,000 JPY (about $50 USD) from someone they had met on a social networking site. 

The Ministry of Health and local authorities are carrying out on-site inspections of relevant sites. In this, they have the cooperation of the police in various regions. Hopefully, they will be able to uncover all of the distribution channels.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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