Huffman and coworkers began creating a family of cannabinoid chemicals in his laboratory, all of them identified with his initials and a number.
In the summer of 1994, one of the undergraduate students working in his lab created JWH-018, a strong cannabinoid that is easy to make and is now the "JWH" chemical most likely to be found in Spice and other similar products.
"JWH-018 can be made by a halfway decent undergraduate chemistry major in three steps from commercially available materials," said Huffman.
In 2005, Huffman published a paper that included detailed synthetic procedure for making all of the compounds in the JWH class. By then, there were 465.
Within a year, JWH-018 and related substances were being used as recreational drugs in Europe.
"I assume that somebody picked our papers, and saw a way to make some money," said Huffman.
In the past year alone there have been 4,000 calls into poison control centers relating to the drugs. Side effects include heart rate stimulation, blood pressure elevation, anxiety, and hallucinations. "Beyond the acute effects [there] are psychiatric effects that have led individuals to harm themselves, sometimes fatally, and exhibit extreme paranoia and delusions not unlike schizophrenia or other psychoses," said Anthony Scalzo, director of the Missouri Poison Control Center.
The DEA put an emergency ban on the sale of JWH-018 and one other JWH chemical in March, along with three other chemicals commonly found in Spice.
The irony that the government funded the chemicals now being examined by the DEA has not eluded lobbyists for retail stores who sell the Spice and K2.
"The vast majority of these chemicals were created with government financial support," said Dan Francis, Executive Director of the Retail Compliance Association, a coalition of head shops who sell the products.
"It's a three to five billion dollar industry," said Francis, who says that Spice products should be regulated but not outlawed.