Drugs

Indonesia Outlaws Synthetic Cannabis in Health Ministry Update

The ministry has declared 25 synthetic marijuana compounds Class 1 Narcotics.
January 20, 2017, 8:28am

Indonesia's (now) infamous Cap Gorilla has gone the way of Harambe. The Ministry of Health released an updated list of Class 1 Narcotics which includes 26 new compounds now considered illegal. Twenty five of those compounds fall under the broad classification of "synthetic cannabis." The other one is khat—a plant that's a low-grade stimulant that's popular in the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Synthetic cannabis was sold under a variety of names in Indonesia—Hanoman, Ganesha, Thunderbear, Cap Badak—but Cap Gorilla has gained particular infamy in recent weeks. The drug, which is synthetic cannabis sprayed on tobacco, earned its name because users claim the stuff makes people as crazy as a gorilla.

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The drug grabbed headlines when the internet started to theorize that a drunk Citilink pilot, fired after somehow stumbling his way through security and into the cockpit of a plane, was actually on Cap Gorilla.

Turns out the speculation was wrong—the pilot was drunk, not high. He was fired and two Citilink executives resigned in the aftermath of the scandal.

The new Ministry of Health list effectively makes these 25 synthetic cannabis compounds illegal. The way the drug law works in Indonesia is that the ministry maintains a list of banned substances, and the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) is in charge of enforcing that list. Now that the compounds are scheduled as Class 1 Narcotics, the BNN is free to crackdown on the use and sale of synthetic cannabis.

The drug was commonly sold on social media apps like Instagram, where users would crop up and this disappear faster than they could be shut down. Today, even with the drug now illegal, a quick search on Instagram uncovered multiple sellers still offering the drug. One online dealer told VICE Indonesia that he's not going to stop selling synthetic cannabis.

"I'm going to keep working this hustle," he said.

Both images via an anonymous Instagram account

The BNN has had its sites set on synthetic cannabis for some time. The agency's spokesman told local media that the drug had serious risks. "Some of the cases include stroke, hypertension, chest pain, severe kidney failure, or even heart attacks," said Slamet Pribadi.

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Science is on his side. A 2013 study by a coalition of U.S. scientists found that synthetic cannabis use could result in kidney damage, psychosis, and seizures. The report noted instances of "nausea, vomiting, mild agitation, panic attacks, involuntary muscle twitching, confusion, somnolence, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, low potassium in blood, mild increase in blood glucose."

Derivatives are dangerous business. But the sale of synthetic drugs remains popular thanks, in no small part, to slow-moving anti-drug laws and increased enforcement of older, better known substances.

Drug laws work like this: "Substance X" is illegal, so possession, consumption, or sale of "Substance X" is punishable under the law. But today, it's entirely possible to take "Substance X" and change a few molecules in the chemical structure to create a new substance that sort of does the same thing (gets you fucked up) but is technically legal (because it's new).

But these substances are untested, and often more dangerous than the old-school drugs they are trying to replicate. A bad batch of synthetic weed, known as K2, left at least 33 hospitalized for overdoses in Brooklyn. The number of fatal overdoses last year from old-school, non-synthetic cannabis? Zero.

The BNN told VICE Indonesia that the agency was in a constant game of catch-up with chemists who invent new drugs. "We will keep proposing them for the existing list," Slamet said. "Just like we did with the previously uncategorized 26 chemical compounds, because our research never stops."