UCM's Bob Welsh takes the lead in research on synthetic cannabinoids.
By Matt Bird-Meyer

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The test subject's legs bounced and swayed like willow branches in a cross breeze. His eyes danced around and he looked agitated and uncomfortable. A police officer asked that he walk a straight line, starting with his right leg. He started with his left, and with his eyes closed and arms outstretched, his finger wandered and searched the air for his missing nose.

At one point, the man gripped the side of his chair, knuckles going white, and told the study coordinator that if he let go he would float away.

"I said try. He said, 'No, I ain't letting go,'" said Bob Welsh, program manager at the University of Central Missouri's Missouri Safety Center in Warrensburg. "He was really freaked."

photo Bob Welsh

Welsh and his team captured this man and six others on video in July 2010 after they smoked a water pipe loaded with a synthetic cannabinoid, surrounded by researchers, nurses, toxicologists and drug recognition experts. They tested saliva, blood and urine. They did field sobriety tests and performed interviews. These detailed medical and behavioral reports were then shared with laboratories and law enforcement officials across the country.

Now Welsh and his assistant, Tracey Durbin, are backlogged with requests to hear their presentation. They get calls and emails from police, national TV and news reporters and even convenience store owners with questions about the drug, which was sold as incense or potpourri.

"As far as we know, we're the first in the world to do what we did, the way we did it in a controlled environment," Welsh said. "That puts UCM on the map. It really feels good to be able to say, 'Look, I've studied this. I know what I'm talking about. Here's what you're going to see with human beings.'"

A Missouri law initially banned six of the research chemicals sprayed on crushed botanicals packaged in Mylar, sometimes known as spice, K2, Syn, Bayou Blaster, Cherry Bomb, Mr. Smiley's and a host of other colorful names and sold in retail stores. The law was amended in August to include a host of other chemicals and their analogues. The producers simply changed their formulas to continue making the drug after the initial law was passed, Welsh said.

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