China moves to regulate all synthetic cannabinoids

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China will become the world's first country to regulate all synthetic cannabinoid substances, in a bid to get ahead of new variations whose chemical properties are not yet subject to regulation, the country's drugs control office said on Tuesday.

Synthetic cannabinoids are lab-made drugs originally designed to produce similar effects to cannabis, but which are often far stronger and carry a greater health risk, Deng Ming, deputy director of China's National Narcotics Control Commission, said at a briefing.

By the end of 2020, 1047 variations had appeared worldwide, Deng said. Some of the drugs in China were being produced domestically, though some were also being smuggled from abroad, he added.

Abuse of the drug has been particularly prevalent in China's western Xinjiang region, where police have seized 16 kilos of the drug and arrested 390 suspects since 2018, Yu Haibin, another official, said.

Substances were often disguised to look like liquid used in e-cigarettes, Yu said.

In April 2019 China added fetanyl-related substances to a list of controlled narcotics drugs, after criticism from former U.S. President Donald Trump for allowing the synthetic opioid to be shipped to the United States.

The number of drug users in China has dropped in recent years from around four million to one million, another official said, without specifying the time frame for the drop.

(Reporting by David Kirton; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)