Even though Japan is the birthplace of crystal meth (which makes me wonder how the Japanese feel about Breaking Bad), it has notoriously stringent drugs laws. Get caught with some marijuana in Japan, you’ll face severe consequences.

But in Japan, like virtually anywhere else in the world, there are just so many drugs out there that it’s hard for the government to keep tabs on all of them. It’s especially difficult because people are always hard at work engineering new drugs that get around existing laws. In Japan, these are called “loophole drugs” (脱法ドラッグ).

The Japanese government has been trying to stem the tide of new, artificial drugs by banning what it can. Last summer, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry designated four new drugs as narcotics in an attempt to quell the burgeoning loophole drug business.

The whole thing feels a bit like a futile game of whack-a-mole — for every new drug the government bans, there’s some guy in a lab somewhere inventing two more drugs that fall between the cracks of existing laws.

One of the most infamous loophole drugs in Japan is synthetic marijuana, otherwise known as “spice.”


Right now in Japan, spice is in a weird cycle. The government bans new variations of spice every few months but, until they’re banned, those spice variants are perfectly legal. Any shop can legally sell spice as long as they say that it’s not meant for human consumption. And then the variation of spice is banned, a new variation hits shops, and the cycle begins anew. It’s like the Circle of Life, but with fewer singing animals and more drugs.

Vice magazine, while it’s not accidentally revealing the location of antivirus magnate and murder suspect John McAfee, produces a lot of interesting videos. I’m a big fan of its videos on North Korea, and its video about Mormons in Mexico was really fascinating.

Just last week, Vice released a video looking at synthetic weed in Japan. The video follows a Japanese woman purchasing and smoking fake weed for her first time ever. Unsurprisingly, a dude with huge dreads leads the whole effort.

A spice trip can go real bad, real quick

But the party may be coming to an end pretty soon. With spice being such a fringe, barely-legal substance and completely unregulated, it’s done some damage to its users. Bad trips and some hospitalizations have made it clear that you should take spice at your own risk.

In the last couple of years, the US military has really started cracking down on its soldiers stationed in Japan using spice. The military’s put into place a strict, zero-tolerance policy towards the drug in any of its forms, and has started testing and disciplining soldiers for their use of spice.

And just last month, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry decided to take a sledgehammer to this game of whack-a-mole and introduced sweeping, new bans to prohibit synthetic weed once and for all. Under these new rules, almost 800 drugs will be banned (compared to the 90 or so that are banned now).

Will this be the swan song for drugs in Japan? If history is any indicator, probably not. Even if it’s sniffing glue or chugging cough syrup, people always seem to find a way to get their fix.


    Drugs are whack. Don’t do drugs.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Uh oh, I’ve been sniffing cough syrup and chugging glue… I’ve also tried Japanese spice one time. It was called Paprika, and yes, it was indeed a crazy, crazy trip.

  • House

    well, except insulin, paracetamol/acetaminophen, antibiotics, etc. the point is, not every drugs are whack, just don’t overuse and follow the regulation, always ask a doctor to learn more about drugs helps you to recognize the bad and good drugs.



  • NineCoconuts

    Yeah, but was it any good? ; )

  • orangedude

    The only time I want my state of mind altered is when my doctor says it’s necessary.

  • lychalis

    I imagine it was jolly spicy :3

  • Kamizushi Akinari

    they should just legalize pot and be done with it.

  • rick sheahan

    Then do so, but realize not everyone is the same way and don’t try to infringe on the recreational activities of those who feel differently.

  • Hashi

    It’s going to be a long time before Japan ever legalizes marijuana, considering the drug policies now.

  • 产 经


  • Dy~

    lol Nice “Dune” reference – they should probably stop trying to make some things illegal, just legalize it and tax the shiitake out of it and boom instant gov’t revenue, talking marijuana of corse – the hardcore stuff should still probably illegal.

  • Shollum

    You know how to fix all the problems with spice? Legalize marijuana and tax it. Two birds, one stone.

    Spice is up there with cocaine and meth with how horrible it is for you. Even worse, it targets people that would otherwise probably be using something that’s less harmful than tobacco. It’s really difficult for the body to metabolize it, so it can stay in your system for days. The high itself can last more than a day and bad trips are far from uncommon. I’ve heard of people clawing at their flesh and eyes because of what they were experiencing. If such a person isn’t taken to the hospital or a clinic soon, they could easily die.

    So yeah, war on marijuana is stupid. Have we not already learned from prohibition what people will do to get their buzz? This is worse than the alternative.
    Anyway, don’t abuse drugs (any of them, illicit or not).

    Oh, and awesome Dune reference Hashi! I didn’t think anyone else really remembered Dune.

  • Shollum

    And the fact that their system for placing legislators and such is probably stupider than the US’s or Canada’s. I doubt anything positive will get done in that area anytime soon.

  • Dick H

    Just legalize the real stuff! Nobody’s ever OD’ed on real pot! There’s never been a single death from smoking weed. All Japan’s doing is turning innocent people into criminals.

  • Dick H

    Why must Japan have such backward policies?

  • Jonadab

    I thought the situation here in the US, wherein the herbal supplement industry can sell pretty much anything that comes from a plant (as long as it’s not on the short list of things that are specifically banned) and make any claims they want about what it does, was bad enough. But at least here we don’t allow new *synthetic* drugs unless the producer goes through a regulatory approval process complete with multiple phases of clinical trials testing for both safety and effectiveness. Granted, every once in a while somebody finds a way to disguise a drug as something other than a drug (e.g. bath salts) and sell it openly on store shelves for a little while, but that never lasts very long before the police catch on. New laws are not required to ban new drugs: if it’s clearly a (synthetic) drug and clearly has not been approved by the FDA, it’s illegal.

  • Jonadab

    Once, on a dare, when I was young and incredibly stupid, I crushed up a Smarties candy (which, if you’re not familiar with the brand, is basically just pastel-colored sugar with maybe some citric acid for flavor) and attempted to snort it. The experience was not pleasant.

  • Dick H

    Washington State and Colorado have legalized it. The prohibitionists’ days are numbered.

  • former sailor

    You’re full of shit i smokef tons of spice in japan. the effects last like fourty-five minutes. not days. i never had any effects other than those of marijuana. some people are horribly alergic to one or many of the herbs in spice or posibly the compounds themselves. but the reports of people hurting themselves through physical action are all smoke and mirrors

  • former sailor

    Prohibition of any substance will never be sucesfull. people will find a way to get what they want that’s where organised crime came from.

  • Maryjane Woods

    We are new, and need all the friends we can get to help us…… FREE MARYJANE !!!!

  • Maryjane Woods

    If I saved your life I would be called a “Hero”. Marijuana is saving untold lives everyday. Some are little children that are given a chance to live a life pharmaceutical Companies could never offer. What does it take to open peoples eye’s to the lie’s ?

  • Maryjane Woods

    We are new, and need all the friends we can get to help us…… FREE MARYJANE !!!!