The drug dealers keep getting smarter while government legislation keeps falling behind. In addition to the resurgence in heroin and meth that is killing our children (and adults), fake marijuana is gaining momentum, and “probable complications of synthetic cannabinoid ingestion” is a cause of death becoming more and more familiar.

Synthetic cannabinoids are more commonly known as K2, Spice, Rush, 420, Ripped, Moon Rocks, Purple Haze, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, and a plethora of other catchy names. The products are packaged and sold under the guise of being herbal or botanical incense or potpourri, and are labeled “not for human consumption.” Many were declared illegal in July 2012, when legislation passed that banned the sale, production, and possession of many of the chemicals found in these synthetic drugs. But the drug dealers or manufacturers have found a way around the legislation by reformulating the products using similar chemicals in the composition—a classic loophole. And they keep changing up the chemical dynamics so that there is no consistency in order to prevent drug officials from keeping up with the testing required to deem the products illegal.

You can walk right in and purchase synthetic cannabinoids in a variety of settings; there are no back-alley transactions here. They’re sold in gas stations, convenience stores, and online, so many people believe they must be legal and safe. After all, consumers have become accustomed to product protections under the law. The profits are growing, as undoubtedly are the number of users. In fact, in a US government survey, 7.4% of 10th graders (aged 15-16 years) said they used synthetic cannabinoids in 2013.

Synthetic marijuana is composed of a variety of chemical compounds that are sprayed onto the leaves of inert plants that are then dried, packaged, and distributed under false pretenses. The effects are believed to be similar in nature to the high one would experience from marijuana. However, it’s not, and the chemical spraying is uneven and can be heavily concentrated in some areas. What you get in a package could be a lethal dose.


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The fake pot is manufactured primarily in Asia, where the compounds used are not illegal. US drug enforcement can’t keep up with the supply coming into the country, and local police struggle with legality issues of the substances and chemicals being sold, and therefore and are unable to confiscate the products or shut vendors down.

Marijuana has been in use for thousands of years. More recently, medicinal-grade legal marijuana has made its debut, and its common side effects include increased appetite, impaired judgment, drowsiness, insomnia, dry mouth or throat, short-term memory loss, red eyes, anxiety, and giddiness. Marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in the states of Colorado and Washington. One of the biggest arguments against legalization in other states is the potential that marijuana could be a gateway drug.

Synthetic cannabinoids’ side effects include vomiting, exacerbated heart rate and arrhythmia, severe vasculitis, pulmonary edema, psychotic behavior, seizures, cerebral edema, paralysis, blindness, brain damage, and more, including death. Emergency room visits for use of the synthetic marijuana products number in the tens of thousands per year and are climbing. Approximately one-third of those emergency room visits involve teens from 12 and 17 years of age.

Unfortunately, the “war on drugs” has yet another new deadly foe, and it’s going to be a challenge to regulate these substances and bring charges against their manufacturers. New laws with significantly harsher penalties will need to be drafted that make it unlawful to sell anything (potpourri, incense, bath salts, etc) that includes ingredients similar in nature to the banned substances. Legislation should be passed that would make it possible to bring charges against companies that are using sketchy manufacturing practices, packaging, and pricing to sell illegal substances.

Even in states where marijuana is legalized, people are still purchasing the synthetic deadly version, oftentimes because they don’t know the difference or because it’s much cheaper. In an attempt to deter use, tests have been developed that can pick up these synthetic agents through urinalysis and blood work. Most variations of synthetic marijuana are potentially deadly; there are none that are safe. The public needs to be better educated on the effects of synthetic marijuana and the risks associated with its consumption.

Reference

  1. Gray E. The rise of fake pot. Time website. April 21, 2014. http://time.com/57167/rise-of-fake-pot/.
  2. Lallanilla M. Synthetic marijuana: the high cost of a cheap drug. Live Science website. February 5, 2013. http://www.livescience.com/26883-synthetic-marijuana-proves-deadly.html.
  3. Sohn E. Why is synthetic marijuana so toxic? Discovery website. October 7, 2013. http://news.discovery.com/human/health/why-is-synthetic-marijuana-so-toxic-131007.htm.