Synthetic pot poses serious dangers

With manufacturers outsmarting federal and state bans, some cities are looking to ban all granular incense

SUNRISE — Cloud Nine. Maui Wowie. Mr. Nice Guy.

The names seem harmless, the packaging cool.

But the side effects of synthetic marijuana, known on the street as Spice and K2, can be as serious as a heart attack, experts say.

The problem exists nationwide, with users reporting elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate, anxiety, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, vomiting and combativeness. For some, the bad trip has turned lethal.

Dr. Peter Antevy, an ER doctor at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospitalin Hollywood, tells of people stoned on fake pot behaving as though they were possessed. In a manic rage, some have attacked family and friends, or jumped out of windows and moving cars.

“We only see the cases where they get screwed up,” Antevy said. “Some of the kids are at home and numb to the world.”

But those who make it to the hospital usually come in with glassy eyes, unable to speak.

“They are clearly psychotic in appearance,” Antevy said. “The symptoms can sometimes last for a week or more. When you ask these people afterward, they had no idea they were angry or psychotic or had a seizure.”

Oakland Park resident Jimmy Hewitt, 25, said he smokes 3 grams of Spice a day. The herbs are sprayed with chemicals to mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

He tried it two years ago while trying to give up marijuana and has been smoking it ever since.

On May 5, Hewitt was high on “Cloud Nine” when he slit his wrist with a kitchen knife — deep enough to require seven stitches.

“When I cut myself the blood just started gushing,” he said. “I was freaking out. It looked like a murder scene. I was scared I was going to die.”

After three days in the hospital, he got home and began looking right away for his stash of Spice. He got angry when his fiancee told him she’d flushed it all. Then he calmed down, he said, after remembering he still had some in his back pocket.

Several states, including Florida, New York and New Jersey, have attempted to ban the chemical compounds used to make fake marijuana, sold as herbal incense in packages marked “not for human consumption.”

But the manufacturers merely come up with new formulas to skirt the law. In theory, the products aim to mimic the high of marijuana, but in many cases have a far more dangerous effect.

In an effort to target the root of the problem, Sweetwater inMiami-Dade County is on the verge of outlawing all incense sold in loose leaf and granular form. Anyone caught selling loose leaf incense would face fines of $500 per day and up to 60 days in jail.

Sweetwater officials are expected to give final approval to the ban Monday night.

On Tuesday, Sunrise officials plan to vote on a similar ban.

Others may soon follow suit, including Deerfield Beach, Pembroke Pines, Broward, Miami-Dade and Collier counties.

Sunrise Commissioner Joey Scuotto pushed for the ban after hearing about the effort in Sweetwater.

“Kids feel like it’s safe because it’s not marijuana and they can buy it in a gas station,” he said. “But it’s worse. Kids who take this stuff feel like they’re having heart attacks. They feel like they’re going to throw up and die.”

Stores that sell fake weed buy individual packs for as little as $5 and resell it for $15 to $35, making for big profits, said Michelle Hammontree-Garcia, spokeswoman for Sweetwater.

In Florida, poison control experts fielded 485 calls last year from panicked users and emergency room doctors asking how to treat symptoms. In the first four months of this year, 203 calls came into the Florida Poison Control Center.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, the center’s medical director. “We only have data on the people who call in. You may stay sick at home or die at home and go straight to the morgue.”

The appeal of synthetic marijuana is that it is legal, said, Dr. Morton Levitt, chairman of the Integrated Medical Science Department at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

“The FDA has no regulations and guidelines for these chemicals, so we really don’t know what doses are harmful,” said Morton. “There are no voluminous studies to talk about the complications and dangers and long-tem effects. So people are shooting in the dark.”

Without research, there is no way of knowing whether users can become addicted, Bernstein said.

“I don’t think it’s physically addictive, but it’s still very early to tell,” he said.

Hewitt is afraid of what might happen if he stops using it.

“It’s addicting,” he said. “I don’t want to go just cold turkey. I need to wean myself off of it. After I hang up with you, I am going to go to the gas station and buy my last bag.”

His fiancee, Amanda Baldwin, has threatened to leave him if he doesn’t quit.

When he’s on Spice, sometimes he doesn’t recognize her.

“He’s either a maniac or comatose,” said Baldwin, 27, of Oakland Park. “He will spend hours looking for something that isn’t there, not even knowing what he’s looking for.”

He’s not afraid of dying on the stuff. That only happens to people who overdo it, he says.

“I wasn’t thinking when I cut myself,” Hewitt said. “I was on Spice. But I don’t blame it on the Spice. My dad was arguing with me and I had a knife in my hand. That was bad chemistry.”

Sunrise becomes first in Broward to ban synthetic pot

Sunrise has become the first city in Broward — and the second in the state — to ban the herbal incense meant to give those who smoke it a high.

Synthetic marijuana, known on the street as “Spice,” “Mr. Nice Guy” and other colorful names, is sending some people who smoke it to the hospital — or the morgue, experts say. Side effects include rapid heart rate, anxiety, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, renal failure and, in extreme cases, death.

Sunrise commissioners gave unanimous approval to the ban Tuesday night.

Others may be close behind, including Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Coral Springs, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale Beach, Lauderhill, Margate, Pembroke Pines, Pompano Beach and Tamarac.

Deerfield Beach is expected to give final approval to a ban June 19. Pompano Beach officials gave initial approval to a ban on Tuesday; Davie and Tamarac officials plan to vote on a similar ban in July.

Synthetic marijuana also has caught the attention of city officials in Palm Beach County, but so far there is no plan to ban the product city by city, said Richard Radcliffe, executive director of the Palm Beach County League of Cities.

“We’re all monitoring it,” Radcliffe said. “It’s on the radar. Rather than doing legislation every three weeks, we’re looking to see what Tallahassee and the feds are doing. The burner is getting turned up on this. But it’s important to do something comprehensive that you don’t have to change.”

Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan spoke of the need for federal and state legislation to tackle the issue.

“We can’t do this by municipality alone,” he said. “In years past we had children who sniffed glue or sniffed paint. But we’ve never faced something as dangerous as this, where an entire industry is marketing this as safe and benign. This is called synthetic pot by the people marketing it because no one would buy it if it was called synthetic meth or synthetic cocaine or synthetic poison.”

Gas stations and convenience stores started pulling packets from shelves two weeks ago when Sunrise commissioners gave initial approval to a ban on all incense that’s not on a stick, in an effort to outlaw fake weed.

In May, Sweetwater became the first city in Florida to pass a similar ban on synthetic marijuana.

“I know of one kid that has gone to the hospital,” Davie Councilman Marlon Luis said. “Some of the other cities are going to ban it. I don’t want them selling it in Davie when the other cities aren’t allowing it.”

Until the state steps in, the cities have no choice but to take action, Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco said. “We have to do something because it’s the right thing to do.”

At least nine states, including Florida, have tried to outlaw the chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana. Florida law bans herbal incense, but only if it is for human consumption.

Manufacturers have skirted state and federal laws banning the chemicals by changing the compounds and labeling the packets as herbal incense “not for human consumption.”

Sweetwater says it became the first city in the nation to outlaw synthetic marijuana when it banned the sale of loose leaf or granular incense on May 21.

Anyone caught selling loose leaf or granular incense in Sweetwater will be fined $500 per day and/or face up to 60 days in jail.

In Sunrise, violators would be issued a code violation and have to appear before a special magistrate.

Sunrise also plans to make it illegal to manufacture fake pot and to sell bath salts — the synthetic drug police officials suspect that Rudy Eugene, the man dubbed the Causeway Cannibal, may have taken before attacking a homeless man in Miami.

In Sunrise, the same gas stations and convenience stores selling fake pot are selling so-called bath salts, Ryan said.

The Sunrise ban would not outlaw the sale of legitimate bath salts, but would target the chemical concoction of bath salts meant to get people high, Ryan said. Those bath salts are sold in small quantities for up to $35 a packet.

“They call them bath salts, but they are not used in baths,” Ryan said. “It’s another dangerous cocktail of chemicals. They’re going to keep changing it and we’re going to keep up with them. We’re not giving up no matter how often they change the names or the chemicals.”


New Ulm Smoke Shop Agrees to Pull Controversial Herbal Incense

The Smokes 4 Less tobacco shop in New Ulm will pull controversial herbal incense from its store in order to keep its license.

The New Ulm City Council had rejected the company’s application for renewal, citing the sale of Kryptonite and other products, which detractors say is synthetic marijuana.

Despite the warning on the package that the incense is not for human consumption, and the claim on their website that the product does not contain synthetic marijuana compounds, the New Ulm City Council decided they didn’t want Kryptonite sold in town, and followed through by not renewing the Smokes 4 Less tobacco license last week.

Now, Smokes 4 Less is back on track toward staying in business.

City Manager Brian Gramentz says, “They have come to an understanding that Smokes 4 Less would remove those products voluntarily from the shelves and that opens the door for the renewal for their 2012 cigarette license.”

Lawyers for the company spoke with the city, and were able to hammer out an understanding that will see the Smokes 4 Less license renewed, so long as the product in question is off the shelves by July 1st.

Gramentz says, “the correspondence we have from the Smokes 4 Less attorney recognizes the fact that the license starts on July 1st and everything should fall into place.”

The New Ulm City Council will vote on the Smokes 4 Less tobacco license with the new conditions next week Tuesday.

Barely Legal Herbal Incense Review

After years it is clear the manufacturers of Barely Legal are a big player in the herbal incense game. They have been around a number of years now and sell a ton of herbs.  Here is the issue I experienced with their product.  I smoked less than a half of a bowl of Barely Legal Herbal Incense and let explain what I felt.  For at least 30 minutes I was completely jittery, my heart pounding out of my chest and it was just to fucking strong.  There is more to making a legal high then just taking some soaked plant material in whatever the heck you have in your shed.  JWH variations are still legal around most of the United States and I like the fruit flavors also.  The worst herbal spices are way too speedy to enjoy the high.  This was no different and not one of my favorites.

I stumbled upon Barely Legal while I was trying to seek out herbal incense I’d heard of in the past called Mr. Nice Guy.  While there were several sites carrying blends with the same name, none of them seemed legit.  When I finally found an official-looking site, would you know it Mr. Nice Guy  was out of stock.  However, I did notice a blend called Barley Legal that seemed to be featured much more prominently.  I did some research and I saw a ton of positive reviews.  Too many in fact.  While I was suspicious that the reviews weren’t legit, I needed a new subject to review so I said “what the hell?” and placed an order.

I bought a gram of the mango flavored blend and played the usual waiting game.  When it arrived, I ripped open the pack and took a whiff.  The mango smell was mild and the ingredients looked vaguely weed-like. I grabbed my bowl and packed it half full and took a few tokes.  The mango scent barely translated into the realm of flavor, it was pretty harsh.  After three or four hits, I could feel my heart-rate speeding up as it kicked in so I set the pipe down to judge the high.

I don’t remember the next thirty minutes very well.  What I do remember is sweating, shaking, and grinding my teeth as I waited for the effects to subside.  When I finally started to come down, I tried to relax and enjoy the still-quite-intense high.  Sadly, I was still feeling too jacked up and uncomfortable to enjoy anything.  Luckily for me, I had some kratom stashed away for occasions like this and I popped a capsule to help get my feet safely on the ground.

Now, this incense is indeed potent.  If you’re the type who enjoy mixing your incense with an herbal smoking blend, you could definitely get a lot of milage out of a bag of this.  I prefer to have my incense be blended correctly by the manufacturer.  A good incense should be as close to smoking real herb as it can be.  An overly potent blend might earn you praise from hardcore incense fans, but it can also lead to customers having a shitty time on your product.  Judging by my own experience, I can only imagine how a novice would react.  There’s a huge difference between “potent”, and “potent and highly enjoyable.”  The manufacturers of Barely Legal need to learn this difference.