Synthetic Marijuana: What It Is And Why It Should Be Banned

The so called "incense blend" spice ...

New York has just placed a statewide ban on the sales of synthetic marijuana.  Last week it issued a warning of the dangers of the drug, which can be significantly more severe than natural marijuana.  Study after study has found that synthetic pot is linked to serious side effects, which often require emergency room visits and medical intervention.

According to NY State’s official order, synthetic pot has been shown to bring about “severe adverse reactions, including death and acute renal failure, and commonly cause: tachycardia (increased heart rate); paranoid behavior, agitation and irritability; nausea and vomiting; confusion; drowsiness; headache; hypertension; electrolyte abnormalities; seizures; and syncope (loss of consciousness).”

Synthetic pot also goes by the names K2, Spice,Aroma, Earth Impact, Mr. Smiley, Mr. Nice Guy, Zohai, Eclipse, Black Mamba, Red X Dawn, Blaze, and Dream, among others. The products often carry the futile “not for human consumption” label.

The synthetic form of cannabis is often a mix of innocent-enough botanical products, like bay bean, blue lotus, rose, and vanilla, to which a toxic chemical like JWH-018 is added. The JWH-018 compound was first developed by the scientist John W. Huffman, who synthesized versions of TCH to study its effects in the lab.

Once it was discovered in Europe that the drug didn’t show up on most clinical tests, its popularity took off.  Now, many countries in Europe ban the drug, but the U.S. has been slow to take action.  It was only a month ago that the first five synthetic cannabinoids became Schedule 1 controlled substances.

Synthetic pot is more dangerous than the natural drug because the active ingredient binds more strongly to cannabis receptors in the brain (CB1). For young people using it, the drug poses especially serious risks. This is because the adolescent brain is still developing, and continues to do so through the teen years, and likely beyond. Infusing a toxic chemical into the delicate developing network can lead to major disruptions in the ways in which nerve cells form patterns and connections.

According to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, New York “did the right thing enacting a state ban on this noxious product. We are working very hard to establish a federal ban so that kids seeking out these dangerous drugs can’t simply hop in a car and cross state borders to get a deadly high.”

Time will tell whether other states or federal government follow suit.  It will also be interesting to watch whether increasing bans have any measureable affect on use of the drug, or emergency room visits.

NY Makes ‘Synthetic Marijuana’ Illegal

New York State is banning a group of substances sold legally as incense, but often smoked for their marijuana-like effect.

The products come under many names, including Spice, K2, Skunk and Mr. Nice Guy.  Their active ingredients mimic the effect of THC, the active substance in marijuana.   These compounds are not yet controlled by federal law, but health officials and legislatures in 40 states around the country have grown sufficiently concerned about their side effects to outlaw all “synthetic cannabinoids,” as they’re officially called.

“They have some effects that are similar to marijuana, but they have toxic effects that are really unknown,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. “We’ve had case reports of adverse reactions — an increased number of case reports — and we know that’s just the tip of the iceberg, that there may be many more incidents that we don’t know about.”

The city’s Poison Control Center received four calls related to synthetic marijuana in 2010, 71 calls last year and 44 calls in the first three months of 2012.

Dr. David Lee, a toxicologist and emergency-room physician at Northshore-LIJ Hospital in Manhasset, said the numbers are still relatively low, but they’ve been climbing — even in suburban Nassau County. About once a month, he and his colleagues see someone in the E.R. who says they’ve used the drugs.

“They will typically have chest pains, palpitation, high levels of anxiety, feelings of losing self-control,” Lee said.

A young man actually showed Dr. Lee’s team a packet of the drug and told them about a nearby bodega where he got it, but when one physician went to the store to try to purchase it, the store-owner said he didn’t carry the product.

Jay Miranda works at a shop on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village that sells a version of the synthetic pot. She says her customers have had a range of reactions to it.  “Its like a 50-50, some people say they like it, its pretty good and some people don’t like it because they’re used to the real thing.”

She says it’s not just kids that have tried it. “I get people in the military, teachers, or people in rehab trying to pass their drug test,” she explained. “There’s always a market for people seeking the next thrill.”

Queens resident David Brightman falls in the camp that doesn’t like it. He supports the ban, especially since he tried the synthetic version. “It gave me a headache, it felt like my chest was caving in, my heart rate increased, it was just a crazy experience. I’d rather drink liquor and have a good time.”

It’s not clear how prevalent synthetic marijuana use is. According to one phone survey by the National Institute for Drug Abuse — a division of the National Institutes of Health —11 percent of high school seniors said they had tried it.

The ban comes as an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo and is effective immediately. New York City issued its own parallel ban, for largely procedural reasons.  Health Commissioner Farley said the city will be sending out warnings to all  retailers that sell cigarettes and will be making inspections of some stores and bodegas.

Dr. Guohua Li, who studies social patterns of substance abuse at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said outlawing synthetic marijuana is a good step, but thinks there are further challenges ahead.

“Much of it is sold on the internet, so enforcement will not be easy,” Li said. “Outlawing it nationally would help.”

Of the ten states which have not yet banned synthetic marijuana, most are in the East Coast, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maryland.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has authored a bill that would add synthetic marijuana to the federal registry of controlled substances, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has opposed the measure, saying it’s too broad.

Kathleen Horan contributed to this report.

Banned drugs persist in local stores

In an Orange County Sheriff’s Office crackdown on synthetic marijuana and bath salts, four store clerks from three Vidor stores have been arrested in the past week.

On June 13, Muhammad Sultan was indicted on charges of selling synthetic marijuana, or kush, at Jr’s Mini Mart.
Kashif Shah was indicted after bath salts and kush were found at the Vidor Superette.
The day before, 19-year-old Mohammad Hammad Khan and 18-year-old with Mohamed Hamza Khan  arrested at the A-1 Smoke Shop.
The Sheriff’s Office says calls are coming in from concerned citizens in Vidor who are worried because the drugs are so available and so dangerous, causing extreme hallucinations and even death.
Just driving down N. Main Street in Vidor, you’ll pass three stores where the Orange County Sheriff’s Office says banned drugs were being sold in plain sight.
Unnerving news to mother of two, Sylvia Broxson.
“They need to stop it, seriously. They really do. It’s dangerous, not just for my kids, but for any of these kids out here,” says Broxson.
Six pounds of kush seized from A-1 Smoke Shop in an undercover bust, show making the drugs illegal didn’t stop the sale.
Kush was also found just down the street at Jr’s Mini Mart.
The property manager refused to go on camera, only saying the drug isn’t being sold.
Bath salts and kush were found at Vidor Superette.
“There’s so much money it,” says Sgt. Chad Hogan. “These store clerks, they go to Houston, buy this stuff for two, three dollars and come back and sell it for 15 to 20 dollars.”
Police receive eight to 10 complaints a week about stores selling synthetic marijuana or bath salts. Once narcotics investigators go in and seize the drugs, they are sent to a lab for testing to see if they contain banned chemicals.
“Most of the time those are in there. Those are the things that get you high, the things that are banned. So they’re going to have to keep these items in there to sell their product,” says Sgt. Hogan.
“They could do other people harm, and people on it get carried away and misuse it,” says one Vidor resident, David Cisneros. “You put people in jeopardy buying it.”
With the drug still out there, Broxson will be watching.
“The mothers, the parents, the citizens need to help and try to do something about this.”
Sgt. Hogan says the Sheriff’s Office expects even more arrests in Vidor because they will continue checking up on stores to get the drugs off the street.
All four who’ve been arrested, have now bonded out of jail.
If found guilty, they could face up to 99 years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine.
That’s based on how much they had in their possession when arrested.

Grayson County K2 Potpourri bust

SHERMAN, TX – A sherman convenience store owner is back on the street tonight after police say he was arrested for selling the illegal drug k2 at his store.

The Grayson County Sheriff’s Office raided Joe’s Friendly Mart on Texoma Parkway early yesterday morning and they say what they found was disturbing.

The recent raid on Joe’s Friendly Mart in Sherman left Grayson County Sheriff Keith Gary with 33 pounds of synthetic marijuana, 17 thousand dollars in cash, and a lot of concern for his county.

“This K2, this synthetic ingredient is much more addictive than the real marijuana.” said Sheriff Gary.

Tyler Sloan says he agrees. He says marijuana should be legalized, and the marketing of dangerous drugs like k2, the fake weed, is just proof of that.

“It’s very very highly addictive, I know a couple of people who are addicted to it, and the reason is because marijuana is illegal so therefore they turn to this and it’s quicker and easier to get a hold of.” Sloan said.

And even scarier, if you look at the labels on these packages, investigators say it’s obvious that young people are the target.

And what’s worse, medical experts say, they have no idea what they’re exposing themselves to because there are so many different chemicals and sometimes even poison used to make the products.

“Uh we had a case here about a week ago, of a young patient who was brought in, very severely agitated, combative, actually assaulting the police officers.” said Doctor David Abebefe.

Doctor Abebefe says that patient had overdosed on K2, and although the patient survived, not everyone does.

“It’s a serious thing and we’re going to have to pay more attention to it, the thing that we’ve learned in the past is about the time you get a grip on one type of drug, then of course it shifts and goes to some other type, people in this business are very innovative.” said Sheriff Gary.

Doctors say K2 has side effects similar to the effects of PCP and patients are known to go in to comas and some times even die.

Joe K. Matthew bonded out for $75,000.

If convicted Mathew could face up to 99 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.