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.