Use of synthetic marijuana among U.S. teens continues to rise

When people who are not familiar with the product hear the phrase “synthetic marijuana,” they often conjure up images of genetically engineered pot plants growing in a laboratory somewhere.

The reality is synthetic marijuana is not actually marijuana, but a mixture of herbs and chemicals which mimic the high created from smoking pot.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) states synthetic marijuana is often labeled as offering a “natural” high, however chemical analysis shows the main active ingredients are synthetic, or created through a chemical process.

The use of synthetic marijuana—also known as K2, Spice, Skunk, Moon Rocks, Potpourri, Yucatan Fire, and fake weed—among teenagers continues to grow.

Sixteen-year-old Emily Bauer from Cypress, Texas, had a history of occasional marijuana use, but on December 16th, 2012, her family prepared for her final moments as she lay in a hospital bed after two weeks of ICU care. Emily was admitted to the facility after smoking a form of synthetic marijuana labeled “potpourri” she had her friends purchased from a gas station.

Emily’s father, Tommy Bryant, told KTSM News he knew his daughter was a marijuana smoker, but he never anticipated something so serious would happen.

“Had I thought that there was any chance that she could have been hurt by this stuff, I would have been a lot more vigilant. I had no idea it was so bad,” Bryant told KTSM News.

The danger associated with synthetic marijuana lays in each brand’s unknown effects. In an effort to control the use of synthetic marijuana products, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) designated the 5 active chemicals most commonly found in the products as Schedule I controlled substances. As a Schedule I substance, it is illegal to buy, sell, or possess the chemicals. NIH indicates the regulations pushed synthetic marijuana makers to use alternative chemicals not regulated by the DEA, chemicals which have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit.

“These drug manufacturers slightly change the chemical compound, and it becomes a different substance that’s not covered by the law,” said NCSL policy specialist Alison Lawrence to KTSM News. “That’s why in 2011 and 2012, we saw the states enacting these broader language bans.”

Health risks of synthetic marijuana

Synthetic marijuana is sold in places like gas stations and convenience stores (Shutterstock photo)
The health risks associated with synthetic marijuana, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, include:

Extreme nervousness
Racing heartbeat
Elevated blood pressure
Dilated pupils
With each batch of synthetic marijuana potentially different than the next, there is currently no way to know how use of the products will affect an individual. Approximately 11 percent of high school seniors have stated they used a synthetic marijuana product, and Spice and its companion products are responsible for sending as many as 11,000 people to the emergency room in a given year.

As for Emily Bauer, her hospital stay included a medically-induced coma and emergency surgery to reduce pressure in her brain. While she survived the procedure, doctors cautioned the family her outlook was bleak, and parts of her brain had been badly damaged. She was taken off life support four days before her 17th birthday.

Emily pulled through, however, waking up on her own, and her family indicates her recovery process had been long and difficult. While she recognizes her family’s voices, she is just starting to be able to move her arms and legs. The young woman was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann rehab hospital in January where she will continue to recover.

State raids 3 shops in ‘bath salts’ crackdown

bath salt raid

At Bubby’s Drive Thru in Byesville, Ohio, you could get a six-pack to go and some “bath salts” that pack a wallop like “cocaine on steroids.”

Similar products were available at Quality Food Market in New Carlisle, west of Springfield, and Party Time Carryout in Cambridge.

No more. Officials from Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office and a dozen law-enforcement agencies raided all three businesses yesterday as part of a crackdown on the sale of dangerous synthetic drugs, commonly known as bath salts, “spice” or “herbal incense.” Two arrests were made.

More raids and arrests across the state are in the pipeline, DeWine said in an interview.

“We now are armed with the new law. We have what we need. We’re working with local law enforcement, and we’re going to continue doing this if they know places that are selling this junk,” DeWine said.

“They market it to kids. The packaging often involves cartoonish figures,” he said. “If it doesn’t kill you, it’s going to really mess you up.”

Not only is DeWine going after owners and clerks who sell the synthetic drugs, his office also is seeking to shut down the businesses for up to a year by declaring them public nuisances and filing charges against sellers under the state consumer practices laws with fines up to $25,000 per incident.

Warrants were served in Clark, Montgomery and Guernsey counties following “investigations that uncovered synthetic cannabinoids, also known as synthetic marijuana or herbal incense,” being sold in three Ohio stores, DeWine’s office said. The owner of the store in New Carlisle was charged with three felony counts of trafficking in a controlled substance, DeWine’s office said.

The drugs involved are dangerous and deceptive. While they masquerade as bath salts and herbal incense — or in some cases products such Crystaal Bubbly Hookah Cleaner and White Pony Stain Remover — they are powerful, complex chemical blends. Often sold in smoke shops and corner markets, they gained popularity as alternatives to street drugs. They have been blamed for triggering psychotic episodes and deaths among users. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has also been raiding makers and sellers of the substances.

Dr. Dennis Mann, an emergency room physician at Dayton’s Miami Valley Hospital, said the drugs are like “cocaine on steroids. … Essentially, they overload your brain.”

The results are paranoia, agitated delirium, hallucinations and sometimes violence, Mann said.

Law enforcement and medical personnel offer horror stories of people’s bizarre behavior on bath salts. A Reynoldsburg man who imagined that raccoons stole his cellphone and were trying to set his house on fire chopped up his deck looking for the critters. An emergency room patient drank his own urine. Another man high on bath salts bit chunks out of his dog’s flesh.

DeWine sent retailers statewide a letter last November warning them about state law against selling synthetic drugs.

“We gave business owners fair warning that if we found synthetic drugs in their stores that there would be consequences, and now we are following through with that promise,” DeWine said.

The General Assembly has approved two laws making synthetic drugs illegal, most recently House Bill 334, which took effect in December.

Synthetic cathinones, often called “bath salts,” are powerful, illegal, and can cause hallucinations and violent behavior, among other dangerous effects.

Synthetic cathinones are often marketed as “bath salts” have names like Cloud 9 and Bliss. They are NOT the bath salts you use in your tub. These are powerful illegal drugs that have not been tested for safety, and users don’t really know exactly what chemicals they are putting into their bodies. The side effects they cause may be permanent.
Poison center experts say these substances are among the worst they have seen. Users have experienced many side effects, such as:
Paranoia and violent behavior.
Suicidal thoughts.
Panic attacks.
Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
Chest pain.
Nausea and vomiting.
In 2011, poison centers took 6,138 calls about exposures to bath salts. (Click here for detailed data .) The drug seems to be most popular with people who are between 20 and 29 years old. However, poison centers have seen bath salts exposures in a wide range of ages, from younger than 6 to older than 59.
What should you do if someone has taken bath salts?
Call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. Fifty-seven poison centers around the country have experts waiting to answer your call. These experts can help you decide whether someone can be treated at home, or whether he or she must go to a hospital.
Dial 9-1-1 immediately if someone:
Stops breathing.
Has a seizure.
For more information, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. Poison centers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year for poisoning emergencies and for informational calls, too.
Bath Salts Exposures 2012
Download the facts here

Synthetic marijuana still in stores

It’s called spice, K-2, synthetic marijuana.

Virginia outlawed it more than a year ago- but the chemists who make it keep concocting new ways to skirt the law. Our investigative unit went undercover and found new variations of the product being openly sold in greater Richmond.

It’s advertised as incense or potpourri.

Manufacturers even tell you that it’s not for human consumption, but we’ve found countless videos online of people smoking it, and witnessed for ourselves a Hopewell store selling it.

Synthetic marijuana became illegal in Virginia in 2011. Federal officials have even banned certain chemicals used to make it.

It looks like pot. The manufacturers spray the herbs with compounds that mimic the active ingredient in marijuana.

It’s smoked to get high- but some users have experienced vomiting, seizures, anxiety even hallucinations.

“I remember going through hell. I thought I was already deceased. I thought I was dead,” said 15 year old Gloucester teen Adam Hedrick. He says he smoked spice and it sent him to the hospital– foaming at the mouth in cardiac arrest.

“If there was something they could do to save lives just by taking a product off their shelves then they should do that,” said Hedrick’s mom Julie.

After a tip from a viewer, we went to check out the Golden Express on South 15th Avenue in Hopewell. We watched a woman buy ‘Zombie Matter’. She showed it to us in the store’s parking lot and said she was going home to smoke it.

We took a hidden camera into the store-

the product is not advertised at the cash register. The store keeps it in a drawer behind the counter.

And they’ll sell it- if you know what to ask for.


The Golden Express sold us Zombie Matter- After Dark.

On the product’s website the manufacturer says it’s 100% legal, but when you the read the fine print it says legal in some states.

We came back to the store with camera’s rolling- to ask what exactly clerks are selling.

RACHEL DEPOMPA: “We got a tip to our newsroom that you guys are selling spice still.”

CLERK: “No, we don’t sell.”


RACHEL DEPOMPA: “But somebody just bought it, a lady just bought it?”

CLERK: HMMM HMMM. But we have nothing in the spices right here. Don’t call it spice. It’s illegal. Illegal, ok? Spice is illegal ok?”

RACHEL- “So this is different?”

CLERK: “Can you stop the camera please.”

“It is certainly disappointing and discouraging that there are people who are still willing to sell it,” said State Senator Mark Herring (D- Loudoun). He says he wrote Virginia’s synthetic marijuana law, after hearing from parents across the state who’s kids were ending up in the hospital.

According to a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana is the second most popular drug of choice for high schoolers.

“One of the problems that we found that was because it was legal, there were a lot of people who thought it was safe. And in fact, these type of designer drugs can have very profound health impacts,” said Herring.

After the law was passed- prosecution of large spice busts around the states quickly hit roadblocks- there are potentially hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids that makers could substitute for the banned ones- and that’s exactly what has happened.

Virginia’s forensic lab tested 468 spice samples last year and only 22%, that’s less than one in four, came back positive for banned substances.

Chesterfield Police targeted the designer drug, arresting 57 people in the last year and a half.

We dug through the court records and of those cases, more than half were dropped or dismissed. Only 5 people in Chesterfield have actually been convicted for possession of synthetic marijuana.

“The people who manufacture this and the people who are selling it know the purpose for which it’s being used for. They shouldn’t be doing it,” said Herring.

The General Assembly just tightened the law one more time making it so a small change in the molecular structure of spice could still fall within the statute and be criminal.

The update to the law went into effect July 1st and has yet to be tested in a courtroom.

Under Virginia law, those caught selling synthetic marijuana could be charged with a felony and face one to five years in prison.