Synthetic weed may cause heart attacks, but it’s tough to ban

Spice, Blaze, K2, Red X Dawn. Any of them sound familiar? They’re different brands of synthetic pot — psychoactive drugs (commonly marketed in head shops as incense) which contain chemicals that, much like the THC in marijuana, act on the cannabinoid receptors in your brain. Sounds peachy, right? There’s a catch. Unlike pot, which is known to increase heart rate but is otherwise rarely linked to heart problems, the synthetic stuff appears to be leading to heart attacks, most recently in three Texas teenagers.

Back in November, 80beats’ Douglas Main gave this rundown of the circumstances surrounding the cases, which are published in that month’s journal Pediatrics:

Serious as a Heart Attack:

  • All three teenagers were seen at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas within three months of one another, after complaining of chest pain for several days. Myocardial infarctions were confirmed with EEG readings and the presence of troponin, a chemical released when heart muscles are damaged. Each was treated and released.
  • Though all three admitted to smoking marijuana in the previous few weeks, their use of K2 occurred just before symptoms of chest pain began. Two tested positive for THC; all tested negative for other drugs of abuse. Only one patient was tested for two synthetic cannabinoids, which weren’t detected. This is likely due to the widely varying blend of cannabinoids used in these products.
  • Very rarely, marijuana use has been linked to heart attacks, thought to arise from THC’s ability to increase heart rate and cardiac output.
  • K2 may cause an increased risk for a heart attack due to a stronger activation of this same pathway, or via another unknown route. Colin Kane, a pediatric cardiologist at UT Southwestern & Children’s Medical Center in Dallas told Reuters he was “certainly suspicious that there was something in the K2 that would have caused these heart attacks.”
  • No chemical analysis was done on the products the teenagers smoked and is only described in the paper as, “K2, Spice (Dallas, Texas, manufacturer unknown).”

In any case, all these adverse reactions to synthetic weed were obviously attracting the attention of the U.S. DEA, which promptly stepped in to ban the stuff; but — surprise, surprise — attempts to curb the sale of these substances have been woefully unavailing. On July 9th, President Obama signed into law the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, a federal ban on, as its name suggests, synthetic drugs. But as Wired’s Brandon Keim reports, the ban has managed to become obsolete in a manner of days:

Drug formulations not covered by the law’s language, and almost certainly synthesized in direct response to legal pressure, are already on sale. If synthetics are supposed to be part of the War on Drugs, then this battle may already be lost.

“There are several compounds out there now, in mixtures that I’ve tested myself, that would not fall under this ban,” said Kevin Shanks, a forensic toxicologist at AIT Laboratories, an Indiana-based chemical testing company. “The law just can’t seem to keep up.”

It’s hard to watch this kind of scenario unfold and not reflect on the absurdity of marijuana criminalization. Is this a preview of what the war on drugs will look like in the years to come — a continuously escalating back-and-forth between the laws that would see a substance like marijuana banned, and the (potentially dangerous) reactionary measures designed to exploit loopholes in those laws?

“In this area of Indiana, we’re not seeing any of the classical compounds we’ve seen in the last year,” Shanks said. “We’re seeing the uncontrolled ones. I have no doubt they were designed specifically for that reason.”

Alleged user, sellers of man-made pot charged in crash

A Pottstown man who police said was “flying” on K2, or synthetic pot, and two others who supplied it from behind the counter of a local convenience store were charged Monday in connection with a May 21 car crash that killed two people.

In the first charges to be lodged in Montgomery County under the state’s recent ban on synthetic drugs, police announced the filing of two counts of vehicular homicide against Roger Malloy, 27, of the 300 block of N. York Street.

Malloy told police he had just smoked K2 on May 21 when the Lincoln Continental he was driving went out of control on rain-slick pavement, killing Pottstown residents James Crawford, 28, and Rachel Witt, 15, who were in the car.

A third passenger, Kendall Harper, 16, was severely injured in the crash on State Street in the northwestern Montgomery County borough, police said.

Police also announced the arrest of Rafie Ali, 34, of the 400 block of E. High Street, and Mohamed Himed, 25, of the Bronx, N.Y.

Ali, authorities allege, was proprietor of the store where Malloy purchased the K2. Himed was a clerk.

The pair were charged with corrupt organizations, delivering a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to court papers, the two peddled the illegal substance for $5 a bag or vial from behind the counter of the Achi store, a convenience shop at 315 E. High Street.

The pair were not charged with vehicular homicide because the anti-synthetic drug legislation passed Aug. 22, 2011, has no provision for that.

“We can’t file homicide charges against them, but make no mistake, they do have blood on their hands,” said District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman during a briefing in Norristown.

The two men were arraigned late Monday before District Judge Edward C. Kropp Sr., who ordered each held on $1 million bail in the Montgomery County prison. Malloy was awaiting arraignment before Kropp late Monday.

Ferman portrayed the case as a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when young people use synthetic marijuana.

Also known as “spice,” “K2” and fake weed, it is a manmade chemical compound that can be sprayed on a natural herb. When smoked, it delivers a high similar to THC, the prime ingredient in marijuana.

“K2 might look like something from a candy store, but it can kill,” Ferman said. She said young people use it because they believe it is cheap, relative to marijuana, and because they think “it’s not dangerous.”

“It can get you into as much trouble as other illegal drugs,” she warned.

On June 15, 2011, a 16-year-old Upper Moreland boy who had just smoked K2 jumped off the third story of a parking garage in Abington Township and was severely injured.

Police said the boy was sitting in a car with three friends about 8 p.m. when “he began to act oddly and may have been hallucinating.”

“He suddenly climbed out of the car. . .and ran full speed and leaped off of the deck,” detectives said. No charges were filed in connection with the incident because the synthetic drug ban had yet to become law.

In the Pottstown case, the K2 “caused [Malloy’s] heart to beat faster, blurred his vision, and caused a sense of panic,” according to court papers.

The car skidded 443 feet before coming to rest in an alley. Malloy pulled his friends from the back seat of the car and then vanished, police said. Malloy was apprehended May 22 while trying to escape authorities on a bicycle.


Synthetic Marijuana Gives Users Legal High

Across the country, demand for a synthetic form of marijuana is soaring. Unlike the real thing, this drug – called spice or K2 – is legal in most states. Now, a handful of lawmakers are taking action. This week Missouri became the sixth state to ban the use of K2.

It’s a designer drug fad fueled online, CBS News Correspondent Seth Doane reports. Brian Siegal first heard about it from friends and then saw it on the Internet.

“The word gets out so quickly and just spreads like wildfire,” Siegel said.

It has names like spice and genie but is mostly known as K2, providing a high likened to marijuana. If you have not heard of it yet, staffers at places such as the Georgia Poison Center sure have, fielding more than 50 calls about K2 in the last two months.

“We started seeing a mushrooming of calls,” Dr. Gaylor Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center, said.

Nationwide, more than 500 people have phoned poison centers about the drug already this year, up from just 12 calls last year.

The synthetic marijuana is packaged in brightly colored bags and may only look harmless.

“This is incredibly dangerous,” Lopez said.

K2 can be up to 15 times more powerful than marijuana and lead to a disturbing range of symptoms, Lopez said.

“We’ve seen people with slight tremors to even seizure activity,” Lopez said.

Still, K2 is legal in 44 states and easy to get anywhere. The six states banning the drug are Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Missouri. Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and New York are considering bans.

“You can order it online, and you can get it in magazines,” said Siegel. “Very easy to get.”

It’s not detected by drug-tests either.

“It’s like a dream come true for an addict,” Jason Schmider, a K2 drug user, said.

Schmider tried the drug more than 50 times until he wound up in the hospital, he said.

“That was the final straw,” he said.

Then, he found himself at drug treatment center called Phoenix House outside New York City.

Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to learn what’s in the drug itself. CBS News was granted rare access at a special testing facility near Washington, D.C.

‘They’ll market it as incense, or bath salts,” DEA Special Agent Gary Boggs said.

Tests are part of deciding whether spice and K2 should be a controlled substance, Boggs said.

“The fact that they’re legal really is almost irrelevant,” said Boggs. “People are just basically playing Russian roulette with these every time they take them.”

That’s a gamble that means months of rehab for Schmider.

“It was like the scariest moment of my life,” said Schmider. “It’s not worth it.”

Burnin Man Herbs Review

Burnin’ Man… Like the name, cool play on the popular hippy fest and other euphemisms. The packaging itself is sleek with a pretty cool but blown-up low resolution image of a flaming skull. Despite this the labeling is crystal clear making for a bit of design disparity. Anyhow, this is not really too significant in the overall evaluation of the product–onto the herbs.

The herbs themselves are a little moist in a good way. There are some very nicely formed herbs in the blend, a good number of stems, then absolutely huge stems. Perhaps chunks is a more suitable description. I’m talking tree trunk chunks. In all three bags I received there were at least 4 or so of these large masses I didn’t feel too inclined to burn on account of its predictable harshness. Even a feeble attempt proved futile as the chunks were difficult to light and remain lit. The verdict–a slight waste of net weight.

The smell of Blueberry is succulent enough, albeit not the freshest blueberry scent you’ll encounter.Hypnotic has a more palpable scent from the bag that carries well to the aroma, and call me crazy (which you can) but I got the sense Hypnotic was more berry-like than Blueberry.

Lighting the incense produces thick clouds of smoke. The aroma is heavy but effective, producing a heady sensation for about 10 minutes or so before waning slowly to a fade in say, the next 20-30 minutes. Approximate retail value is set around $22.99/3g (~$7.66/g). It’s a good one to try, but my hunch tells me again the price is a little too high for what’s inside.

Strength: 8.5/10
AromaBlueberry (8.2/10), Hypnotic (8.6/10)
Overall: 8.4/10