Synthetic Marijuana is ‘Dangerous Stuff’

In the wake of raids on a dozen Washington County businesses selling the drug, Dr. Neil Capretto of Gateway Rehabilitation said the problem is ‘everywhere.’


Dr. Neil Capretto said one patient who came intoGateway Rehabilitation called the synthetic pot he was smoking “like marijuana on steroids.”

In the wake of a raid of a dozen Washington County businesses that were selling the synthetic marijuana, often packaged as incense and labeled “not fit for human consumption,” Capretto, Gateway’s medical director, said the use of such “designer drugs” is on the rise.

“It’s everywhere,” the doctor said. “It’s through most of the country now.”

And it’s getting worse, he said. Right now, he said there are 140 different versions of synthetic marijuana, and each has its own “tweaked” version of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in the drug.

The concept is based of research done in the 1990s by a scientist who was working to create a synthetic form of the drug for legitimate reasons, trying to mimic the relaxation and sedation effects of marijuana.

But Capretto said the doctor later abandoned the research because the synthetic version was similar “but much, much more potent.”

How much more?

“It was two to 10 times more potent,” Capretto said, adding that the potency causes much more extreme effects, including hallucinations and loss of motor-coordination skills.

Generally smoked, the products sold and seized at local shops come mostly from China, where makers spray the drug on plant material, and market it as incense or potpourri.

“It’s like, ‘Wink, wink,” but everyone knows,” Capretto said. “This is some very potent, dangerous stuff.”

And while the drugs have made its way into many circles, the doctor said it’s use it most common in two groups.

The first group includes people between the ages of 18 and 30.

The other group? People in the legal system or a work environment that requires regular drug testing.

Capretto said that while technology is advancing, it’s difficult to screen for the drug because its make-up is slightly different from traditional THC.


“So you pass your drug test,” Capretto said.

He asked parents and members of the community to be vigilant—and not assume that the name “synthetic marijuana” or the fact it can be found in convenience stores and gas stations are signs it is safe to consume.

And he said he thinks the stores, which he said have made as much as $100,000 a year selling the synthetic marijuana also known also as K2 or K3, should be held accountable.

“We have to hold their feet to the fire,” Capretto said.

DEA raids smoke shops across Valley for synthetic marijuana

Authorities are raiding smoke shops across the Rio Grande Valley in search of synthetic marijuana containing a recently outlawed chemical mixture.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents filed more than a dozen search warrants with a federal judge in Brownsville on Monday.

Authorities spent Wednesday morning executing the search warrants looking for Spice, Kush, K2 and other brands of synthetic marijuana.

Federal court records show that DEA agents filed search warrants for the following locations:

• Cloud 9 Smoke Shop, Padre Boulevard, South Padre Island
• Dark Secrets Smoke Shop, Central Boulevard Brownsville
• 420 Smoke Shop, International Boulevard, Brownsville
• Green Dragon Smoke Shop, International Boulevard, Brownsville
• Green Dragon Smoke Shop, Padre Island Highway, Brownsville
• Pokey’s Planet, Boca Chica Boulevard, Brownsville
• Pokey’s Planet, Alton Gloor Boulevard, Brownsville
• Pokey’s Planet, West University Drive, Edinburg
• Pokey’s Planet, Trenton Road, Edinburg
• Pokey’s Planet, West Tyler Avenue, Harlingen
• Eight Eighty Smoke Shop, South F Street, Harlingen
• Pokey’s Planet, Expressway 77/83, San Benito
• 420 Smoke Shop, Travis Street, San Benito
• Pokey’s Planet, Expressway 83, Weslaco

But Action 4 News viewers reported DEA raids at other locations in Pharr and McAllen.

Coordinated Effort

Action 4 News spoke to Will Glaspy with the DEA in McAllen.

Glaspy said that a total of 33 smoke shops were raided across the Valley on Wednesday morning.

The DEA in McAllen called in agents from other area and used the assistance of local police departments and the Texas Department of Public safety.

Results of the raids were not immediately available but the DEA is expected to hold a process conference.

Glaspy said he could not comment if the raids in the Valley were part of a larger national effort.

Search Warrants

Synthetic marijuana is described as an organic substance sprayed with chemicals to simulate the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Manufacturers label the product that it’s “not for human consumption” and are constantly changing the chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana.

Federal officials updated the list of prohibited chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana back on July 9th.

According to the search warrant application, the targeted stores sell synthetic marijuana as well as the pipes and other materials used to smoke it.

Undercover agents went to smoke shops across the Valley and spoke with employees about about which synthetic marijuana product was better.

The undercover agents bought the synthetic marijuana at different locations and had it sent to a lab where it test postive for the prohibited chemcials

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.”

Smoking Spice

For all those adherents to the “ignorance is bliss doctrine,” synthetic marijuana, commonly and hereafter referred to as spice, is now illegal in Georgia and many other states.

In May 2012, Governor Nathan Deal signed SB 370, which classifies synthetic marijuana (JWH-018) as a Schedule I drug — up there with heroin, GHB and natural marijuana.

While once a viable alternative to smoking the green, odorous plant, spice has now become a pointless alternative.

Yet people continue to smoke it.

Spice is a synthetic compound that mimics the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that yields the high. The compound is usually sprayed onto a burnable substance and then marketed in pouches as incense (c’mon manufacturers, who are you really fooling?).

The only “edge” spice held over marijuana were that it was techinically a legal substance — and that it didn’t show up on as many drug tests.

But that didn’t mean it was safe.

Users have reported feelings of nausea, paranoia and dizziness arising as a result of using the drug. From there you know the high isn’t as “good” as the one that marijuana yields.

The fact that people continue to smoke the substance is baffling. Governor Nathan Deal signed SB into effect after reports surfaced of deaths and psychosis resulting from using the drug.

Both of those are occurrences that one should never want to risk.

The only other “advantage” spice held over marijuana is that it didn’t show up on basic drug tests. There are two lines of pragmatic logic that stem from this fact. First, if chemists can dream up the drug, it’s highly probable that other chemists can dream up drug tests to detect that drug. And second, if spice usage is becoming such an epidemic even after the drug was illegalized, it’s exceedingly likely that said drug tests will become widespread amongst doctors, employers, etc.

Your decisions are your own, and we as an editorial board can only provide the information necessary to make sure you make choices with all of the facts readily accessible.

So if you are going to smoke an illicit substance, why would you smoke one that yields graver health effects and even possible death?

Before the legal and medical studies came to light, spice was a craftier alternative to getting high on marijuana.

But now, it’s just a imbecilic drug to imbibe in.

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.”

Herbal incense new way people getting high

NEW ORLEANS – It’s sold as incense, but most people aren’t lighting it for its smell. Many are smoking it to get a marijuana-like high. It’s called mojo, or spice, and many other varieties are being sold all across the metro New Orleans area.

But there are no regulations on it, and law enforcement has a warning for parents tonight about what people are calling “legal weed.”

So is it legal?

“Weed, here in Louisiana anyway, it’s illegal. My job, it requires drug testing. So, that’s one reason I don’t any longer smoke weed,” said French Quarter tour guide and Internet videoblogger Casey Nunez.

He admits, he’s smoked plenty of marijuana, but now, he’s smoking mojo.

“Very similar to the feel of marijuana when you’re under the influence of it,” Nunez said.

It’s sold as incense at herb shops, also known as “Ra” or “head” shops. And Nunez said it’s everywhere.

“It’s very evident in the French Quarter. You’ve got a lot of people walking down the street with their pipes smokin’ the mojo,” he said.
There are different varieties of incense that people are smoking. Some are called “spice” or “spice gold”. And it’s so widespread in New Orleans that it’s even sold at some convenience stores and gas stations.

“I’d say it’s readily available in the metropolitan area and on the Internet,” said New Orleans Police Department Deputy Superintendent of Narcotics, James Scott.

And just about anyone can buy it.  Some shops only sell to people over age 18, but others have no age restrictions.

“It allows the children to become intoxicated in some cases, probably right under their parents’ noses,” Scott said.

Mojo creates a marijuana-like high, but it doesn’t smell like marijuana. And apparently, it doesn’t show up on standard drug tests.

Nunez took a home test after smoking mojo. He sent us a picture of his negative result.

“This will not show up on a field test kit because the field test kits test for THC,” said Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Jimmy Fox.

Police and the DEA use field kits to test and see if drugs they find contain THC, the chemical in marijuana that federal law deems an illegal drug.

Only detailed, DEA analysis has shown that a combination of three synthetic chemicals, including the compound jw8-018, is what gives smokers that marijuana-like high.

The DEA has included that specific combination in their list of controlled substances, but only detailed chemical analysis in a lab will find that combination of chemicals. The field test kits don’t.

Spice in and of itself is a herbal. But what it makes it illegal is when these compounds, synthetically, have been used to include some of those ingredients that give that euphoria of THC,” Fox said.

The problem even the DEA has is that manufacturers keep changing the chemicals used to mimic THC, and each combination would have to be both outlawed and traceable in order to enforce it.

Under Louisiana law, that specific, synthetic THC combination is not illegal.

Plus, packages for mojo and other “spice” products only say they contain a group of natural herbs. They also read, “not for human consumption.”

“It’s not something that we could arrest them for. It creates a problem,” Scott said.

Even Nunez will tell you, it packs a more powerful punch than most marijuana.

According to Scott, the Crimestoppers drug hotline isn’t getting a large number of calls about mojo. They’ve only received one from the North shore and one from the South shore in the past two years.

However, owners of local “Ra” shops told Eyewitness news they are getting calls from parents wondering how their teens got their hands on it, and what exactly it is.

“We’re extremely concerned about it because what we’ve seen so far is that a lot of young adults are starting to experiment with it,” Fox said.

The irony is, police say mojo is nearly twice the average street price for marijuana in the New Orleans area.

“Very expensive,” Nunez said. WWL-TV Reporter Katie Moore asked, “People are paying it? Why?” Nunez replied, “Because it’s that good. And it’s legal. You’re not doing something that you need to worry about incarceration or being fined or put in jail.”

It’s likely the same reason teens are trying it, and it’s why police want to warn parents and employers that the jar of incense might be a way for people to get high.

The state of Kansas just recently outlawed mojo or spice on January 1.

It’s already illegal in a handful of European countries.