As our country continues to be ravaged by the opiate crisis, there is another dangerous drug that is falling into the hands of our children at a dizzying rate: synthetic marijuana. A harmful message is being sent to our younger generation as states pass the legalization of marijuana, offering it as a safe and harmless drug. The problem is compounded when our young people believe that synthetic marijuana is the same as natural marijuana. They don’t realize that nothing could be further from the truth. Young people across the country are becoming seriously ill and dying after using synthetic marijuana, even after using it for the first time. Synthetic marijuana is commonly known as “Spice” or “K2” and is a mixture of herbs and spices. These spices have been doused with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Chemical compounds typically include HU-210, HU-211, JWH-018, and JWH-073, but there are hundreds more as chemists “tweak” the formula in an attempt to stay ahead of the law. (1)
Users and sellers should be aware that “modifying” the chemical composition of a drug is still illegal. The altered substance may be a new formula, also known as an analog, but it contains chemical compounds similar to those that are prohibited and therefore remain illegal under the Federal Analogs Act, 21 USC, Section 813. An analog of a drug is a created product. variation that is chemically or pharmacologically similar to an original or created formula (another existing analog). A controlled substance analog shall, to the extent that it is intended for human consumption, be treated for purposes of any federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance. (2). Most states have also implemented similar state laws to combat the abuse and sale of synthetic drugs, in addition to existing federal regulations.
Synthetic marijuana is commonly purchased at cigarette stores, tobacconists, gas stations, and online. It is often marketed as frankincense or “fake herb” and the packaging is labeled “Not for Human Consumption.” Synthetic marijuana E cigarette chemists mistakenly believe that selling the product as incense or potpourri will protect them from federal prosecution. Synthetic marijuana street names include Bliss, Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Genie, Mojo, Scooby Snax, Spice, Zohai, and many others. The chemicals that produce these synthetic cannabinoids do so by spraying chemicals on ground plants and herbs. As a result of reactions between chemicals and herbal materials, some synthetic cannabinoids can be up to 100 times more potent than natural THC. These chemicals are often not products intended for human consumption and undiluted, many would be lethal. The use of these chemicals results in a significant number of dangers and negative side effects including high blood pressure, blurred vision, heart attack, vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, severe anxiety, paranoia, violent behavior, and death. (3)
Synthetic marijuana is typically sold in a colorful package containing dehydrated green or brown plant material. However, as the popularity of “vaping” and the use of e-cigarettes that use liquid variations of tobacco substitutes increases, there has been an increase in the commercialization of liquid forms of synthetic marijuana. Internet sites sell liquids to vaporize and inhale in e-cigarettes and other devices, which are other forms of synthetic marijuana.
Parents should monitor their children’s behavior and discuss the dangers of synthetic drugs with them. Regardless of the legal issues related to natural and synthetic marijuana, statistics show that marijuana is the most abused drug among adolescents and is a gateway drug to addiction to street and prescription drugs, including heroin . Parents and educators should keep an eye on their children when shopping online or buying items from small local stores. Some stores may keep synthetic marijuana out of sight to avoid law enforcement, but still offer to sell it behind the counter. When confronted, if a child or student possesses a package labeled “Not suitable for human consumption”, the substance must be seized and turned over to local authorities. The dangers of using synthetic drugs cannot be overstated to children and other potential users.