Calls to poison-control centers have spiked with wider use of 'synthetic marijuana.' Some are moving to ban the substance.
Sam Huberty didn't think about possible side effects when he tried synthetic marijuana in a relative's garage back in June.
The Hastings 14-year-old was home on a weekend pass from a drug-treatment center, where he was staying for marijuana addiction.
"I just really wanted to get high," Huberty said.
He knew the fake pot wouldn't show up on any drug tests, so he put the pipe to his lips and took a few tokes, he said. Soon, he began to vomit.
"When I first saw him, he was laying on the bathroom floor mumbling words and drowning in sweat," recalled his mother, Stacy Huberty, a licensed nurse who rushed from her job to be with her son. "I thought he was going to die."
Ever since, the mother of three has been on the front lines of the fight against "herbal incense," which is sold legally in some tobacco shops, head shops and gas stations.
Earlier this month, Huberty asked the Hastings City Council to outlaw the substance. And she has promised state Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, she would talk about its dangers at the Capitol when the lawmaker seeks a statewide ban next year.
"I think there are a lot of parents who, like me, had never heard of this stuff," Huberty said. "We need to shine a light on it and get some sort of ban on it now. We can't wait."
UNREGULATED, BANNED IN SOME STATES
A tall case in the back of the Smokes 4 Less shop in Cottage Grove displays colorful glass pipes and small packets of Happy Shaman Herbs, which are sold as incense with names such as Water-Mellow, Trance and Bubble Dum. Two signs taped to the case warn the products are "not for human consumption."
On Tuesday afternoon, a middle-aged man handed over $32 to the tobacco shop for three grams of Midnight Blue, which looks and smells like blueberry potpourri. He admitted — once in the parking lot — that he planned to go home, pack the leafy blend into his glass pipe and smoke it to get high.
"What I'm doing is not illegal," he said, and then declined to give his name for this article.
But herbal incense is coming under fire from politicians and public health officials across the country who say that when smoked, it causes much stronger and more dangerous side effects than the marijuana it tries to mimic.
Iowa, North Dakota and at least eight other states have recently banned the unregulated products, sold under brand names such as K2 and Spice.
Last month, Duluth became the first city in Minnesota to outlaw the sale and possession of the products.
Officials in nearby Superior, Wis., followed suit Sept. 7, becoming the second city in that state with such a prohibition.
SPIKE AT POISONCONTROL CENTERS
The products often contain the synthetic cannabinoid compounds JWH-018 and JWH-073, which were developed in a laboratory more than 10 years ago in research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
"Evidently, some people have figured out how to make them and are putting them in products marketed as incense," John Huffman, creator of the compounds that bear his initials, said in a statement.
Huffman, a professor of organic chemistry at Clemson University in South Carolina, said the compounds were not meant for human use.
"Their effects in humans have not been studied, and they could very well have toxic effects," he said.
The jump in synthetic-marijuana-related calls to poison-control centers nationwide this year is unprecedented, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. As of Wednesday, the poison centers have taken 1,340 calls from 48 states and the District of Columbia. There were 14 calls in 2009.
Minnesota is part of that trend. In 2009, the Hennepin Regional Poison Center had no reports to its statewide poison-control hot line about synthetic marijuana. This year, there have been 51 suspected cases, with most coming from emergency room workers. Patients have ranged in age from 14 to 66.
Their side effects have mainly been an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, said Stacy Bangh, the center's clinical coordinator. A few people have had seizures.
"It's not the normal effect you'd get from regular marijuana," she said. "Maybe the ones we don't hear about get the mellow feeling; it's hard to say. It seems to depend on the person."
Sam Huberty was unresponsive when he and his mom arrived at the emergency room. He spent the next five hours being treated for a "dangerously low" potassium level, his mom said.
"It wasn't worth it," Sam said of his attempt to get stoned.
PHARMACY BOARD TAKES ACTION
The Hastings public safety committee will discuss whether to outlaw the substances at its Sept. 27 meeting.
But a city ban could be an uphill battle.
City Attorney Dan Fluegel said pre-emption generally prevents local governments from making laws in fields of regulation that the state actively or potentially may regulate.
"If pre-emption occurs, the local law will be void, even if it does not directly conflict with the state law," he wrote in an e-mail to council member Danna Elling Schultz.
Police Chief Paul Schnell noted that although synthetic marijuana is not being sold in town, it can be bought elsewhere — including the Internet — and brought into Hastings.
Mayor Paul Hicks said he would be open to supporting a citywide ban "if we can show it would be effective. But I would not support something that cannot be enforced legally or through police personnel."
But a city or state ban might not even be necessary. In late July, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy took the first step in adding synthetic cannabinoids to the list of Schedule 1 drugs. The board could make the substances illegal as early as November.
Said the board's executive director, Cody Wiberg: "We've got this on the fast track."
By Nick Ferraro
Updated: 09/18/2010 10:07:29 PM CDT
Link to story: http://www.twincities.com/ci_16106878?nclick_check=1
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Fake pot, real danger