Spice, K2, synthetic marijuana, fake weed … there has been a lot of media attention and controversy lately surrounding a new drug that is being sold on the Internet and sometimes in local novelty shops, tobacco and convenience stores. The drug is a mixture of dried herbs and plant material that is covered or sprayed with chemicals, and sold in small packets.
Product names besides K2 and Spice include Blaze, Mojo, Genie, Red Ball, Voodoo Magic, Spice Gold, Yucatan Fire, Pulse, Genie, Ignite, Demon, Zohai, Serenity and Eclipse. Although it is marketed and sold as incense or potpourri and “not for human consumption,” many young people are smoking it in hopes of getting a legal marijuana-like high.
When someone purchases one of these products, what they actually get may contain any combination of about 10 different chemicals, and vary widely in potency. One chemical additive in particular, known as JWH-018, is 4 to 10 times more potent than THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Since the different chemicals and combinations of chemicals produce different effects, it is nearly impossible to tell how any given product or dosage will affect the user.
To make things worse, the production is completely unregulated, which means that one batch of any given product may affect the user differently than the next batch. Some people are trying “synthetic marijuana” instead of regular marijuana in hopes of passing drug screening tests for marijuana. While this remains to be seen, at least one law enforcement official has stated that the synthetic marijuana will show positive for marijuana on drug tests.
While users are anticipating a “relaxing” high from these drugs, they often get just the opposite effect: a dangerously elevated heart rate and blood pressure, anxiety, numbness and tingling sensations, nausea and vomiting, agitation which can be severe and require sedation, and even intense hallucinations and delusions.
One user said “It is not like smoking pot. Within 10 minutes I was in a crazy place — racing heart, paranoia, inability to form sentences, uncontrollable muscle twitching. The ‘trip’ lasted well over an hour — I just wanted out. It (was) not what you expect.”
Although these products are marketed as natural herbal blends (not that being natural would make them OK), the chemicals that are sprayed or added to them are far from natural.
These synthetic cannabinoids have been developed through research projects, some aimed at deciphering the body’s endocannabinoid system, while others were studying the effects of cannabinoids on mice. None of these obscure chemicals is controlled as a drug or used for medical purposes, and because the synthetic cannanaboids are relatively new and obscure, it is difficult for labs to test these “synthetic marijuana” products to determine their exact chemical nature.
Although research into some of these chemicals is now under way, there is no officially published safety data and almost nothing is known about their effects on humans.
The war on drugs is being fought in our streets and in countries that export drugs. The battle over legality of drugs is being fought in our courtrooms. Although several states have now banned these “synthetic marijuana” products, we cannot rely on laws and government agencies to keep these products out of our children’s hands.
One look at certain websites and it is easy to see the wide variety and availability of substances that are sold to people of all ages to provide a “legal high.” When one product or substance is banned, it seems that an alternative is not too far behind. Parents should be watchful for warning signs of “synthetic marijuana” use, including the smell of spicy incense, elevated vital signs (increase in pulse, respiration, or blood pressure), a pale appearance, agitation and hyperactivity, and confusion due to hallucinations.
We need to fight our own war on drugs in our homes, schools and neighborhoods. Parents need to learn about the true nature of these products that will provide a “legal high” and inform their children. Knowledge is power, and keeping an open line of communication with our children is critical. Remember, just because something is legal does not mean it is safe, and in reality, some of these “legal” products may actually prove to be more harmful than traditional substances of abuse.
Lisa Harmon Mollicone is the coordinator of the Manalapan-Englishtown Community Alliance to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
LISA HARMON MOLLICONE
April 7, 2010