Synthetic marijuana has been reported to be involved in 3 deaths in Colorado and a rash of hospitalizations (58 cases at last count) directly related to its use. The symptoms reported include severe agitation and delirium, confusion and extreme sleepiness, kidney damage and seizures.
Having first appeared in the United States around 2009, synthetic marijuana is a psychoactive designer drug created by spraying natural herbs with legal chemicals that imitate the effects of cannabis. The chemicals used in the spray are called cannabinoids because they mimic real cannabis. They’re used to avoid the laws that make cannabis illegal and, although these chemicals do create a psychoactive effect, they don’t produce positive drug test results.
The increased use of synthetic marijuana in Colorado initially puzzled me since the use of real marijuana is legal in that state. But the drug is becoming increasingly popular among the teen crowd, with the biggest users in the 12-17 year-old age category, and that might explain its preference over legal marijuana since the product often is sold in stores as a household item and is sometimes labeled as herbal incense. In other retail establishments, like head shops and convenience stores, the product is marketed as “K2” or “Spice”.
The dangers of synthetic psychoactive drugs, like synthetic cannabis, are that the legal chemicals used to mimic the psychotropic effects of the real drug often create a psychosis; that is, they facilitate the onset or worsening of an existing psychiatric disorder and therefore can produce enhanced hallucinations, delusions, violence and impaired insight. So anyone with a predisposition to a psychotic episode could be pushed over the edge by using these legal alternatives.
When a product is designed to mimic the effects of an illegal drug but is made with legal ingredients, the DEA must create a specific law to make that product illegal. Until that happens, the drug is considered “unofficial but legal” in many jurisdictions. And as soon as the DEA outlaws a specific drug, a new variation is often designed and marketed as the next big thrill.
Statistics show that there’s a growing parallel market, called the grey market, for these alternatives to illegal drugs, and as soon as their use is made illegal new ones become available. The DEA has identified over 200 such new substances in the last four years alone.
It would seem possible to stem their growth by heightened laws and enforcement, but I continue to wonder if a more prudent approach would be public education starting at an early age regarding the dangers of using these “pop up drugs”.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!