Whether you voted for or against the legalization of marijuana, many U.S. citizens now live in states where marijuana has been legalized. For those living in states where marijuana is still illegal, a product called “synthetic marijuana” is on the market as a purportedly legal alternative. Though the synthetic form is also illegal, drug producers are working hard to stay one step ahead of the law so that they can continue selling it disguised as something else. How does all of this impact us?
Changing Cultural Norms Around Weed: The Positives and Negatives
Some people with medical conditions are benefiting from the pain relief that natural, medical-grade marijuana (cannabis) provides. For them, the legalization of medical marijuana has been a boon. This is not the case for highway patrol officers and traffic control agencies, who are grappling with increasing numbers of DWI traffic accidents — there are now more drugged drivers on the road, and marijuana is the drug most often cited for their impairment. For marijuana users who consider weed one of the more benign recreational drugs on the market, some of the stigma around marijuana smoking has diminished with legalization. The occasional toke on a “joint” is no longer cause for being arrested. This has led to changing attitudes in society, and has given rise to a new “weed culture.” The new culture has appeal among a younger demographic — a new generation of pot smokers and weed consumers, who may not be aware of the dangers of the popular synthetic marijuana products they are buying.
Hidden Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana Products Now on the Market
The market for weed is booming, with plentiful supplies of synthetic cannabinoids now available. Cannabinoids — synthetic chemicals that are said to provide the same pleasurable effects or “high” as natural marijuana — act on the same brain cell receptors as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. However, the effects are far more powerful than those derived from the marijuana plant, and far more dangerous. In addition to THC, synthetic marijuana products contain a slew of other unknown additives that can contribute to severe illness and, in some cases, death. Despite many cases of illness and death among users, drug labs continue producing many new types of cannabinoids or marijuana synthetics to a large consumer market. One reason for their growing popularity over the natural version is that they cannot be as easily detected in standard drug urine tests.
Buyer Beware: Hazardous ‘Spice’ and Other So-Called ‘Herbs’
Some of the new synthetics are sold online via special “herb” or “spice” websites. Though promoted as “herbs and spices” unsuspecting consumers may not realize that the newest weed products available are not herbal or natural at all, but manufactured. The synthetics are man-made chemicals that are sprayed onto dried or shredded plant materials so they can be smoked, or distilled into liquids so they can be vaporized — inhaled using a trendy vaporizer or e-cigarette device. Though marijuana synthetics are packaged as “fake weed,” “potpourri,” “herbal incense” or “liquid incense,” with catchy names like “Spice,” “Kush,” “Black Mamba,” “Scooby Doo,” “K2” and “Kronic,” insiders know these products are not intended for use as aromatic room fresheners. The additives in synthetic marijuana products are promoted as natural mixtures when in reality most include new psychoactive substances, or NPS. These are unregulated psychoactive substances that are intended to copy the mind-altering effects of illegal drugs. NPS were around years ago and banned, but hundreds have reentered the market in altered chemical forms that are used in cannabinoids. Much of the synthetic marijuana on the market comes from labs in China, where production is unregulated, resulting in unknown variations in the potency and toxicity of the chemical additives in each batch. The new weed consumers, often teenagers and young adults, don’t realize the dangers of the synthetic cannabinoids they are buying. Based on the herbal-sounding names, they are misled into believing that the products are natural and harmless. Furthermore, they don’t realize that the formulations of these products are highly variable, even when sold under the same name. The stuff they buy today is different from what they were buying even a year ago, and can be much more hazardous. In contrast to the relaxed, happy mood characterizing the marijuana “high” that cannabinoid users expect, they may encounter unexpected negative effects like vomiting, rapid heart rate, confusion anxiety, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, violent behavior and suicidal thoughts. Those lured by false claims that cannabinoids or synthetic marijuana are a safe, natural product must be warned that even one use can land them in the hospital, or worse. Those who are abusing synthetic marijuana should seek treatment before falling victim to these dangers.
Synthetic Cannabinoids. National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, November 2015. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids Synthetic Marijuana Deaths Tripled This Year. Max Kutner. Newsweek: Tech & Science, June 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/synthetic-marijuana-deaths-tripled-year-342453 K2 Overdoses Surge in New York: At Least 130 Cases This Week Alone. Sarah Maslin Nir. The New York Times, July 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/nyregion/k2-overdose-spike-in-new-york-at-least-130-cases-this-week-alone.html?ribbon-ad-idx=4&rref=nyregion&_r=2 What Is the Deal With Synthetic Marijuana? Everything you need to know about fake weed. Leon Neyfakh. Slate, July 2016. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2016/02/synthetic_marijuana_is_a_weird_and_confusing_drug_here_s_what_you_need_to.html In Fatal Traffic Accidents, More Drivers Are Drugged Than Drunk. Impaired Driving. Narcanon, May 2017. http://www.narconon.org/blog/in-fatal-traffic-accidents-more-drivers-are-drugged-than-drunk.html Drugged Driving. National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, June 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drugged-driving