Synthetic marijuana: you may know it by such fanciful names as K2, Spice, Spike 99, Genie, Blaze, Red X Dawn, Purple Wave, Vanilla Sky, or Bliss. It’s legal…but is it also lethal?
Beginning in 2009, a dangerous substitute for marijuana began showing up across the U.S. – in conveniences stores, gas stations, head shops, at flea markets, online, and anywhere that things like incense are sold. Marketed as incense, powerful herbal products infused with designer drugs, the product is typically packaged in zip-top bags with psychedelic art on the labels.
The labels claim that the package contains only a mixture of herbs, but smoking only herbs would not produce the cannabis-like high induced by theses products…without any indication on a drug screen. At first, researchers were baffled. Then in late 2008, scientists at the University Hospital Freiburg, Germany discovered that the herbs were treated with at least two different synthetic cannabinoids.
In the brain, these synthetic cannabinoids resemble THC and stimulate CB1 cannabinoid receptors, producing a high similar to that of potent marijuana. But the chemical makeup of these synthetic drugs is much different than that of THC, and they have not been subjected to human testing and it’s unknown how long they may remain in the body. About 100 of these chemical agents have been synthesized and tested on animals. The drugs affect the parts of the brain that controls temperature, appetite, perception, memory, problem solving, the immune system, and hormone levels, among other things.
These drugs are particularly dangerous because the perception is that if they are sold over the counter, they must be safe. People, especially kids, don’t realize that the products are completely unregulated and untested. Since they are unregulated, the chemical composition can change from batch to batch, making each experience different, even when using the same product.
Emergency rooms and psychiatric wards are seeing the results. Some people just get high. Others wind up with full-blown psychosis that can last a month.
Several states have already followed Europe’s lead and banned the chemical components of Spice and other fake weed products, and more states are expected to follow suit. The DEA is closely monitoring the product and has banned some of the chemicals from use, but not all. One chemical listed by the DEA as a concern is HU-210. This chemical has been found to be up to 800 times more powerful than THC, and just as addictive.
The controversy over marijuana has been swirling for half a century, but the effects and dangerous of garden-variety weed don’t compare in any way to the products designed to mimic the real thing. What do you think? Should this product, in all its forms, be removed from the shelves everywhere? Some people argue against regulations, saying that we are already regulated to death in the U.S. Would this problem be solved by legalizing marijuana?