Herbal substitutes for marijuana have been around for years, sold in head shops and from mail order companies. In the past, lawmakers have ignored these products because they have always been more of a gimmick than a real substitute for marijuana.
Now there is a new generation of synthetic marijuana products that produce a high similar to the real thing and their use is rising. What’s the attraction of synthetic marijuana? In addition to being legal and readily available, it won’t show up in a drug test. The drug is becoming more and more popular with young people who call it:
This new synthetic marijuana is marketed as “incense” in smoke shops, gas stations and convenience stores. However, there’s no question that the teenagers and adults who purchase it are smoking it. The products consist of dried vegetable and plant matter that has been treated with a solution containing synthetic cannabinoids.
The synthetic cannabinoids in K2 and Spice are similar to THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids bind to receptors in the brain in the same way that THC does, producing cannabis-like intoxication. The key difference between the new synthetics and marijuana is that they are not organic. They are chemical compounds that were developed in a Clemson University laboratory by a researcher named John W. Huffman. These compounds bear his initials – JWH-018 and JWH-073.
Huffman was looking for a way to study the effects of marijuana on the brain and did not intend to create a new way to get high, but his discovery soon made its way into the wrong hands. Like methamphetamine, JWH-018 and JWH-073 can be easily synthesized by an experienced chemist. In their purest form these compounds can be up to 100 times more powerful than THC. In 2006, Huffman’s compounds began to show up in Europe and were soon outlawed. Now his synthetic marijuana is working its way across America.
Huffman has made repeated statements about the dangers of using synthetic marijuana, stating that “their effects in humans have not been studied and they could very well have toxic effects.” In a statement to CBS News, Huffman referred to K2 users as “idiots.”
Marilyn Huestis, chief of chemistry and drug metabolism at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has expressed concern about unknown risks associated with K2 and Spice. Shipments of synthetic marijuana are imported from China, the Middle East and Africa without regulation or testing. The chemical ingredients and dosages found in these products have been found to vary widely.
Emergency rooms and the American Association of Poison Control are reporting sharp increases in the number of calls related to K2 use. There is a greater possibility for overdose with synthetic marijuana, resulting in serious symptoms that include elevated heart rates, vomiting, extreme anxiety and hallucinations. One suicide has been blamed on the drug. Luckily, some lawmakers are taking action. Eight states have banned synthetic marijuana and six other states have similar legislation pending. In the mean time, products like K2 and Spice remain available in many states and are being used by a wide segment of the population, including very young teenagers.