Marijuana poses some risks for developing minds and lungs, but a synthetic form of weed that is becoming increasingly illegal is proving even more dangerous than the real drug.
Teenagers are showing up to emergency rooms with altered personalities due to the psychotic state the drug pushes them into, along with various physical effects that can lead to permanent damage.
It’s synthetic marijuana, but is most commonly referred to as spice and K2.
It is often marketed as herbal incense or as an herbal smoking blend. The active ingredient in most recipes of the drug is cannabicyclohexanol.
Synthetic marijuana was developed in the mid-1990s, but it started seeing broad market saturation in 2002 and is found most often in convenience stores and smoke shops. John W. Huffman, the chemist who created the drug, wrote a chapter about it in a book regarding cannabinoid receptors.
Huffman said Asian agriculturists were using the compound to stimulate growth in plants and believes it was first smoked in Europe, though it’s hard to determine who the first to try it was.
It’s easy to see why the drug grew so quickly in popularity as it is about 10 times more potent than the tetrahyrocannabinol (THC) found in marijuana and the user experiences a more intense high. THC and cannabicyclohexanol affect the same brain receptors, which makes the sensation one gets with K2 very similar to the high one feels after using marijuana.
Synthetic marijuana takes a disastrous turn
Unfortunately, the similarities take drastic turns when it comes to side effects. THC will increase heart rate and cause some paranoia, but cannabicyclohexanol can cause delusions, hallucinations, anxiety, agitation and high blood pressure. Health professionals worry about the long-term consequences of a substance that has not been thoroughly tested yet is out on the market being used by hundreds of thousands of people, a large majority of whom are teenagers.
Some teenagers are brought to the emergency rooms at hospitals with pale skin, extremely fast heart rates, vomiting and suffering from cardiovascular issues. Some of the most serious abuses of the drug involve seizures and hallucinations so strong that the teen puts his/her life in danger. One group of teens was admitted to a California hospital with severe paranoia and hallucinations. Part of the group was on suicide watch for a week after the event because the drug still had a grip on them.
Some teens buy Black Mamba, Red X Dawn or Blaze. Regardless of the name, the risk remains the same. The Drug Enforcement Agency said in 2011 that the drug’s production and possession should be illegal. But manufacturers found a way around this ban by altering the recipe. Teenagers continue to get their hands on the fake weed as well as alcohol, which together pose risks that multiply many-fold.
While health professionals know that marijuana has an addictive effect on some users, more worry about the addictive qualities of the synthetic form. The dangers involved with the fake drug have proven to be fatal in some cases.
The effect on communities across America has brought out many detractors; some editorial pages in community newspapers call synthetic marijuana a “disastrous product.” Many young people have had their lives altered by the drug and parents and community leaders are taking notice. Legislators have also taken note and have made sweeping legislation to keep the product off store shelves. The difficult part for lawmakers is the ever changing formulas of the various synthetic marijuana forms. Drug dealers continue to be one step ahead by slightly altering formulas that do not contain ingredients that have been banned.
Public policy is important in keeping America’s youth safe, but health officials say education beginning in the home is the first step in helping teens understand the dangers of synthetic marijuana.