Synthetic marijuana is a problem and should not at all be confused with actual marijuana which cannot harm people like the synthetic junk can. People have died from smoking and ingesting synthetic marijuana like Spice or K2 while no one on record has ever died from using true marijuana. If marijuana is now legal in many states why even try the fake stuff?
In just one day in May, hospitals in Syracuse, New York, treated at least 18 overdoses, a significant spike for a community that usually sees one or two cases a day.
Opioids weren’t behind the overdoses: synthetic marijuana was.
There are at least 90 synthetic cannabinoids, according to the DEA, which are frequently marketed as spices and packaged in bright packaging under names like Spice or K2. Synthetics are chemically created to mimic the effects of other drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, or morphine. According to the DEA there are more than 200 synthetic drug compounds, but synthetic cannabinoids have several dangerous side effects and, among other things, can cause hallucinations, paranoia, and death.
This problem isn’t only in New York. Though affecting Americans less than the opioid epidemic, several cities across the country have been struggling for years to combat synthetic drug use. Treating a synthetic drug overdose is especially difficult, because the drugs are not always controlled substances or usually even recognizable by doctors.
“The emergence of synthetic drugs… changes the game in a lot of way,” said Leo Beletsky, a professor at Northeastern University who specializes in drug policy. “Some of the most obvious ways is that because people don’t have a good handle on what it is that they’re taking it makes the likelihood that they’ll overdose much higher and the onset much faster.”
These drugs are also notoriously difficult to regulate. If one substance is prohibited, manufacturers will tweak the chemicals and start pushing a new drug to evade regulation.
“You could have someone who used yesterday and expect the effect and get another batch later that day and suddenly have kidney failure or are really drowsy,” said Michele Caliva, the director of the Upstate New York Poison Center in Syracuse. “It’s not regulated so we really don’t know what will happen.”
Current laws can’t keep up, but that hasn’t stopped Congress from trying. Two bills were introduced in the House of Representatives in June, one to expand synthetic drug research and one to expand the criminalization of certain synthetic substances.