Consider, if you will, a drug specifically engineered for the pleasure of the recreational drug user. Compared to its natural derivative, marijuana, this synthetic version can produce a high up to 800 times stronger, last hours longer, and foil routine drug screen tests. All that for just a few dollars more than the comparative cost of a joint.
For people willing to risk their health and freedom on illegal drugs, synthetic marijuana must sound pretty darn good. Instead, they would find this perception to be unequivocally and tragically wrong.
There is a general lack of public knowledge regarding the newly popular version of synthetic marijuana. These products, known as synthetic cannabinoids, are marketed on the street and online under enticing labels such as “Spice” or “K2.”
Synthetic marijuana has already proven to be a toxic choice for an growing number of recreational drug users. It is reported that phone calls to poison control requesting assistance for related symptoms have risen by 500%. Also, synthetic marijuana reportedly accounts for 16% of recent drug-related discharges from the military.
Bath salts, another popular new synthetic drug, also has a distant plant relative. It is derived from an east African plant known as khat. The leaves of this plant are chewed by users (who number in the millions), but the synthetic version is based on the compound mephedrone, a chemical found in many amphetamines.
Because the criminal justice system has only recently become aware of the dangers these drugs pose, dealers have made the purchase process a simple Internet transaction. They can also be ingested in many ways, such as smoking, mixing with food or liquid, or inhaling like incense.
The high can last several hours. Sensations include feelings of anxiety and paranoia as well as open and closed eye hallucinations. During this period the user will feel cold, numb and nauseous. Vomiting and memory loss are also common.
Most significantly, these lesser known drugs produce a side effect similar to Phencyclidine (aka PCP or angel dust). Users of PCP experience a mental state known as excited delirium (ED). The first indication that a subject is having an ED episode is a 911 call of a naked subject with inhuman strength and no pain response on a violent rampage. Under these effects the potential of injury to the subject and police alike is extremely great.
In some cases these symptoms have led to violent psychotic events.
In April 2010 Army Sgt David Stewart killed his wife and then himself during a police chase. Their 5 year old son was found dead in their home. Police believe the couple had recently begun to experiment with bath salts.
A recent LA Times article reported that three otherwise healthy sixteen year old boys from Texas had suffered heart attacks. The only commonality in their health records showed that all had experimented with synthetic marijuana in the past week.
Those of us in law enforcement who have witnessed such incidents, either in person or in training videos, know the real threat posed by synthetic drug users. But in schools, on military posts and in homes, too many people are unaware of the vast and potentially lethal difference between pot and synthetic drugs. Because of this young people are easily tempted to try products such as K2, Spice and Europa.
In reality there is already a great deal of information on the toxic chemistry, the dangerous side effects, the violent police encounters, and the lethal results of abusing synthetic drugs. So let’s settle on one last bit of knowledge that just may save the life of someone who failed to heed the warning.
The phone number for poison control is 800-222-1222.