Synthetic marijuana is setting off alarm bells across the United States. It is being cited by police and public health officials for a dramatic surge in potentially lethal overdoses and drug-related offenses nationwide. Imported primarily from China, synthetic marijuana may look like pot to the naked eye. But its addictive and potentially lethal high derives from chemical compounds are designed to mimic THC, the active ingredient in real marijuana. These chemicals are sprayed onto grass-like herbs that are then stuffed into condom-style packets featuring amateur-looking cartoonish graphics. It goes by many names including K2, Spice, Bizarro, Scooby Snax, Kryp2nite and Stoopid, to name but a few.
Acting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Chuck Rosenberg said, "We're seeing it pop up all around the country. The dosage amounts vary. The chemicals vary. You and I could buy and use the same packet and have vastly different reactions to it." So far in 2015, poison control centers across the United States have taken more than 5,200 calls specific to 'fake weed'. That is more than the 3,680 calls they got in all of last year and the 2,668 calls handled in 2013, said the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
k2zombiedc.com, a city-run website aimed at Washington's youth said, "Fake weed causes extreme anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, alienation / disassociation, psychotic episodes and hallucinations. This behavior has been labeled 'the zombie effect'."
Marilyn Huestis, senior investigator at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said, "Compared to genuine pot, synthesized marijuana can be up to 100 times as potent as THC at stimulating brain receptors. It is sometimes sold under the counter at corner stores, gas stations and head shops, but it can easily be bought online with a credit card after a simple Google search. In a 2012 survey by the University of Michigan, synthetic marijuana was the second most consumed drug among US high school seniors after marijuana. It's a monstrous problem."
Some versions of synthetic marijuana are listed as a Schedule One drug on par with heroin, but the multitude of versions means they cannot all be deemed analogs of real pot and thus be found illegal. Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, said, "Everybody assumes that it's one drug, just like there is one cocaine or one methamphetamine. We know that there are more than 300 different unique drugs that are out there right now."
It is near impossible to identify synthetic marijuana using standard drug screening tests, a big headache for law enforcement. Washington police chief Cathy Lanier said, "We've made about 65 arrests in a couple of months now of people that are selling this stuff and buying this stuff on the street. And we can't prosecute any of them."