If Floridians didn’t have enough to worry about with the pain pill epidemic, now they are dealing with a new DEA-related problem: synthetic marijuana. The DEA, along with the FDA, is having a hard time making the substance illegal because it is not actually a drug. States are quickly recognizing the seriousness of allowing synthetic marijuana to be sold, and there has been a chain reaction as one by one they ban the products. So far, more than 10 states have banned the sale of synthetic marijuana, and hopefully more will follow.
Florida is among the states that are pushing to ban the substance and are pleading with owners not to sell the products in their stores. There has also been an Army Corps–wide ban with at least nine bases participating, as well as a ban in many European countries.
So what is this over-the-counter novelty that is causing such a commotion? It is usually found in gas stations and head shops in small, tea-bag sized packages. The most common brands out there include:
- Mr. Nice Guy
- Peace of Mind
- Mr. Kwik-E
Don’t let the package size fool you— these little packages pack quite a punch! Some of them contain chemicals that are ten times more powerful than marijuana and cost as much as $10 to $30 an ounce.
The biggest concern is that there is no regulation on the products. There is no telling how much of what chemicals are in any given brand, and so consumers have no guidelines about what they are buying and how much of it they can use at a safe level (if there is such a thing). The FDA actually pulled the substance in a year-long ban to research its contents and do more testing on its effects. Persistent shops are getting around the ban by marketing it as incense and placing a “not for human consumption” label on it.
For teenagers, however, this means nothing. Synthetic marijuana has already been marketed as a way to get high, and as long as that’s what teens are after, then they will continue to buy it.
“You’re basically playing Russian roulette with these chemicals,” said Gary Boggs, a special agent with the DEA. “Hallucination, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure … these chemicals appear to bind to certain parts of the brain, so the potential for long-term effects are very deadly.”
It has been reported that the American Association of Poison Control Centers fielded 1,670 calls this year from emergency room doctors and “panicked members of the public” regarding the fake pot substances. The symptoms that have been reported so far include:
- Abnormally fast heartbeat
- Heart dysrhythmia
In Florida, the poison control centers report an average of one call per week pertaining to the substance, and Palm Beach County alone has received five calls this year.
Along with the poison control calls throughout Florida, there have been several hospital admissions due to the consumption of synthetic marijuana. According to the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Environmental Public Health Medicine, six people since June 21 have been admitted to hospitals in Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Citrus counties. All but one patient were younger than 18.
It doesn’t end with hospitalization—there have also been two teen deaths linked to the smoking of the substance. A teen in Iowa was reported to commit suicide directly after smoking it. There is a looming investigation on the direct correlation, but there was no history or signs of depression reported in the teen before he committed suicide. The other death involves a car accident after the driver had been smoking the substance.
So what EXACTLY is it and where did it originate?
Synthetic marijuana started as a laboratory experiment developed to study how TCH-mimicking compounds affect the brain. The study was done at Clemson University by Dr. John W. Huffman in 1995 and a research paper on the compound was disclosed in 1998.
Huffman explains that it was not created to get thousands of people stoned, but to investigate the biological effects of compounds with biology similar to marijuana.
The base of the substance is a plant of some kind (it depends on the brand) that is sprayed with a chemical called JWH-018.
Hopefully the state of Florida will push through legislation to ban the selling of the substance, but it’s important for parents to be well informed of the issue. Make sure you are talking to your children about the dangers of this substance and the consequences that could ensue upon consumption. Livefree! has plenty of resources to help when it comes to talking to your children about drugs and alcohol. Visit our website by clicking here.