Synthetic marijuana has been available since 2006 but has recently gained in popularity. Sold under the names of K2, Spice, Black Mamba, Blaze, and Red X Dawn, it was touted as the legal marijuana and was, therefore, a very attractive alternative to the real thing. But, as the prescription drug epidemic has shown, legal doesn’t mean safe.
In March of 2011, the DEA issued a statement that prohibited the production, possession, and sale of any of the five different chemicals that are used to produce fake marijuana. This makes its byproducts such as K2 and Spice illegal as well. These chemicals will be banned for a temporary period of one year while the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the DEA investigate the potential safety and health issues.
Synthetic marijuana was sold at tobacco shops and gas stations, and was marketed as tea, incense, or herbs. The herbs were sprayed with chemicals that mimic the psychoactive properties of THC. Unlike marijuana, though, fake pot cannot be combined with alcohol without making the person extremely ill. Dawn Dearden, spokeswoman for the DEA also points out that since these synthetic marijuana substitutes are not produced in a controlled environment, their purity and dosage are not regulated or consistent.
Since these compounds have only been around since 2006, their long-term side effects have not been well-studied or documented. However, acute side effects of fake marijuana include trouble breathing, heart palpitations, panic attacks, hallucinations, vomiting, and seizures. There have also been two reported cases of suicide that have resulted from hallucinations.
While chemicals in synthetic marijuana mimic the effects of THC, they are very different. THC doesn’t stay in a person’s system for very long, whereas, the chemicals used to make K2 and Spice are stronger and bind more permanently to receptors in the body. They remain longer in the brain and other organs. They are also not as quick to bind to receptors in the body as THC, which means that there is an increased risk of overdose as individuals ingest more because they can’t immediately feel its effects.
K2 and Spice do not show up in traditional urine analysis either, which makes them even more attractive. According to the Los Angeles Times, just one month ago, ten individuals were admitted to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego for treatment of psychosis resulting from the use of Spice. Many of the individuals experienced paranoia, delusions, and suicidal thoughts that did not go away for up to a week. Others, however, were not so lucky, with symptoms persisting three months after the exposure.
The drugs also are a cause of concern for residential drug rehab patients. With only one very expensive test available to test its presence, many drug rehabs cannot afford to test everyone; those in recovery could easily sneak it on the side and appear “clean.” Because of its accessibility, teens are also another target for the drug. Rehabilitation centers have already documented incidences of teens addicted to the strong chemicals lacing K2 and Spice.
Those who have developed a dependence on fake marijuana can benefit from treatment at a marijuana rehab center.