Synthetic Marijuana Use On the Rise

Source:  CADCA online, 

While national surveys have shown that marijuana use is on the rise, a synthetic version of the drug, known as K2 or Spice, is also causing problems throughout the country.

For example, in Jacksonville, N.C., there has been a dramatic increase in tobacco shops selling K2 and in Texas, there has been at least one death attributed to K2. In Duluth, Minn., although the city has banned it, people can still sometimes find it on store shelves and on the Internet. In California, K2 use, especially for youth and young adults, is on the rise. In addition, this week the Marine Corps issued an official order cautioning service members about the use of K2 and its health and career consequences.

Although various cities have banned the synthetic marijuana, the drug is currently legal in 40 states, excluding Kansas, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana and Illinois, who have either banned the drug or have pending legislation against it. Coalitions across the country want to ban the drug widely known as "legal marijuana.”

First developed in the lab of a Clemson University chemist, John W. Huffman, K2’s active ingredients are synthetic cannabinoids — research-grade chemicals that were created for therapeutic purposes but can also mimic the narcotic effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The cannabis-like chemicals appear on the Drug Enforcement Administration web site as a “drug and chemical of concern.” Since the drug is not federally regulated, it also dodges traditional drug tests.

In a statement in The New York Times, Mr. Huffman said the chemicals were not intended for human use. He added that his lab had developed them for research purposes only, and that “their effects in humans have not been studied and they could very well have toxic effects.”

It goes by names such as K2 or Spice and is sold under the brand names of Kush, Ultra, Summit, Blonde, Standard, Yucatan Gold, Genie, Pot-pourri, Bombay Blue and many others. Whatever the name, the drug is easy to find at tobacco shops, liquor, convenience and variety stores.

John Byrom, a community collaboration and prevention specialist with the North Coastal Prevention Coalition in Southern California, says, “It is everywhere.”

Byrom has collaborated with the Duluth, Minn. City Council to adopt some of their language for ordinances banning retailers from selling K2 in San Diego County. The Duluth City Council recently voted unanimously to ban the sale of K2 and other forms of synthetic marijuana marketed as incense. With the vote, Duluth became the first city in Minnesota to ban K2.

One of the largest Marine Corps bases in the world, Camp Pendleton, is adjacent to Byrom’s coalition. According to the Marine Corps Order, the Marine Corps has seen an increase in reported cases of Marines and Sailors using K2 and other equally dangerous substances such as salvia divinorum to get high. The order notes that many of these substances are not illegal under federal or state laws and are easily obtained. “Legal or not, they are reported to have harmful physical effects similar to those produced by illegal or controlled substances,” the order states. The order is clear: If you use Spice, you’re violating a direct order and you will face punitive action.

Byrom and the order say education and leadership are key to combating K2 abuse among the young service members and their families who reside in the cities off the base such as Oceanside and Vista where the coalition works. The coalition’s high school and middle school youth coalitions have been providing education to all students, many of whom are children of service members attached to Camp Pendleton. The education is important, Byrom says, but restricting access is critical.

Nationally, the harm of marijuana and its even stronger synthetic version K2, has decreased. Even national retailers like The Body Shop are promoting their new hemp beauty products with a gigantic pot leaf on store windows, he said.

Unlike marijuana, K2 causes hallucinations and delusions; blurry vision; elevated blood pressure; rapid heartbeat; nausea and vomiting; and seizures and loss of consciousness.

The Matagorda County Community Coalition of the Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol in Texas have partnered with their police department to ban the drug, which was voted unanimously a week ago.

Marian Bullard, Matagorda County Coalition coordinator, said K2 came out of nowhere and when she briefed the County Commissioner's Court about it, no one had heard of it.

“This ban going to stop the temptation, and I think it’s going to save lives,” Bullard said. Their coalition is now working on a state law to ban K2, she said.