It’s been called a weaponized form of marijuana by the police commissioner of New York City. On the street it’s known as Spice, K2, or Black Mamba depending on where you are in the country. The headlines say “synthetic marijuana”. No matter its name it’s killing people across America, most of them young.
Just take a look at the numbers. According to the Centers of Disease Control in just the first four months of 2015, 15 people lost their lives because of this drug. While that might not sound like a lot, it’s 3 times the number who died during 2014. During the same period, calls to poison control centers around the United States went up 229%. The median age of people making those calls, 26 years-old.
On a Facebook page titled Fake Pot Horror Stories-The Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana you’ll find picture after picture of people, most who haven’t even seen 20, hooked to machines, fighting for their lives. Not all made it.
The Government has tried to step in and do what it could. When Spice first appeared it was legal. That changed in 2012 when five of the main compounds were reclassified to a more controlled drug class. The drug came off the shelves and hit the streets.
Synthetic marijuana was considered relatively harmless by its users, a natural drug because at least part of it was made from plants. Sold in drug stores, head shops, and over the Internet it was easy to get. Users experience some of the same effects of marijuana like relaxation, elevated mood, and altered perception. Others reported psychotic effects, extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations. In some cases users said the effects were even stronger than regular marijuana.
Scientist say that makes sense because they know Spice products act on the same receptors as THC, found in marijuana. It’s what else that goes into the drug compound that concerns them. Because the chemical composition of many products is unknown it’s hard to tell what they will do to the brain. And it just hasn’t been around that long to know what the long term effects are.
If scientists don’t know exactly what the drug does to the brain they are learning more about the impact on the body. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse spice users who have been taken to Poison Control Center have reported rapid heart rates, vomiting, agitation, confusion and hallucinations. The drug can also raise blood pressure, causes reduced blood supply to the heart, and has even been associated with heart attacks.
Besides the high, Spice has another big draw. It doesn’t show up on most drug tests. To test positive the sample has to be sent to a laboratory and that can be expensive. However as most people in recovery will tell you it is hard to hide an addiction for long.