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Synthetic Marijuana

By Jamie Lund
Contributing Writer

Chances are you’ve heard of the cannabis plant, or what is more commonly referred to as marijuana. But have you heard of synthetic marijuana? It is a psychoactive product that is sold as incense and mimics the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It has been around since the early 2000’s and has since been coined a legal alternative to pot. Even though it is a legal substance there are now six states that have banned it within the last year.

Synthetic marijuana is composed of one or more chemicals of synthetic cannabis blends and is marketed as either an herbal incense or bath salt. It is best known by common brand names such as Spice and K2. These products are widely available across the country and have been utilized by those seeking effects similar to THC. Some believe that those who consume this product are avoiding laws that prohibit them from ingesting the real thing, while still receiving a comparable high. The brand Spice was first seen in Europe in early 2004. This was the only form of synthetic marijuana available until competing brands showed up four years later in 2008.

This designer drug is claimed by manufacturers to contain an assortment of commonly used “healing herbs,” each of which is said to produce mild effects of the cannabis-like intoxication. Spice, the first constructed synthetic marijuana, has various herbs listed on its package. Some of these include Canavalia maritima, Nymphaea caerulea, Scutellaria nana, Pedicularis densiflora, Leonotis leonurus, Zornia latifolia, Nelumbo nucifera and Leonurus sibiricus. Though you probably don’t recognize any of them, they are contained in both Spice and K2 products.

Synthetic marijuana was thoroughly analyzed by laboratories in Germany and it was discovered that many of the molecules that were expected to be present from the cannabis plant, were not actually present. There were also large amounts of synthetic tocopherol present. Because of this, it was suggested that the actual ingredients might not be the same as what was listed on the packages. A risk assessment was conducted in late 2008 that concluded it was unclear as to what the actual ingredients were. It was also questioned as to what compounds actually produced the cannabis-like effects. Was it caused by any of the claimed plant ingredients or instead by a synthetic cannabinoid drug? Since then, it was thus determined that this product contains synthetic cannabinoids which produce similar effects on the body as THC. Correspondingly, K2 is another form of synthetic marijuana. It first originated at Clemson University in South Carolina.

K2 is just another brand of synthetic marijuana which also contains various herbs blended with synthetic cannabinoids. Scientists were apparently trying to create a therapeutic herb product that happened to also contain cannabis-like side effects. Unlike Spice, K2 has been commonly created by individual sellers so it is hard to say what it actually contains. Those who choose to ingest synthetic marijuana are also ingesting a wide variety of other herbs and chemicals.

Even though the synthetic cannabinoids have been shown to produce obvious side effects, all of the other ingredients are sure to contribute to the intoxication. While lawmakers are debating the legalization of the cannabis plant, synthetic marijuana is also being questioned. Just as it is already illegal in multiple European countries, this psychedelic product is also being banned across the United States. Within a year six states, including Missouri as the most recent, have banned all forms of synthetic marijuana. Both Spice and K2 are available for purchase on the Internet, or in some local pipe and tobacco shops. This product definitely has law enforcement agencies lively. There has been a lot of controversy concerning this lab-made chemical.

After interviewing 20 random people in the FM area, the majority agreed that they would not use synthetic marijuana. “I’ve tried it, and I definitely didn’t like it. I can’t believe they even allow the sale of it; chemicals like that don’t belong in anyone’s body,” says Sam Grant from Fargo. The synthetic marijuana companies market to their audience with tag lines such as “helps you liberate your mind and relax” and “helps relaxation with a feeling of freedom.” Some people interviewed weren’t even aware that these types of products even existed. When asked for her personal opinion of synthetic marijuana a Fargo woman, who wished to remain anonymous, gave me a blank stare with a hesitant response of, “synthetic marijuana?” Perhaps these products aren’t as popular as it may seem.

Just because these herbal incenses and bath salts are legal, doesn’t mean they are flying off the shelves. Mother’s Music in Moorhead, MN, actually does not carry such brands as Spice or K2 but does have Spike and Bay available. An anonymous co-worker at Mother’s told me that one isn’t necessarily more popular than the other, and that sales have gone down in the last few months. He also mentioned that people either like it or they don’t. All herbal incense, or synthetic marijuana, has been illegal in the state of Minnesota as of July 1, 2011. North Dakota has banned certain chemicals found in these products, and have been banned for a while now. While Mother’s Music sells only a few herbal incense products, Discontent in Moorhead has a wider variety. A co-worker from Discontent in Moorhead, who also wished to remain anonymous, told me that they do carry approximately 4-5 types of herbal bath salts and almost 10 different brands of herbal incenses.

Through my research I’ve found that most of the people I interviewed felt it was either a touchy subject or had a strong, comfortable opinion. Grant of Fargo did have a strong opinion on synthetic marijuana: “Marijuana is a natural plant that grows that way and has medical uses. As an all natural plant, it doesn’t have any lethal or negative side effects. They [synthetic marijuana companies] are selling unnatural products with chemicals in them that harm a person’s body.” Harmful effects of these chemicals have resulted in an abundance of poison-control calls and emergency room visits.

Though it cannot be pinpointed, K2 was blamed as a leading cause of death for an Iowa teen who committed suicide in 2010. 18-year-old David Rozga was smoking with friends when he apparently “freaked out” and said he was going to hell. He was found dead in his Indianola, Iowa, home. It is hard to say whether his suicide is a direct result of smoking K2, though it is possible that it is linked. Rozga’s parents, however, were convinced that K2 had a lot to do with his suicide. At the time of his death they stated that “He wouldn’t have worked so hard to get into college if he didn’t care about life. It must have been the drug that sealed his doom.”

This tragic event prompted Iowa’s governor to send out state-wide warnings about the product. The various side effects seen in synthetic marijuana products, that are thought to include heart palpitations and breathing problems, just can’t be rightly identified. Cannabinoids are said to have been created for entirely different purposes and their toxic effects, along with the toxicity of the other ingredients present in K2, is clearly indefinite. These herbal incenses have also made a stir in the Fargo-Moorhead area within the last year. On December 1, 2010, two men robbed Mother’s Music in Moorhead at gunpoint, only to steal an undisclosed amount of cash and packages of synthetic marijuana. Though this case is still under investigation, it is interesting that someone would go to such a measure to steal a legal substance.

Though Spice and K2 are some of the ‘original’ brands of herbal incenses, there are hundreds that have since been created and sold all over the country. There are currently six states that have banned these products, and Minnesota has joined that list as of July 1, 2011. Those that have tried this chemically enhanced herbal incense normally either like it or don’t. The jury for the FM area is still out.

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