Some strong street drugs known as synthetic pot result in users experiencing highs that resemble the effects of marijuana. However, these man-made, synthesized cannabinoids are not made of marijuana at all. These drugs, more commonly known as fake weed, spice or K2, are composed of a number of dried, shredded plants that are sprayed with chemicals. The legality of these drugs is somewhat gray, but two things are for sure: they are very dangerous and use is on the rise.
This man-made pot first hit the streets in the early 2000s. In the past few years, the drug has increasingly caught the attention of public health officials as use of the drugs has resulted in a spike of hospitalizations and violent reactions. The drugs act on the same parts of the brain as weed’s active ingredient. However, the synthetic drugs trigger much more dangerous physical reactions, including strokes, kidney damage, heart attacks and severe delusions.
Between June and early August of this year, usage of synthetic pot led to approximately 2,300 emergency room visits in New York State. Moreover, on a national scale, more than 6,000 incidents related to the drugs have been called into United States poison-controls. This is double the number of calls made just two years ago.
Constantly evolving recipes of synthetic pot allow sellers to evade law enforcement authorities. Each time an ingredient is listed as banned, manufacturers simply swap in another chemical or compound.The drugs, which cost less than real marijuana, are then sold at convenience stores or on the Internet.
The constantly changing formulas of synthetic pot prove difficult for researchers to tie the ingredients to certain side effects. Marilyn Huestis, chief of the Chemistry and Drug Metabolism Section at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states that, “The drugs are present in blood for only a short period, so it's very difficult to detect them.”
Huestis is working on a method to try and identify the by-products of synthetic drugs, but it can take up to one month to evaluate one compound. However, in trying to keep up with the influx of of synthetic pot, she notes that, “I think this [method] is our only hope.”