Synthetic Marijuana: A User's Guide
"People want to get high. You can get rid of all the drugs in the world, people still going to get high," Rock said. "People will just think of new ways to get high. Guys will go down in the basement and become scientists like 'Yo check it out man, if you get a baby's bottle, right? Fill it up with some gasoline and dead lima beans, then suck it. You'll be fucked up!'"
Much to the dismay of law enforcement, drugs are still everywhere, but nifty capitalists have once again found another way to get high. Since around 2009, "herbal incense" packets have become popular and subsequently began popping up in gas stations all over the country, offering a synthetic, and more importantly, legal analog to the popular, naturally occurring active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
What separates these herbs from Mother Earth's own weed? Often, its creators remove or add just one molecule to duck federal bans and create synthetics with chemical names like JWH-018, HU-210 and CP-47. Some people have fallen in love with the stuff, replacing their marijuana use with a legal intoxicant that avoids possible prosecution. Others report absolute horror stories -- delusions, convulsions, and visits to the poison control center. With 4/20, the unofficial pothead Easter coming up Friday, Cultist decided to investigate -- try the stuff ourselves and get to the bottom of this strange, new synthetic drug.
"They cause increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and agitation," Dr. Tom Martin with the Poison Center told komonews.com. "They also sometimes cause very strong psychiatric reactions like delirium, delusions or psychosis that can last for days."
A notice issued by the DEA in March of 2011 temporarily placed into Schedule I five of the compounds (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and a CP-47,497 C8 homologue) in order to "avoid an imminent hazard to public safety." A permanent ban is being pursued and must be in place by August, but meanwhile, producers are merely replacing those compounds with similar ones.
Still, the DEA is cracking down, with several arrests just over the past few weeks. A warehouse in Tampa was recently found to contain nearly 600 pounds of the substance. Friday, 48-year-old shopkeeper Kamal Singh of Noblesville, Indiana, was arrested and charged with five counts of possessing and dealing the compounds. Closer to home, DEA agents arrested a man in West Palm Beach over this past weekend -- the first in the state to be charged in relation to the synthetic marijuana.
And they're moving south. In Fort Lauderdale, gas station owners report the DEA, which did not return repeated requests for comment, coming in and telling them to stop selling the product. The DEA apparently still hasn't made it to gas stations in Miami, and local police have not been enforcing any ban on synthetic marijuana.
"I have not heard anything in particular about (synthetic marijuana)," said Freddy Cruz, Public Information Officer for the City of Miami Police Department. "We are prepared and willing, however, to enforce any federal law in effect."
Without chemical analysis, it is impossible to determine if the stuff offered in gas stations actually contains one of the five banned substances. Still, many legal analogs produce the same effects. Since the synthetic analogues resemble THC in size and shape, they fit into CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in your brain, but don't produce a positive sample in a drug test. Though marketed as incense with a label that reads "not for human consumption," the various brands resemble weed and are known to produce a similar effect if rolled in a joint and smoked.
How similar? We've heard horror stories in the media that seem a bit contrived, so Cultist gathered up a couple buddies and sat down to an official sampling ourselves.
The first brands of this lab junk to become popular were known as "Spice" and "K2." Cultist purchased three types, named "Mr. Nice Guy," "Fire," and "Jeffrey" from a local gas station. Other brands that are offered include "Cloud Nine" and "Black Magic."