WBUR

Reports Of Dangers From Synthetic Marijuana Use Increasing

A package of K2 , a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals. This type of synthetic marijuana is harder to find since the federal ban. Other versions can still be purchased legally in Massachusetts. (AP)

A package of K2 , a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals. This type of synthetic marijuana is harder to find since the federal ban. Other versions can still be purchased legally in Massachusetts. (AP)

BOSTON — Many parents probably think they have a basic understanding of the illegal drugs their kids might encounter. But some synthetic drugs, designed to mimic marijuana and sold legally at many stores in Greater Boston, are causing big problems.

Here’s how 28-year-old Sue, from Somerville, who doesn’t want her last name used, describes what happened when she smoked synthetic marijuana.

“Everything was shaking. I had my heart just throbbing against my skin, it was moving so fast, and I couldn’t breath,” Sue said. “It was like a psychedelic terror, if you will.”

Sue says she’s done illegal drugs before, but about a year ago, when she put the synthetic marijuana into a cigarette and smoked it, she immediately knew something was wrong.

Sue says this is a visual depiction of her bad experience on the drug.

Sue says this is a visual depiction of her bad experience smoking synthetic marijuana.

“I felt this pressure in my head. I felt so heavy,” Sue said. “And I was sitting down, with my hands on my knees, and when I opened my eyes everything was moving, I was hallucinating, I could not move. I thought I was in hell.”

Sue and some friends smoked an amber powder called JWH-018, named after the scientist who developed the chemical. It is one of five chemicals recently placed under a federal ban. But there are hundreds of other chemical compounds that legitimate researchers have developed to mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in real marijuana.

Dr. Christopher Rosenbaum, toxicology professor at the UMass Medical School in Worcester, is studying these substances.

“They are research-grade chemicals that have been designed over the last 40 or 50 years, not in clandestine labs for abuse purposes,” Rosenbaum said, “They’ve been developed by pharmaceutical companies and organic chemists to better understand how marijuana interacts with the receptors in the human body so we can figure out how to harness the beneficial effects of marijuana.”

Rosenbaum says these chemicals were neither intended for — nor tested on — humans.

“As you can imagine, if a pharmaceutical company can find that mix — where you provide the pain relief and anti-inflammatory relief [of marijuana] without the psychogenic effects — you’re going to find probably the medication that probably replaces ibuprofen,” Rosenbaum said. “If you know that, you must know they’ve been looking for this thing for a long time.

“In that pursuit, they’ve left hundreds, if not more, I’ll say hundreds conservatively — of potential compounds in their wake.”

The type and quality of those chemical compounds varies widely with reports that some synthetic cannabinoids are anywhere from two to more than 500 times stronger than THC.

Rosenbaum says because most of these chemicals don’t show up on drug tests, fake pot is especially popular with those on probation, or those who are regularly drug tested. But he says more and more people are ending up in emergency rooms.

“The reports that we see have people complaining of agitation, paranoia, fast heartbeats, vomiting, some anecdotal reports of seizures and there are case reports of people having been exposed to what was purchased as a synthetic cannabinoid or herbal marijuana alternative and subsequently taking their own life,” Rosenbaum said.

There are few statistics on adverse effects from synthetic marijuana, although a national foundation established last year lists 23 deaths from the substances, either suicides or violent crimes, from what it says was drug-induced psychosis.

Karen Dobner of Illinois started the foundation To The Maximus after the death of her 18-year-old son, Max. He drove his car at 100 MPH into a house after smoking fake pot that he bought at the mall.

“I had never heard of it in my life. A year ago, none of my friends knew what it was, didn’t even hear of it,” Dobner said. “Yet it was sold at all the tobacco shops, gas stations and convenience stores in our town.”

It appears that synthetic marijuana is relatively easy to get if you know what you’re looking for. There is no age restriction to buy it and a gram costs about $30. It’s usually called incense and labeled “not for human consumption.”

In one Boston-area head shop, I watched as a young person asked for “smokeable incense” — another name for synthetic marijuana. There were no signs that it was sold there and it wasn’t displayed but the clerk readily replied, “Yep. We’ve got Nice Guy, Sin and Mary Joy,” and he reached under the counter.

The formerly popular brands known as K2 and Spice are not as widely available since the federal ban. Synthetic marijuana is also marketed and sold online and there are do-it-yourself videos instructing people how to make their own.

Congress is considering a nationwide ban on synthetic cannabinoids. At least 40 states have issued bans and the other states are taking steps to regulate it.

In Massachusetts, there are three bills pending related to synthetic cannabinoids. State Rep. Liz Malia, House chair of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee, says keeping up with fake pot is like an endless game of tag for policymakers and police.

“If you understand that this is, sort of, what human behavior is looking for then you can do a lot of things. They keep coming up with new forms, that’s really scary,” Malia said.

And with the synthetic marijuana market estimated to be worth some $5 billion a year, it’s likely the game of tag will continue.

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  • kell

    just smoke the real thing……………..

  • jway

    I hope some teenagers read this. Listen! “Synthetic  marijuana” is NOTHING like natural marijuana!! “Synthetic marijuana” is dangerous and kills people, and the ONLY reason people use it is because we keep natural marijuana illegal. This is stupid!

    It costs taxpayers $40 Billion a year to keep natural marijuana illegal and the ONLY thing of substance this achieves is to make our children LESS safe! For the good of our children we have to tell our legislators that we do NOT support the federal marijuana prohibition. Drug Dealers Don’t Card – Supermarkets Do!

  • Timd3681

    I’m highly skeptical of that 23 death figure and the $5 billion a year estimate.  Both seem to be huge stretches.

  • incenselaw

    Mis-information and lies make good news. This non-story is one of thousands like it filled with junk science and speculations. Dobner dies after crashing his car, when he was driving 100MPH and it is the fault of the incense retailer? If Dobner was smoking and driving then he was an idiot who made poor decisions. His death is no less tragic, but it not the responsibility of the retailer. Thousands of Amercians misuse thousands of products every day (cold medicine, glue, paint, paint remover, whipped cream, gasoline, just to name the few most popular). If you choose to misuse herbal incense, do it somewhere safe, and accept the temporary consequences to your mental state. Don’t whine about it being too intense. That is like drinking too much beer and blaming Budweiser.  Please note that mis-using herbal incense is illegal under Mass. Law and Federal Law and I do not advise anyone to ingest or smoke it ever under any circumstance.

  • Rochelle

    In any substance abuse scenario, treating the demand is the key not the supply. Cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and others all illegal. Does that stop them from being readily available and abused? Nope.  Incense and potpourri are a scapegoat. Has anyone seen even one actual scientific study or medical report showing that misuse is actually harmful? There are over 50,000 fatal bicycle accidents a year. I guess we should outlaw bikes then – they are obviously dangerous. But wait! My child was smoking incense and became schizophrenic? Wasn’t your kid also messing around with meth, coke and acid. Well, yes..maybe…but I’m SURE it’s the incense – it has to be! Incense is a multi-billion dollar industry and the government enjoys every penny of taxes it earns from the sales. As a multi-billion dollar industry that would suggest millions of users nationwide. If it’s so dangerous why aren’t hospitals filled with folks who have used incense??? Because the very few people who have a problem make a lot more noise than the hundreds of thousands or millions who don’t bother saying anything – “I don’t have any issues with this stuff.” People need to be responsible for their own actions. Kids are drinking cough medicine and hand sanitizer- guess we should ban it. What about huffing spray paint? Well that’s got to go too. 

    A few years back Portugal did something very radical that scared the EU – they decriminalized most drugs and put their money towards treating drug issues as a social problem. Contrary to most everyone’s predictions, drug use went down, crime went down, transmittal of intravenous diseases decreased! Remember prohibition? We said No to alcohol and that bit us in the ass and created crime waves, corruption, etc. 

    I’m sure it’s an unpopular position, but we treat substance abuse issues in this country like a bunch of overly moral idiots. 

    • supernova

      50,000 bicycle fatalities/year is not a realistic number — it’s more like 1,000/year  in the US. Hyped statistics weaken rather than strengthen your  overall argument against the criminalization of drugs. 

      Always strive to respect Truth and keep it on your side.

  • Smiclops

    Legalize the real thing and you won’t have to spend more money on controlling and banning yet ANOTHER substance, because no one will buy that garbage when you can use the safe natural form. Idiots…… (and don’t give me that poop about how smoking pot can give you cancer or other lung problems because its not the pot that hurts you it’s the SMOKE. ANY kind of smoke inhalation is bad! Eat it, vaporize it; keep yourself happy and healthy!) 

  • Anonymous

    Wow WBUR…. thought you were above this.

  • Ty

    I’m a proponent for legalization, but know these OTC products can be very dangerous.  Many of the chemicals are brewed in small backyard labs or outsourced to china for production and quality is an major issue.  If the right solvents aren’t used, or the wrong distillation steps done during production (or just to save a penny) you can get a lot more than you bargained for.  Nasty stuff that should have been removed, then remains. 

    Same issues popped up with supplements and steroids to get around legal deffinitions and sell them as supplements.  Now the same buissness model is hitting illegal recreation drugs, and the same quality problems persist.

    It ain’t worth the risk, especial for something as innocuous as weed.  Just stick with the real stuff.

    • Yakofujimato

      Outsourced to China??? BS!!!! Where do you come up with such nonsense?

  • JakeRoy

    It seems to me like the solution to this is just to let people smoke regular marijuana. It still blows my mind that marijuana is deemed to dangerous to be legal, so instead they proscribe the highly addictive and deadly OxyContin as pain killers. Huh?

    • Yakofujimato

      That’s a fairly stupid idea, given that “real” marijuana can have any number of carcinogenic additives and may be coated in paraquat. Synthetic cannabis is relatively safe comparatively, and above ground. If you factor out the whole “teenage heart attack” fiction and who have never tried synthetic weed foolishly taking a dozen tomes off of it, you have next to no problems that exist, but why let the truth get in the way of a good lie?

      • Nothingood

        Your a fucking retard.

        • http://www.facebook.com/angelo.veto Angelo Veto

          you’re*

        • http://www.facebook.com/emerald.katt.9 Katt Tastic

          KNOW the facts Nothingood. NOT one single death has ever been connected to the direct use of naturally grown and non-modified marijuana. Those poorly informed are “retards” Yako is simply sharing a life experience, statistics are alarming the number of people harmed with synthetic chemicals, yet we ban the safe ones.

      • B2

        Wrong!!! One toke—ONE– put me in a terrifying nightmare and break from reality. I’m a regular pot smoker, and tried this when a friend offered a hit. Within moments, I went from marveling at the buzz to an absolute psychotic breakdown. Fell and knocked myself out, thank God. I swear, I thought I was on the wrong PLANET– it was terrifying! One toke. I’m a 54 year old who’s smoked real marijuana for years–NEVER had any negative reaction. But I’ll lobby to have this crazy synthetic shit banned as hard as I work for legalization of “the real thing.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jose-Gonzales/100003694111815 Jose Gonzales

    The government rates synthetic marijuana at Schedule III and real marijuana at a much more dangerous Schedule I. If someone gets the idea that real marijuana is relatively safe and synthetic marijuana is much safer, then can the government be liable for the deaths due to their willful negligence?

  • Tba

    Synthetic cannabinoids are full CB agonists.

    This is where the anxiety comes from. Also, each compound has its own affinity for said receptors making dosage, redose, addictive potential, and overdose potential relatively easy.

    These are facts. The rest of you know nothing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1230687497 Monica Henderson

    my little girl was admitted to a rehab Abby has attacked several personnel
    and peers within hospital. She is now isolated from everyone. She has many
    psychotic episodes that has her having delusions, being uncooperative,
    fighting, and feelings hopelessness. The doctors don’t know how long this will
    last.

    Please support efforts to educate the communities about the use of Synthetic
    drugs. Read for yourself like my page

    https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurCommunitiesFromSyntheticDrugs?sk=messages_inbox&action=read&tid=id.121474331329019#!/SaveOurCommunitiesFromSyntheticDrugs

  • HardcoreDrugee

    Hey dumbass its not $30 a gram is like $1 a gram.

    • HardcoreDrugee

       its*

      • Dan Hobbs

         $20 NZD for 2 grams here

    • Pwarren316

      Everywhere I see it sold its 30 a gram or 3 for 60 if you think it’s 1$ a gram your fucking dumb

      • http://www.facebook.com/craig.randolph.96 Craig Randolph

        u are geting way over charge

    • http://www.facebook.com/craig.randolph.96 Craig Randolph

      and r a dumbass if u thank it a $1 gram well how about this u tell me where it a $1 gram cause im making a trip there and buing it all up

  • Lessarivers

    I was a major pot head for several years, one day the supply for weed on the streets was no good and my buddy and I went to the store to purchase k2 spice. The owner of the store convinced us to get something stonger it was labled “atomic.” I smoked that night and started hearing voices in my head, but for some reason thought it was normal. I took some home with me later on and smoked in the morning, I. Smoked at around nine am. I took two hits and no something was not right. My heart rate sped up and my eye ball started feeling like it was popping out of my head and exploding, also the voices were back but this time they were mean. I thought my eye was going to explode, so I tried to take it out of my head.. thanks to my mother I didn’t. My mothers a nurse so she knew what was goin on. I was having a seizure and very close to having a heart attack… I will never understand why this shit is legal to sell in ny

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PUA6YYASXAE3ZD2OHJE4GEJYFQ D.W.

    In Texas it’s about $10 for 1.5 g. You can get totally f’d-up for 30 mins to over an hour the 1st time you smoke some brands. After the 1st time with each brand tolerance grows quickly. I am 30 years old and have done all drugs in my youth/adolescence/young-adulthood and this stuff blew my mind. I’m really surprised such a strong, psychotropic substance is legal(and is a source for state sales-tax while nearly harmless marijuana is still illegal). The gov’t is not here to protect any of us. Be sure you search your children’s rooms and backpacks for any suspicious substances, including spice. Pot does not even compare to this stuff. This is more like huffing gas or taking a short trip on LSD. I am sure it causes hemorrhaging in the brain or some other long-term effect. It is not plausible that any substance that alters your perception to such a degree is less than permanently damaging to the brain and/or heart, lungs. Seriously, I have thought about being a drug-counselor before and of all the dope and drugs I’ve tried this stuff scares me for kids the most. Not because it’s the strongest, but because it’s marketed to teens so well and the unknown future side-effects. 

  • Anonymous

    I tried. Supernova and the side affects were horrific, they include double vision, rapid heart beat, and anxiety attacks. I advise that it’s best to stay away from Supernova it is not healthy for your body they should ban it in all states. I thank Jesus for bringing me out of this experience!

    • Corey

      I’m smoking supernova right now in the green an black bag I’m almost out, I bought it today a 6 gram bag, I haven’t had any of them symptoms, I feel great. Extremely high is all I feel

  • Random Synthetic Weed Smoker

    Idk WHAT I just tried. I forgot the name of it, but got damn it. I took THREE puffs. I shrugged it off because my brother told me it’s synthetic, and it’s just like weed. So my ASSumptions led Me to believe that i was going to have something like a natural high. Bullshit. Man I smoked some got damn fuzzy crack, cause thats all it was.  I took 3 puffs, went to the other room to get onto the computer like 10 seconds after that.  Man, AS I was on my way to the other room, the music playing from the computer speakers started sounding like…like “your about to die real soon, prepare yourself” music.
              I was like “Oh shit, no…not this..I don’t need this right now” lol. Hurried up and turned the computer OFF. Went into the front room like 30 seconds after I turned the computer off and seen the TV turned on with a horror movie. I simply thought “Fuck no” and turned it straight off. The sounds and imagery were like…a conscious message of the current situation. A feeling of “This is your last moments in the conscious reality of living” was then put into my train of thought.
             I was truelly in belief that I was going to die and I smoked something artificial that would be the result of my death. WHY this is legal, I have NO clue. But Im COMPLETELY sure that being in THAT high state of paranoia its EASY to get too freaked out to actually kill someone if your will is too low or if you lack forgiveness. OR might even bite a face off or two. I would NOT recommend this for anybody. I just tried the shit bout 2 hours ago. Im starting to doubt the weed im being given by black corporates now. I quit smoking, fuck it lol.

    • Random Synthetic Weed Smoker

      By the way, I was just being funny about the fuzzy crack for all you slow asses. It wasn’t crack. Its just the quality of the shit would make you wonder lol.

    • Hargisian

      Nothing but a geeker dawg…stop tripping and just handle your shit…and i understand bout the ” potency” you guys are talking about….i have straight vomit for hours and even had colvosions, but its never stop me from smoking synthetic AKA fake shit…its all in your head,only yourself knows when something is wrong for sure…all this shit like heightened heartrate and panics attacks are sometimes completely natural when smoking this shit….

      • adog

        i agree my dude everyone needs to stop being a pussy and smoke up

    • Nic_o_las

      I had a very similar experience to you, after my girlfriend and i smoked a joint of this stuff i believed 100% i was about to die and i was somehow trapped and couldn’t get out.. this was it!.. no warning.. you cant say goodbye to your loved ones in time..and all you can feel is sadness, depression, and the “realisation”  that your time is up! tonight is the first time i’ve google searched this subject as it absolutely terrified me.. im so relieved that so many people have shared their experiences here as i dont feel im loosing my mind anymore lol  

  • anonymous

    i bought half an oz of kronic i thought yea it will be all good i have smoked normal weed heaps of times. So i packed 1 cone/ bowl and smoked it. After that everything doesnt really make sense what happend i was halucinating so much that i was in a whole other world all i could feel was just all the shitty emotions like saddness guilt shame all of them at once. It took me about an hour 2 snap out of it and about half an hour 2 get up and get some help. All i remember about the halluciations was i thought i was dead and was going 2 be thier forever. Since then i havent done any drugs turned me off it majorly but even after i got some help my heart rate was still 170. It took me about 2 months 2 fully recover and not be parinoid.

  • AWhite the Truth

    The reason it has the street name of spice is because thats a hint at the way ur supposed to use it.  It works best when sprinkled in with some real weed to “spice” it up. Obviously if you smoke just primarily and intake to much bad shit is gonna happen. In the same sense you wouldnt grab a bottle of rubinoff and start slamming shots unless you wanted to be face down in the ground for 3 hours.

  • Str8slate

    I really cant stand this utter nonsense. These stores usually owned by FOREIGNERS ( such as SYMPHONY MART BOSTON) laugh so hard as you walk out thier door with your little packet of “Mary Joy” that they get for 5$ and sell to you for 30$ full well knowing they are harming you as well as ripping you off. They dispise Americans. HELLO! This is also some of the Most Dangerous incense out thier (not to mention completely illegal). Wake up BOSTON these fools are ripping you off, harming you, AND LAUGHING about it.

  • joe

    Have smoked weed almost everyday for 10 years. I have smoked spice a few times when i needed to get a jb for about a month. Wgen i was smoking spice the high was more intense but didnt last as long. Over half the time i felt like my heart was going to explode and was close to calling 911 many times. I have never hallucinated off of it. A few times after smoking spice i couldnt even talk. Real weed has bever made me feel like this. I have smoke many blunts of weed at once and all I have ever smoked of spice is hitters. Spice is extremely dangerous. Unfortunately all my friends smoke it now because they get drug tested for work. Most had had the same effects that i have.

  • Thage

    I smoked a Synthetic weed called ” Sour Diesle” just last night. I took 2-3 hits and put my head down. when i raised back up i knew something was wrong. It felt like the room was tilting and i was like WTF is going on so i grabbed onto the table in fear i will fall. ( just to remind you. I did not drink any alcohol and was not high on weed) so i was looking at my bro and was like “The world is spinning” he did not smoke, he told me to go outside, so i tried to walk and it was challenging i kept saying to myself to snap out of it. it felt good to be outside on a december night with a t-shirt. even though it was freezing it felt good. but that’s when i started hallucinating. i swear i was seeing millions of bugs flying around i did not hear any voices as some people mentioned . but after about a hour of this horrible experience i snapped out of it but then became very tired. * I WILL NOT DO THIS AGAIN * but i do recommend if you dare to smoke it… Have Cold water handy, DO NOT DRIVE, BE AT YOUR HOME, do not smoke this at a party or some social event, TRUST ME YOU WILL SAVE THE EMBARRASSMENT!!!

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