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The Rise And Risks Of Synthetic Marijuana47:56
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It’s called “Spice,” “synthetic marijuana. We’ll look at a cheap, potent and ambiguously legal synthetic drug that’s causing overdoses and flooding the streets.

A man lays handcuffed and unresponsive as first responders attend to him at a DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) rail stop during rush hour in downtown Dallas, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. According to police on the scene the man had smoked K2, also known as "spice," a synthetic marijuana known to cause hallucinations and violent behavior. (AP)
A man lays handcuffed and unresponsive as first responders attend to him at a DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) rail stop during rush hour in downtown Dallas, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. According to police on the scene the man had smoked K2, also known as "spice," a synthetic marijuana known to cause hallucinations and violent behavior. (AP)

The street drug called “spice” is a kind of black box of chemicals and reactions. Chemicals, largely from China, sprayed over maybe oregano or basil. Sold in little packets marked “not for human consumption.” Reactions, all over the place. A high that can be manic or depressive. That can leave users giddy or angry or fighting for their lives in the emergency room. It gets called synthetic marijuana, but it’s not marijuana. It is a cannabinoid. And it is confounding health officials and law enforcement. This hour On Point:  the unpredictability and danger of the little packets known as “spice.”
-- Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Steve Featherstone, journalist and photographer. (@featherocker)

Allie Conti, staff writer for VICE, where she has been investigating synthetic cannabinoids. (@allie_conti)

Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center and assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.

Eric Wish, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland

From Tom's Reading List

VICE: The Worst Drug in the World — "It's starting to seem like city cops are taking synthetic weed seriously, and perhaps even conducting a bonafide crackdown. In the past three weeks, two bodegas in Harlem have been busted for selling the stuff (the most recent included the seizure of some Viagra pills)."

New York Times: Spike Nation — "Since 2008, when authorities first noted the presence of synthetic cannabinoids in ‘‘legal marijuana’’ products, periodic surges in overdoses have often coincided with new releases, and emergency doctors have had to learn on the fly how to treat them. This latest surge is notable for the severity of symptoms: seizures, extreme swings in heart rate and blood pressure, kidney and respiratory failure, hallucinations. Many patients require such enormous doses of sedatives that they stop breathing and require intubation, and yet they still continue to struggle violently."

Washington Post: Difficulties testing synthetic drugs are slowing criminal prosecutions — "Traditional drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, can quickly be detected, so they do not present such testing problems. Suspects are almost always immediately charged with possession or distribution. But that is not the case with the synthetic varieties, which because of their complicated compounds must be sent to a lab after a drug arrest."

This program aired on August 10, 2015.

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