There are a lot of bad things that have resulted from the prohibition of cannabis. Cartels and black market drug dealers – many who deal in more than just weed alone – get to bring in millions each year, teens have easy access to cannabis when compared to alcohol and there are many innocent people sitting in jail or even prison simply for having a bag on their person at the wrong time. However, one of the few things that the government probably never accounted for was a much more dangerous alternative being created to get around the law.
Around 2006, that is exactly what happened though. This was about the time that Spice, K2 or synthetic marijuana started to gain popularity in the United Kingdom. It was only a couple of years later in 2008 when it truly started to become a problem here in the United States as well. If you’ve never heard of K2 then that’s great – unfortunately I’ve seen firsthand how dangerous this doppelganger can be. The side effects of Spice can be far more dangerous than the relatively innocent looking herbs would make you believe.
Looking for an alternative to marijuana might not have crossed the minds of most stoners, at least not at first – but sometimes circumstances made it impossible for people to enjoy the herb. Whether they got a job that conducts regular drug tests, are in the midst of a court battle or have to go through court ordered drug testing for probation or any of the numerous reasons one would want to be “clean” of THC, eventually the “I wish it were legal, so this didn’t matter” thought will pop up – and in 2006, synthetic cannabis came on the market to solve that problem, or so it would seem, at first.
Five years ago you could walk into almost any Shell, BP or Marathon gas station (at least in my area) and purchase a 5, 10 or 20 gram bag of synthetic marijuana. The bags were designed to fit into the cannabis culture, often with a 1960s psychedelic appearance, or showing off cartoon characters we all know and love like Scooby-Doo and Tweety Bird. Inside the package the herbs that you would find looked very similar to ground up marijuana – but sometimes in colors not quite green, but blue, brown or red-ish instead.
No matter how close to the real thing it appeared, it was definitely an imposter. Anyone who used it would get a similar high to the one produced by THC, which came from synthetic cannabinoids the manufacturers were spraying directly on the plant material. These cannabinoids, while able to produce similar effects to cannabis, were in some cases up to 100 times stronger than actual THC and the side effects are much more drastic.
By 2010, the use of “legal weed” was finally being seen for its dangers – but not until after a report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration made note of the fact that Spice was related to more than 11,400 hospitalizations – some of which resulted in death. Side effects of these synthetic cannabinoids can range from the same tired, couchlock you might have experienced with cannabis to the extremes of seizures and even death.
Sold both online and in stores, Spice has over 500 different names and the synthetic cannabinoids are still being created faster than any legal administration can outlaw them. In more recent years, with the rise of vape pens, the synthetic marijuana has taken on an additional form as a liquid that is just as dangerous as the plant matter counterpart. Unfortunately, vaping is much more popular among teens, especially college students, who are the age group most likely to risk their lives for this legal high.
It may seem like a bunch of hysteria, like Reefer Madness all over again – how could something that imitates harmless cannabinoids be so dangerous? Unfortunately, none of them chemicals being sprayed onto this plant material were ever tested on humans – they are barely even legal (only in the sense that they are brand new and have not been outlawed). It really is as dangerous as this article and many others make it out to be – I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and I wish I hadn’t.
I’ve seen two people who have had horrible reactions to this “legal weed”. The first guy smoked almost a whole blunt of it to himself – since no one else wanted to smoke it. When he was done smoking, he was trying to hold a conversation, and then he passed out on the couch for hours and nothing could wake him. If the house had been burning down, he would have likely slept through the whole thing.
The second one was a little more intense. I was on a lunch break at the local technical college when a classmate and I wandered out to the parking lot for a cigarette – she only took two hits off of a blunt of K2 and 5 minutes later she was in a state of total panic, hyperventilating and paranoid that everyone knew she was way too high. The next thing I knew, she was throwing up the sub she had eaten for lunch just before and then started shaking.
I tried to get her to drink some water but she couldn’t keep it down, then she said she was getting really hot and she thought she was going to die. I tried to reassure her that she was alright and she was just having a bad reaction to the “fweed” (fake weed) as me and my friends called it. Her eyes were shut tight and she wouldn’t get up, stop shaking or stop saying she thought she was going to die. I had no other choice – I ran to the office (the one time I don’t have a cell phone on me) and got them to bring the nurse – who ended up having to call EMS for her.
If you ever think for a second that you might want to try that legal alternative, please think again. It’s a very dangerous substance and the synthetic cannabinoids attach to not only the CB receptors, but also other receptors as well; because of this, the reaction you get could be much more than you originally bargained for. Some people get lucky and they don’t have any bad reactions, with the exception of maybe some lightheadedness or just being a little hazier than anyone really should be – but sometimes the chemicals are just too much for the brain to take.
“This report underscores that a federal ban was right to protect public safety…Still, cynical manufacturers are evading the federal ban by altering chemicals or ignoring the ban altogether. Anyone who might be tempted to try this drug should realize its use can end in tragedy, such as the loss of my constituent, David Rozga.”- Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa)
David Rozga was an 18 year old who suffered from depression; one day he decided to smoke some K2 with his friends and shortly after he suffered what may have been hallucinations or a psychosis that lead him to commit suicide. It was this, alongside the report mentioned earlier, that made the federal government take notice of what was happening in the country and do what they could to get it under control – but it was already too late for Rozga and so many others who suffered the ill effects of Spice.
Later in 2010, the DEA invoked its right to emergency powers in order to issue a temporary ban on the synthetic cannabis. It wasn’t until 2013 (a year after my experience at the school) that a number of the synthetic cannabinoids were listed as Schedule I controlled substances. Unfortunately, by then the producers had already come up with a whole new list of synthetic cannabinoids and have started the process all over again.
While the sale of synthetic marijuana is illegal, due to the fact that some businesses simply don’t care and sell it regardless, plus the number of new chemicals the manufacturers come out with make it hard for the DEA to keep up with synthetic weed. In the last couple of years the sale of K2 has dropped significantly – but that doesn’t mean it has ended and the new liquid form could prove to be a whole new side of the problem. It’s going to take a lot of work to get this entirely under control.
The worst part about all of this? It never had to happen in the first place. If cannabis were legal, there would have never been a demand for a legal alternative at all! The main reason that people turned to Spice was because it was marketed as producing a similar high to marijuana, but it would never show up in a drug test. Anyone who heard about this stuff thought they had found a way around the drug testing problem – but if it hadn’t been a problem they never would have tried K2 at all and none of this would have had to happen.
While trying to put an end to the use of a natural substance that has been proven time and time again to be safer than some legal substances (tobacco, alcohol, and prescription medications), someone was out there was trying to create a legal alternative – and when they did it turned out to be everything negative the plant was made out to be during the years of Reefer Madness. This could have been prevented, but it wasn’t.
If you know anyone who uses K2, please try to get them to realize the dangers and risks it poses to their health – and do yourself a favor and if you’re worried about a drug test just take a break from smoking for a while, it really is the only safe alternative.
“More Dangerous Alternative” has got to be the understatement of the year!
Good article, coming from the UK i can tell you that these are a direct result of prohibition. They are lethal and in no way simmilar to cannabis.
I’m not keen on the term synthetic cannabinoids as it isn’t accurate. They are “Synthetic cannabinoid receptor antagonisers” or SCRA.
Please do not do them.
If you would add up all the pros and cons of prohibition, anyone should agree that those that keep prohibition upright, are mass murderers. And most do it just for the money or their carreer. Terrible hypocrites, that in doing so also undermine our faith in police and justice, which may even be the worst side effect of the war on drugs.