This year, there has been an explosion of hospital visits related to the use of synthetic marijuana. Usually, a few hundred patients per month come to emergency rooms across the US after becoming ill from consuming synthetic marijuana. But since April of this year, there have been thousands of visits each month, with an astounding 4,377 visits reported in July alone.
Synthetic Marijuana Has Little in Common with Cannabis
Synthetic marijuana is the term that the media and law enforcement use to label chemical compounds that interact with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors to produce a high. Since these chemicals have little similarity to THC or other psychoactive cannabinoids present in the marijuana plant, Dr. Aaron Schneir of the University of California considers that “it’s a misnomer to even call it synthetic marijuana.”
On the street, these drugs, which are often sprayed onto inert plant matter, go under names such Spice, K2, and Scooby Snax. They sell for around $30 for a 3-gram bag, and are popular among people who want to get high without fear of failing drug tests. To avoid liability, some producers label their bags with “not for human consumption.”
The symptoms from using synthetic marijuana can be terrifying: vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, elevated blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death. Last year, for example, a California teenager reportedly died after smoking a single hit of a particularly potent synthetic marijuana product. According to his parents, his brain began swelling and then he fell into a fatal coma.
Why Criminalizing Synthetic Marijuana Will Not Work
In 2011, the California State Assembly passed Health and Safety Code Section 11357.5, which makes it illegal to sell or distribute the following synthetic cannabinoid compounds:
- 1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-018)
- 1-butyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-073)
- 1-U2-(4-morpholinyl)ethyl]-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole (JWH-200)
- 5-(1,1-dimethyloctyl)-2-U(1R,3S)-3-hydroxycyclohexyl]-phenol(cannabicyclohexanol; CP-47, 497 C8 homologue)
Violating this law is a misdemeanor punishable by six months in county jail, a fine of $1,000, or both.
According to the DEA, laws such as these cannot stem the flow of poisonous chemicals onto the streets. Synthetic marijuana producers are able to stay ahead of law enforcement by changing the composition of the chemical to no longer match a prohibited substance. DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno has said: “We’re not far behind, but they can tweak a formula faster than we can regulate it.”
A similar problem has arisen with so-called bath salts, which are powerful synthetic alkaloids that can produce effects ranging from a simple high to severe hallucinations. Efforts to control their distribution have failed as producers are always one step ahead of law enforcement.
This new generation of psychoactive substances, originating not in the natural world but in laboratories, demonstrates once again that a criminalization approach to the substance abuse is ill advised. Criminalizing one substance often leads users to try other—and sometimes more dangerous—substances. As for the producers, they can keep tweaking their formulas to stay out of reach of regulatory efforts.
San Diego Drug Crime Attorney
If you’ve been accused of possessing synthetic marijuana with the intent to distribute, attorney Jessica McElfresh at McElfresh Law can help. Our goal is to give every one of our clients the best possible defense to their drug charges through aggressive and creative legal representation. Call us today at (858) 756-7107 for a free and confidential consultation.