Synthetic Marijuana: A Bigger Threat Than Ordinary Marijuana?

Over the past several years, use of synthetic drugs — especially synthetic marijuana — has been on the rise. Even though 40 states, including Texas, banned synthetic marijuana, recent news on synthetic drugs shows that there is no sign that teens intend to stop using it. As a result, in March 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) moved to ban the chemicals for making synthetic marijuana for at least one year. Now the House and Senate are in the process of making synthetic marijuana use a federal crime. The House passed a ban late last year on a 317 to 98 vote, while Senate passage is currently being blocked by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). With so much activity surrounding synthetic marijuana, it is worth taking a look at what it is, how it started, and whether it is worth such alarm.

Synthetic marijuana goes by multiple names, including K2 and Spice. It first appeared in gas stations across the United States in 2006, being sold as tea, incense, or herbs. Although manufacturers claim that synthetic marijuana consists of medicinal herbs that combine to create a “mild” hallucinatory effect, studies show that the herbs are actually sprayed with chemicals to create the effect similar to marijuana. It is likely that synthetic marijuana came into being because its manufacturers thought it could skirt prohibition laws by posing as something natural and even healthy.

However, evidence is mounting that synthetic marijuana is far worse than ordinary marijuana. While marijuana remains in your system for a relatively short amount of time, the effects of K2 or Spice remain in your brain and organs longer. Marijuana combined with alcohol has a very mild effect, while synthetic marijuana combined with alcohol can make people extremely ill. Some side effects of synthetic marijuana that you would not find in ordinary marijuana include vomiting, seizures, and trouble breathing. In the first 10 months of 2011, poison control centers handled 5,741 calls about synthetic marijuana, nearly double the calls received in 2010. Worst of all, synthetic marijuana has been linked to psychosis (while the psychosis effect of marijuana remains inconclusive) and suicidal thoughts.

Since synthetic marijuana only became popular six years ago, its long-term effects remain unknown. Still, it is safe to conclude that all of the concern about synthetic marijuana is warranted. Even so, lawmakers need to move cautiously in banning the substance nationwide. Senator Paul and other Senators raised a valid concern that a new law could interfere with legitimate pharmaceutical research, as well as send plenty of otherwise law-abiding users to prison. Federal criminal defense attorneys already have their hands full defending cases of regular marijuana use, let alone cases of synthetic marijuana use.

Also, even if certain synthetic marijuana compounds are banned (which seems inevitable) on the federal level, there will always be experimentation to arrive at new compounds that create the hallucinatory effects of marijuana. Meanwhile, this entire situation just highlights how inoffensive ordinary marijuana is by comparison. It makes one wonder if the best solution wouldn’t just be to legalize marijuana, which would automatically make all of these synthetic drug combinations irrelevant.