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K2 Trend Not Slowing Down

Bans May Fail

Lawmakers have been working on the state and federal levels to combat the growing trend. Forty-one states have banned some synthetic cannabinoids. In July, Congress passed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which bans five kinds of synthetic cannabinoids and some bath salts. However, producers continue to modify old compounds and develop new ones, effectively skirting the law.

“Prohibition [of synthetic drugs] fails because it attacks the supply,” Broider says. “As long as the demand is there, producers will keep finding new ways to get these products out there.”

DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno says the new regulations are working.

“By making these substances harder to obtain, we hope to control experimentation,” Carreno says. “I believe as we get deeper into our investigation, we will put a crimp on this problem.”

During a nationwide crackdown in July, the DEA seized 5 million packets of finished designer synthetic drugs, along with materials to make 10 million more packets.

Drugs' Dangers

Synthetic marijuana is generally more potent than regular marijuana. Ryan says people who have tried it report side effects such as anxiety, combativeness, increased heart rate, paranoia, agitation, and hallucinations after using the drugs. Other effects include vomiting and seizures. “Some of them are delusional or paranoid quickly after using the product,” Ryan says. “We’re seeing psychotic breaks in people that have no psychotic history.”

Because the drugs are so new, little research is available on their long-term effects.

“These compounds, we don’t know how they’re metabolized in the body. Every time they come out with a new one, we don’t know the effects or the long-term toxicity for years,” says Marilyn A. Huestis, PhD, of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Md. “There’s no quality control here.”

The DEA reports that several makers of synthetic marijuana products are based outside of the U.S. and made without quality control measures, which add to the risk.  

Retail marketing has targeted teens and young adults with claims like these products will not show up in urine drug tests. 

Synthetic brands also tend to be cheaper than the real thing, selling for as little as $5 per gram online.

John, a college student from Atlanta, says he tried synthetic marijuana last winter because he thought it was legal -- or at least “more legal” than regular marijuana.

“I thought that you couldn’t get in trouble for it like with other drugs,” says John, who asked that his last name not be used.
Today, David and John say they will never try synthetic drugs again.

“It hit so fast. ... I felt like I was going to die,” says David. “It was awful. I wish I’d never tried it.”

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