In working with at-risk teens, I find that both that their parents as well as those of us working to save them have to be more than vigilant…we have to virtually sleep with one eye open. Today’s youth seem more inclined engage their free time by pursuing questionable “pleasures,” most notably the fixation on getting high.
In regards to this to teenage fixation on pursuing chemically-induced altered states of perceptions, the methods of choice include illegally-obtained prescription medicines, “huffing” chemical inhalants, and smoking marijuana—by no means an exhaustive list. But with many institutions increasing their emphasis on drug testing and [the] increasing legal restrictions limiting access to excessive amounts of over-the-counter medicines (often used to concoct mixtures to chase cheap highs), teenagers are constantly seeking and exploring other alternatives to momentarily escaping reality.
One of these alternatives are plants and other exotic herbs that have been treated with synthetic chemicals, so that when smoked mimic both the form and function of marijuana. The way this “legal weed” works is that when rolled in smoking paper and smoked, produces a euphoric high similar to that of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chief psychoactive chemical in real marijuana. Instead of THC, this synthetic marijuana contains a mixture of synthetic chemicals known as JWH-018, JWH-073, and/or CP-47 that act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain in much the same way that true marijuana does.
This totally legal marijuana substitute (in most states) is manufactured abroad, shipped to the states, sold mostly in local convenience stores/corner markets, and marketed as “herbal incense” in order to disguise its true purpose as a way of obtaining a marijuana-like high…without the legal ramifications. Sold under the popular brand names such as “K2,” “Kush,” “Spice,” “Mr. Nice Guy,” and a host of others, these herbal blends have dangerous, potentially deadly heath issues attached to their use. Earlier this year, an Iowa teen who had smoked K2 died after suffering a panic attack caused by its use and shooting himself (http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/article_877e5512-aae0-58bc-b88b-8e3124f198dc.html).
As illustrated, smoking small amounts of the more potent synthetic marijuana can cause an increased heart rate, loss of consciousness, paranoia, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes. Regarding these health issues, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) calls these herbal plants a “drug of concern” and has moved to have these drugs placed in the same category as traditional illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Additionally, some 13 states as well as the military have banned either their sale and/or use (importation and/or use have also been banned abroad in the UK, Russia, Poland, France, and South Korea). However, in the jurisdictions that have been slow to respond—for whatever reasons—synthetic marijuana’s use continues to grow as young users take advantage of this legislative oversight (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/24/national/main7086373.shtml).
Besides the fact that legal loopholes help encourage access to this drug, the fact that it doesn’t show up as a positive reading in traditional drug screenings make it an even more attractive substitute for young people looking to get an easy and cheap high; small packets of these herbs cost between $15 to $40 dollars.
In cities and areas across the country, authorities should make themselves aware of this potentially deadly substitute for marijuana and move quickly to ban its import, sale, and use…or the federal government should speed up its efforts to ban the importation and/use of any product with these particular (or even similar) chemical makeup(s).
Given the level of talk and bragging I hear daily by teens who share stories about their particular experiences with artificial marijuana use, perhaps some enterprising future entrepreneur could create a drug screening which could detect this new drug, and make himself/herself a multimillionaire in the process…and help those of us who spend our time trying to keep young people keep their heads on straight.