For anyone paying attention to the marijuana industry lately, it seems like it’s almost become 100% legit. Medical marijuana facilities are flourishing, with about 25 states currently allowing medical marijuana facilities. State tax coffers in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, the four states that allow marijuana retail sales, are rising and above expectations, according to a 2016 Tax Foundation report. And legal marijuana businesses are now able to use banks and other financial services (instead of cash only), per a recent measure by the US government.
This mostly positive cash-generating news for the marijuana industry is covering up a more recent scourge on the streets. It’s the story of chemical manufacturers who are hopping on the marijuana bandwagon to distribute dangerous chemicals. It’s known as ‘synthetic marijuana’, and it hides below in the shadows, in shady transactions, while wrecking brain cells and derailing lives and careers. Let’s take a look at synthetic marijuana, its history, its production, and its effects on human consumption:
What is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana is a man-made synthesis of chemicals that’s increasingly targeted to marijuana users, even being marketed as a ‘safe’ and ‘legal’ alternative to regular marijuana. But these chemicals do not come from any leafy green plant. In fact, most public health experts do not ascribe the association with marijuana at all.
Instead, these chemicals affect the human brain much differently than THC, the natural cannabinoid found in marijuana. The truth is that these chemicals are made for smoking (chemicals sprayed on some flammable material to inhale) or marketed as ‘vapor’ liquids for use in vapesticks, e-cigarettes, and other inhaling apparatuses.
Where did synthetic cannabinoids come from?
The incredible story of synthetic cannabinoids begins with scientist John Huffman, a professional chemist in research at Clemson University for years. In the early 1990s, Huffman started to experiment with a new discovery called a cannabinoid receptor. He tried ways to synthesize various compounds, and to research how these reacted with the brain’s chemical receptors.
With funding by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Huffman experimented with many synthetic cannabinoids and how they interact with the brain’s receptors. In 1993, Huffman came up with a compound that he named JWH (his initials)-018. He then published the research in studies and papers, and even a book, “The Cannabinoid Receptors”.
Unfortunately, unsavory characters used Huffman’s formulas to create chemicals and began marketing them alongside the growing marijuana legalization movement in the United States. By 2008, an early synthetic cannabinoid called Spice was being sold as a marijuana substitute at city markets and bodegas.
Horrific cases of people killing themselves after taking Spice led the DEA to ban certain synthetic cannabinoids. Three of the chemicals banned had been created by Huffman. The rise of synthetic cannabinoids in street drug scenes has horrified Huffman, and he’s gone into near recluse status to avoid the attention about his research work that has led to terrible drug cases over the past few years. You can read more about Huffman’s story in this lengthy feature about the origins of synthetic cannabinoids.
Types of Synthetic Cannabinoids
These synthetic cannabinoids are often packaged in small pouches or as liquid incense products and sold indiscriminately as K2, Spice, Black Magic Smoke, Green Dream, Joker, Skunk and hundreds of other names. This proliferation of marketing names has made policing these chemicals a very tough task for law enforcement officers.
Synthetic cannabinoids like K2 were recently described by a New York Police Department spokesperson as being “wholly manmade, made by persons unknown, assembled by persons unknown, under unknown conditions in unknown places.” That description accurately characterizes the shady operations that exist for these chemicals.
In Washington, DC, the number of synthetic cannabinoid overdose cases hovered around 50 cases in 2014. This past June 2016, the number rose to an incredible 439 cases, according to the Washington Post. That’s an alarming statistic, and it brings back awful memories of the crack cocaine drug problem that has torn apart people’s lives in the past two decades. In New York, there were a reported 130 K2 or spice drug cases in only one week in July.
Synthetic cannabinoids affect the brain in much stronger, unpredictable ways than normal marijuana and THC (the active ingredient in marijuana plants). That’s largely a result of this drug being a mixture of hundreds of cannabinoid compounds (per the DEA), with new ones being created regularly. Some of these synthetic cannabinoid chemicals are said to be 100 times stronger than normal marijuana THC levels.
This biggest danger about synthetic cannabinoids is that they are created not from just a single natural substance, but a variety of different chemical combinations. The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that that have been over 300 different kinds of synthetic cannabinoids found in the past 10 years.
And because the active chemical ingredients are shifting and changing, it’s difficult to fully understand the full effects that these chemicals can have on users. Humans have experienced horrific effects from the drug, including vomiting, psychosis, seizures, anxiety, paranoia, and even heart attacks.
Help and Treatment
If you or someone you care about is suffering from the debilitating effects of chronic synthetic cannabinoids usage, there is hope and treatment available. The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake helps adults who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and other substance abuse issues. Our professional staff provides patient solutions combining healing and medication-assisted treatment from our base, 15 minutes from Colorado Springs, CO.
Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one overcome a synthetic cannabinoid addiction.
“25 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC – Medical Marijuana – ProCon.org.” ProConorg Headlines. June 28, 2016. Accessed August 01, 2016. http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881.
“500 Street Names for Synthetic Marijuana (Spice, K2, Etc.).” August 01, 2015. Accessed August 01, 2016. http://spiceaddictionsupport.org/street-names-for-synthetic-marijuana/.
Henchman, Joseph, and Morgan Scarborn. “Marijuana Legalization and Taxes: Lessons for Other States from Colorado and Washington.” Tax Foundation. May 12, 2016. Accessed August 01, 2016. http://taxfoundation.org/article/marijuana-legalization-and-taxes-lessons-other-states-colorado-and-washington.
Hermann, Abigail Hauslohner Peter. “The Scariest Thing about Synthetic Drugs Is Everything That’s Unknown.” The Washington Post, July 18, 2015. Accessed August 1, 2016. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-38528900.html?refid=easy_hf.
Mccoy, Terrence. “How This Chemist Unwittingly Helped Spawn the Synthetic Drug Industry.” The Washington Post, August 10, 2015. Accessed 2016. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-38608438.html?refid=easy_hf.
Nir, Sarah Maslin. “K2 Overdoses Surge in New York: At Least 130 Cases This Week Alone.” New York Times, July 14, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/nyregion/k2-overdose-spike-in-new-york-at-least-130-cases-this-week-alone.html?_r=0.
“Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Banking Measure – MPP.” MPP. June 16, 2016. Accessed August 01, 2016. https://www.mpp.org/news/press/senate-committee-approves-marijuana-banking-measure/.
“Synthetic Cannabinoids.” DrugFacts:. Accessed August 01, 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cannabinoids.