‘Synthetic’ marijuana an issue even after ban

Published 10:40 pm Friday, May 9, 2014

Synthetic marijuana can no longer be sold out of gas stations, but that doesn’t mean it has disappeared from Chilton County streets.

Substances created to look like marijuana, sold as incense and packaged to appeal to youth were made illegal in Alabama in 2011, but Clanton Police officials said they still deal with synthetic marijuana.

Just last month, a string of vehicle thefts included a stolen gun that was sold for synthetic marijuana.

Users may opt for these marijuana alternatives because they believe they cannot be detected by a standard drug screen.

Dangerous substance: Clanton Police have confiscated many packages of synthetic marijuana, which is often packaged in a way to suggest it is legal and appeal to youth.

Dangerous substance: Clanton Police have confiscated many packages of synthetic marijuana, which is often packaged in a way to suggest it is legal and appeal to youth.

“There’s a drug test out there for this, but it’s so expensive that most people don’t use it,” CPD Cpl. David Kline said. “Also, with your typical at-home drug test, this isn’t going to show up.”

So, the drug is popular among younger users, a fact that is also reflected in its packaging, which often features bright colors and many different nicknames.

“They package it for the younger generation,” Kline said. “They try to appeal to the younger generation.”

Hundreds of different variants are commonly marketed under names such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Spice Gold,” “Sence,” “Genie,” “Zohai,” “Yucatan Fire,” “Smoke,” “Sexy Monkey,” “Black Mamba” and “Skunk.”

Clanton Police said the substances are commonly referred to locally as “syntho.”

Prior to the substances being made illegal, CPD officers delivered to local businesses copies of a letter from the health department stating the substances created health hazards.

Then, after the law was passed, CPD carried copies of the law to businesses who still sold synthetic marijuana.

Users have turned to ordering synthetic marijuana off the Internet or from dealers who distribute the substance like they would any other narcotic.

The drug is relatively expensive, CPD officials said. Undercover officers or informants have seen a 7-gram package sold for $80. Users may be willing to pay the price because the high experienced is more intense than that produced by marijuana.

Users experience symptoms that include rapid heart rate, nausea and vomiting, agitation, confusion, lethargy, hallucinations, kidney and respiratory problems, according to an Alabama Department of Public Health press release. Deaths have also resulted after people have ingested or smoked these substances.

“You can have seizures; it’s serious stuff,” Detective David Bone said and recalled an incident where police searched a home where residents had been using synthetic marijuana. “It turned everything in there black.”

The designer-drug substances consist of dried plant material sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids. The chemical compounds reportedly stimulate the same brain areas affected by marijuana, and they have a high potential for abuse.

Alabama emergency departments are treating patients for physical and psychological symptoms after they have smoked synthetic mixtures.

Since October 2010, the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama has received 173 calls about synthetic cannabinoids.

•160 of those calls were exposures

•The majority of callers were males

•67 of the calls were in people age 13-19 years

•52 of the calls were in people age 20-29 years

•95 of the callers were treated for a toxic exposure in a hospital emergency department; 26 of those were admitted; approximately 13 of those 26 were admitted to critical care units.

After a peak number of cases in 2011, the numbers declined in 2012 and 2013, but cases have increased in 2014 with 20 calls handled thus far.

The possession or sale of chemical compounds typically found in these synthetic substances is unlawful; however, new chemical variations are created in illicit laboratories each month.

“Although regulatory agencies constantly update their databases, new drug entities are being compounded regularly,” state Pharmacist Charles Thomas said in a press release. “Some of the substances act like stimulants, and others like depressants.”

“It’s still a problem here; it’s just not sitting on the counters in convenience stores,” CPD Chief Brian Stilwell said.