Last week U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Charles Grassley proposed new federal legislation that would make nearly two dozen substances commonly used in the production of synthetic marijuana illegal. This comes after 130 suspected overdoses occurred in New York City two weeks ago and over 6,000 hospitalizations in 2015. Here to discuss synthetic marijuana and what you need to know to keep your family safe is our pharmacist Dr Michael White from the UConn School of Pharmacy.
There are hundreds of chemicals that like marijuana stimulate cannabinoid receptors in the brain. These chemicals are either sprayed on dried plant matter to resemble natural marijuana and are smoked or kept as a liquid to be vaporized and inhaled through something like an e-cigarette. The reason it is so popular is because many of these cannabinoid chemicals have not been specifically made illegal, they are hard to detect in drug tests, they don’t give off the characteristic marijuana smell that tips off parents and law enforcement, and they are cheap to buy.
Yes, there were almost 30,000 emergency room visits due to side effects of synthetic marijuana. Synthetic marijuana is dangerous because you don’t know which chemicals or chemical mix is being used, how potent those chemicals are, the concentrations being used, and the quality of the manufacturing process. While you are hoping to get the mellowing effects and pleasant hallucinations that marijuana can provide, you might get anxiety, confusion, paranoia, violent behavior, and suicidal thoughts instead. These are the most common reasons people go to the hospital but these effects can also rarely result in heart, muscle, and kidney damage and induce seizures. Having this number of cases of harm right across the border in New York should make us take notice. Children should not own a vaporizer or e-cigarette and should not have foil or plastic packets in their room if those packets are labeled as potpourri, incense, or “not for human consumption”.
Senators Schumer and Grassley have identified almost two dozen cannabinoid chemicals that are currently being used in products like K2 and Spice but are not identified as illegal. If they are formally made illegal than people selling them over the internet, smoke shops, or convenience stores can be more easily prosecuted. Over time, the impact of this legislation will be muted as the chemists alter the molecules to create new chemicals that are not on the banned list. What we really need is to strengthen the Analogue Act which gives prosecutors the power to pursue drugmakers and distributors who traffic in substances that are “substantially similar” in their chemical makeup and their pharmacological effect to Schedule I and II drugs. The way the law is currently written, prosecutors have to convince non-science minded jurors that the chemical is substantially similar and that the makers or sellers knew that is was. Legislation like this is in the works but is more technical to write properly so this is a stop gap measure.
Dr. Michael White, UConn School of Pharmacy