Emily was 16 when she walked into her neighborhood convenience store and purchased a small bag of synthetic marijuana. Shortly after smoking it, she began experiencing hallucinations and had to be rushed to the hospital. She later experienced several strokes and had to be placed on life support. She survived but was left partially blind and paralyzed.
Emily is not alone. In 2011, synthetic marijuana was linked to 28,531 emergency room visits. Side effects of synthetic marijuana include catatonia, anxiety, extreme paranoia, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, elevated heartbeat and blood pressure, seizures, acute kidney failure, and in some cases, death.
What makes synthetic marijuana so dangerous? For starters, you do not know what you are getting. Synthetic marijuana is not traditional marijuana. To replicate the high of traditional marijuana, a variety of dried plants are sprayed with chemicals. Transforming a once natural product with unknown chemicals of questionable toxicity is what makes it so dangerous. And because there are so many variations of synthetic marijuana, it is impossible to know what chemicals each specific batch has been sprayed with.
One type of synthetic marijuana appeared throughout the United States in 2009. Since then, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has seen over 400 varieties emerge. Officials say that it is a “whack-a-mole” problem —when they find one kind and ban it, two more pop up.
There are currently over 600 different street names for synthetic marijuana — Spice and K2 being the most popular. These drugs are often advertised as herbal incense or potpourri, making people believe they are natural and low-risk. But there is nothing harmless about them.