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Real Dangers of Fake Pot: Synthetic Marijuana Use Goes Sky-High

Daily Dose 2010-10-22 0 comments

By Sonja Isger | The Palm Beach Post

A selection of synthetic marijuana, clockwise from left: Mr. Nice Guy, Peace of Mind, Mr. Kwik-E, and XXX (which uses the logo for Monster Energy drink). Photo by Lannis Waters | Palm Beach Post

FLORIDA — Fake pot: It’s legal, is sold in gas stations and convenience stores everywhere, and to some it sounds pretty harmless with names like “Mr. Nice Guy” and “Spice.”

But so called “synthetic marijuana” has left such a trail of emergency room visits and possibly even deaths in its wake that 10 states have banned it, four more are trying to and one local police officer is pleading with shopkeepers not to sell it until Florida lawmakers follow suit.

Lantana officer Nelson Berrios mentors dozens of children ages 11 to 21, but says it was his middle-school-age son who brought home the message:

“The kids at school are smoking fake pot they’re buying at the gas station near school,” Berrios recalls the boy saying at the dinner table not long ago.

Since then, Berrios has been Googling a lot. What is this stuff? Who sells it? What does it do to a person’s brain?

At the same time, counselors in Palm Beach County’s addiction recovery community say they have been asking similar questions, and the answers they and others are finding scare them.

Fake pot often comes in tea bag-sized packets, with labels in some cases that announce: “Not for human consumption.”

It’s sold by shopkeepers as incense. But it’s not much of an air freshener. Instead, it’s any one of a variety of herbal plants, sprayed with a chemical designed to mimic the active ingredient in pot: THC.

“I guarantee you it will not smell good in your house with this stuff burning,” Berrios said.

And with other labeling such as “100 percent drug test safe,” and its positioning on sales racks beside pipes and bongs, there’s little doubt of its true purpose, he added.

It is sold for up to $30 for 3 grams, a higher price than the real deal, and completely legal and impossible to detect on a traditional drug urine test.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has fielded 1,670 calls this year from emergency room doctors and panicked members of the public over the substance.

That’s up from 14 in 2009. But synthetic marijuana wasn’t even on the organization’s radar until last fall, so it’s not a perfect comparison, said the group’s spokeswoman Jessica Wehrman.

Still, she added, it’s indicative of the drug’s skyrocketing popularity during the past year.

[Editor’s Note: Below is a link to the rest of the story on The Palm Beach Post, with more photos and information for those who are interested.]

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