If you’ll forgive us for once again revisiting a familiar subject, this week has nonetheless given us just cause to do so. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be on the pulse of things when it comes to marijuana news, it’s largely impossible that the recent headlines regarding synthetic cannabinoids could have passed you by completely. Known as Spice, K2 and plenty of other names, you’re basically looking at the same stuff that’s been causing a stir stateside for all the wrong reasons.
Consider it something of a public service announcement for anyone even considering dabbling in this lab-made abomination. Once again, last week saw no less than 33 people admitted to hospital in Brooklyn, having suffered severe reactions to synthetic cannabis. Whereas some of those affecting were sent into catatonic zombie-like states, others went into the kinds of fits of rage that often result in murder.
And when taking into account the wider New York area, more than 130 people were rushed to the ER having found themselves on the receiving end of a K2 freak-out. One guy even fell into a three-day coma after hitting the stuff. The fact that it in any way carries the name ‘cannabis’ in its name is not only misleading, but giving the real stuff the kind of bad name it really doesn’t deserve.
It’s really not as if it’s anything new, either. As far back as 2012, synthetic cannabinoids were blame for the death of a 16-year-old, who after hitting a batch of the stuff suffered acute lung failure and drowned in a hot tub. More than a few teens and young adults have already killed themselves while using K2, which promptly led to the US government declaring synthetic cannabinoids a Schedule 1 Drug.
But has it helped? As far as the latest raft of overdoses seems to suggest, not even a bit.
An Overdose Epidemic
While the official figures for 2016 are yet to be released, health officials are once again expecting a notable spike in dangerous incidents and health emergencies related to synthetic cannabinoids. When compared to 2014, the number of recorded incidents in 2015 had increased by approximately 230%. The government may have declared war on synthetic cannabis, but it is apparently proving to be a battle that’s almost impossible to win.
As for what it is that’s causing such a huge number of overdoses and extreme reactions as of late, experts have a few ideas, which include:
- The on-going adjustment of the chemical cocktails being used to produce synthetic cannabis, as a means by which to sidestep bans and restrictions.
- Inadequate production methods that lead to certain batches of synthetic cannabis being significantly stronger than others, or containing different mixtures of chemicals entirely.
- Dangerously toxic chemicals and additives being brought into the mix.
You’d think that all of the above when combined with such terrifying headlines would be enough to put anyone off the idea of rolling the dice with synthetic cannabis. Instead, usage rates and overdoses both appear to be on the up. Why exactly? Well, as far as the experts are concerned it comes almost entirely down to the fact that not only are synthetic cannabis products easy to come by, but they are also extremely affordable. Also, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that synthetic cannabis usage rates tend to be considerably lower in states that have begun moves toward legalization of recreational cannabis.
Where the real deal isn’t available, desperate individuals are instinctively turning to synthetic cannabis. And needless to say, paying the price.
What’s different between the scare stories critics throw the way of cannabis and those related to synthetic cannabis is that the latter are 100% true and accurate. One recent example involved a husband and wife who had smoked K2 before going out for a drive. At one point during the journey, the husband began freaking out and literally punched out the entire windscreen of his wife’s car. They pulled over, he continued to remove the windscreen under the impression that the car had crashed and he was attempting to free them both from the wreckage. After punching out the windscreen and crawling out of the car, he passed out on the grass and suffered a severe seizure.
The kinds of side effects you’d expect from real cannabis? Not in a million years.
The trouble is that there remains dangerously widespread misunderstanding, with regard to exactly how synthetic cannabis works. As far as those using the stuff are concerned, they basically read into the fact that the compounds contained within synthetic cannabis affect the same areas of the brain as THC. So in their minds, they believe them to be two very similar products. And fortunately, this really isn’t the case at all. Not only do synthetic cannabinoids bind to receptors in the brain much more strongly than those in real cannabis, but there are so many other unknown and dangerous ingredients that go into most batches of K2 etc. Which not only means that synthetic cannabis is exponentially more dangerous while being used, but can also lead to a genuinely terrifying and potentially lethal psychotic symptoms and addictive behaviour upon ceasing consumption.
The long and short of it being that synthetic cannabis really is everything the real stuff isn’t.
If you have ever come across synthetic cannabis or seen it for sale in a headshop, you may have noticed that it usually features the rather bizarre warning “not for human consumption”. Despite the fact that this is clearly the reason for which it is produced and sold, this simple warning alone helps allow those making and selling it to do so legally. Synthetic cannabis and similar products are considered controlled substances by the government, though when sold for “novelty purposes” and “not for human consumption” actually bypass official regulations.
There’s also another severe complication with regard to the way in which synthetic cannabis is formulated. When a substance is made illegal by the government, it is the specific chemical formula of the substance in question that becomes illegal – right down to its molecular configuration. As such, this basically means that when one substance is made illegal, all the manufacturers have to do to get around regulations is to introduce a new molecule to technically create a new formula. It’s a game of cat and mouse that a number of governments all over the world are having trouble keeping up with.
But what’s even worse is the way in which when the first type of synthetic cannabis was invented by John William Huffman all those years ago, it was actually made with a comparatively safe and consistent formula. It wasn’t exactly a premium substance, but it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as what is on the market today. The problem being that just as soon as this initial synthetic cannabis formula that was outlawed, manufacturers began experimenting with lower-quality alternatives and replacements. This trend continued over the years, leading right up to today where the kind of stuff being sold and used really cannot be compared to John William Huffman’s original recipe. In every way, it is vastly lower in quality and higher in risk.
An On-going War
As far as research into today’s synthetic cannabis products goes, every batch of the substance has the potential to be between two and 100 times more powerful than standard marijuana. And it’s worth remembering that this doesn’t just mean a stronger version of the same kind of high you could expect from genuine cannabis. Instead, synthetic cannabinoids wreak havoc with brain cell communication and can quite literally transform you into a monster you don’t recognise – not to mention have zero control over.
In terms of what can be done about the on-going overdose academic, what’s becoming abundantly clear is the way in which truly terrifying headlines and attempts to educate the public in general simply are not working. Or at least, they are not having nearly the kind of impact public health groups would like. Not only this, but it is also clear that synthetic cannabis manufacturers will continue to find every legal loophole they can, in order to go on flooding the streets with their potentially lethal merchandise.
Still, there is one relatively obvious and indeed simple solution to the synthetic cannabis struggle – the legalization of real marijuana. The reason being that the only reason products like K2 exist is to fill a gap in the market, both for those who cannot afford and/or cannot access real marijuana. If cannabis was readily available and affordable, there would be absolutely no reason to take your life into your own hands with hideous synthetic alternatives. This is something that is being proven right now in some of the more forward-thinking American states – if and when the rest will ever catch up remains a difficult question to answer.