Synthetic marijuana, once sold mostly online and in convenience stores, is now largely a street drug, according to PBS NewsHour.
People who use the drug tend to be poor, urban and homeless, experts say.
“We originally felt that [synthetic marijuana] was being marketed for younger people, for teenagers,” said Lt. Andrew Struhar, Acting Lieutenant of the Narcotics Unit of the Washington D.C. Police. “But it has definitely drilled down to the street, and unfortunately a great deal to the homeless population.”
He noted, “The progression of the drug from when we started, being advertised in windows of gas stations and convenience stores to street sales, has definitely been a bad case scenario. Because street sales are much more difficult to find, to locate and prosecute.”
Synthetic marijuana is banned in all 50 states, but manufacturers continually change the drug’s chemistry to stay one step ahead of new legislation. The drug is also known as synthetic cannibinoids, “K2” or “Spice.”
While the drug is called synthetic marijuana, the name is deceiving, says Dr. Marc Fishman, an addiction psychiatrist and medical director of Maryland Treatment Centers. He notes the drug’s behavioral effects are more like those caused by PCP. “You see much higher rates of acute agitation,” he said. “People are psychotic, delusional, possibly hallucinating, disorganized, violent. They think they are invincible, full of power.”
The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) reports receiving calls about 7,779 exposures to synthetic marijuana in 2015. “Like many other illegal drugs, synthetic marijuana is not tested for safety, and users don’t really know exactly what chemicals they are putting into their bodies,” AAPCC notes on its website.