Let’s be clear about this. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Synthetic marijuana is a designer drug that does not contain marijuana but rather contains any of a variety of plants sprayed with laboratory-produced chemicals.”
Known by various names, including synthetic cannabinoids, Spice, K2, Black Mamba and Crazy Clown, these drugs are responsible for an increasing number of harmful and dangerous reactions.
“The most commonly reported adverse health effects associated with synthetic cannabinoid use were agitation, tachycardia [elevated heart rate], drowsiness or lethargy, vomiting, and confusion,” the CDC reports.
These drugs have become popular because consumers have been duped into thinking they are a legal form of marijuana. Often sold over the counter as herbal products, many forms of these chemical-laced products have been banned. Nonetheless, they remain available in the illicit market and in some legal forms due to different chemical compositions.
Marijuana users should be outraged over this slanderous and fraudulent reference to the cannabis plant. These drugs do not contain cannabinoids, natural or synthetic, and are in no way related to marijuana and/or the cannabis plant.
The fact is that marijuana and cannabinoids are relatively safe substances, while these laboratory-produced chemicals are harmful and essentially poison for the brain. Before looking at the harm these chemicals are causing, it is useful to consider this problem in a historical context.
First, the obvious… People are buying these chemicals because they have been sold as a legal form of marijuana. This is prohibition’s fault. If natural, real and relatively safe marijuana was legal thent here would be no market or interest in this fraudulent, counterfeit and dangerous commodity.
Second, this has happened before.
The same problem occurred during the prohibition of alcohol. Methanol is an industrial form of alcohol that is dangerous for human consumption. It was sold fraudulently as consumable alcohol during prohibition, and its use resulted in 50,000 deaths and many cases of blindness. The dangers of methanol, also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol, remain a public health concern in modern times.
Prohibition creates an unregulated and unmonitored market with financial incentives to peddle unsafe alternative products to unsuspecting customers.
In June, the CDC released a report noting an upsurge in reports of adverse health effects from the use of these so-called synthetic cannabinoids. This year, calls to poison control centers have increased 330 percent from January to April, with 349 calls in January jumping to 1,501 in April. Most calls concerned males, and the median age of the users was 26.
Of the calls reporting a medical outcome, 11.5 percent reported a serious effect (life-threatening or related to a significant disability.) Outcomes categorized as "moderate," meaning some form of treatment was required, accounted for 47.5 percent of the calls. Another 37 percent of calls reported bothersome side-effects but no injuries.
These reports have some limitations because of the different types of poison control centers throughout the states—mainly reflecting centers connected with hospitals. In other words, this is an incomplete account. The incidence of harmful effects could be even greater.
The CDC has concluded that:
“The increasing number of synthetic cannabinoid variants available, higher toxicity of new variants, and the potentially increased use as indicated by calls to poison centers might suggest that synthetic cannabinoids pose an emerging public health threat. Multiple other recent outbreaks (suggest a need for greater public health surveillance and awareness, targeted public health messaging, and enhanced efforts to remove these products from the market.”
Stories reporting adverse effects from these chemical products fraudulently associated with marijuana have been increasing over the last few years as their usage has spread. To marijuana consumers, these reports sound familiar, like reefer madness stories. This is another one of the harms of prohibition. The government has lied so often about marijuana that they don’t have much credibility when trying to warn the public about truly dangerous substances. The CDC, though, has a solid record as a public health agency dedicated to factual, science-based reporting.
One of the problems here is that these designer chemicals are marketed and sold as “synthetic marijuana,” and the CDC and other public health agencies must refer to that name in order to educate the public about their risks. When one out of nine reports of adverse effects involved life threatening and/or serious disabilities, there is cause for serious concern.
Many local police agencies are giving incidents involving these drugs greater publicity, especially when they have been used by individuals committing violent and bizarre crimes. As isolated reports, these also remind some of the most hysterical reefer madness stories, and in these cases, there are many factors responsible for the deranged behavior being reported.
But this is another reason for marijuana users to be outraged by the fraudulent association that has been made between these designer chemicals and the cannabis plant.
Part of the con here is on potential users to make them believe these drugs are safe, and another part of the con is on marijuana users to get them to defend the drug because of how it has been labeled, or at least resist reports of its harm because of experience with anti-marijuana propaganda.
The case for marijuana legalization is sound, strong and convincing. But the emergence of this new class of designer drugs is another compelling reason to legalize real, safe and natural cannabis.
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