A rather sensationalistic piece in the New York Times last month luridly headlined: “Drug 85 Times as Potent as Marijuana Caused a “Zombielike’ State in Brooklyn.” Apparently, emergency medical technicians called to a “mass casualty event” in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood reported multiple people at the scene, “all of whom had a degree of altered mental status that was described by bystanders as ‘zombielike,'” according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Blood and urine samples drawn from eight of the 18 men hospitalized that day revealed they had taken a synthetic cannabinoid called AMB-FUBINACA, originally developed by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, with the street names “AK-47” or “24 Karat Gold.” It is said to be 85 times as potent as the main agent in natural cannabis, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.
The Times said the New England Journal of Medicine report “offers a window into the ever-evolving world of synthetic drugs, which are growing increasingly powerful even as the makers of the illicit substances continue to create new chemical compounds to evade detection.”
The authorities are seemingly using these findings to lubricate a crackdown.
The Hudson Valley’s Daily Freeman reported Jan. 4 that a delicatessen in the town of Newburgh was busted for selling the “synthetic marijuana” product K2, with the owner and a clerk both facing felony charges. Police seized 111 packets of the stuff. The raid, carried out by Newburgh cops and agents of the state police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, was actually announced in a press release by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, signaling a statewide effort against “synthetic marijuana.”
Said Cuomo in the press release: “Make no mistake: K2 and other synthetic drugs are dangerous and a risk to public health and safety. Selling this poison is illegal and this administration will continue to do everything in its power to get K2 off the streets and hold accountable those who continue to break the law.”
Of course, as we’ve had to point out before, “synthetic marijuana” is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as “synthetic marijuana”—cannabis is a plant, and if it isn’t a plant it isn’t cannabis. This stuff is just any old herbaceous substance (oregano, catnip, whatever) treated with a synthetic chemical concoction designed to mimic (however crudely) the effects of THC. And the new chemical compounds are not developed to “evade detection,” but to stay ahead of the law. When one compound is outlawed, manufacturers just tweak a molecule or two. This does result in products that get further and further afield from actual THC, and avoiding this stuff is a good idea—no matter how enticingly it is packaged. (A photo with Cuomo’s press release shows the K2 was sold as “Green Giant Herbal Potpourri,” with a cute image of a green elfin creature.)
We hate to belabor the obvious, but if they would just legalize cannabis, there wouldn’t be any incentive for sleazy entrepreneurs to be producing bad imitations of the real thing. The market conditions that these manufacturers exploit would be wiped out overnight. Youth would not be lured to try untested chemical compounds, and the state police could save a lot of money spent on hunting the stuff down.
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