“It’s certainly not a new problem, but it’s something new to this area,” said Detective Sgt. Al Paton, assistant commander of the Maryland State Police Prince Frederick Barrack.
The synthetic product produces effects similar to marijuana and has been marketed as a safe and legal alternative to the drug, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Drug Abuse Web site. The product is labeled “not for human consumption” and contains dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that produce the psychoactive effects.
Synthetic marijuana is not illegal in Maryland, but several chemical compounds used to make the drug are banned at the federal level. Someone who is found in possession of synthetic marijuana that contains chemical compounds listed in the federal register could be charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance, although not marijuana, Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura Martin said. It also is illegal to sell or distribute the drug if it contains the compounds, she said.
Most commonly referred to as “spice” or “K2,” Paton said, synthetic marijuana was previously sold legally at gas stations and convenience stores. Once five chemicals used to make the drug were banned by the Drug and Enforcement Agency, Paton said, many stores took it off their shelves. But the companies that produce the drug have found a way to avoid the DEA’s ban by making it with a slightly different chemical makeup.
Some forms that do not contain the banned chemicals still are sold in stores as incense, and its packaging includes a warning that the product is “not for human consumption,” Paton said. He said stores basically are selling the same product with slightly different chemicals.
“It’s just this back-and-forth battle right now,” he said.
Del. Addie Eckardt (R-Dorchester) introduced House Bill 188 in January and Sen. Edward Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) cross-filed Senate Bill 310 in an attempt to ban synthetic marijuana, but the bills never received a committee vote, which is required for the bills to move forward.
Even though synthetic marijuana is not extremely prevalent in Calvert County, judging by arrests made, the main users of the drug appear to be teenagers and young adults, Paton said.
The drug is popular among young people and is the second-most-used drug by high school seniors nationwide, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site.
The chemicals sprayed on the product are what affect people, and they can affect people differently, Paton said. He has read that people suffer from side effects including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blackouts and hallucinations. Synthetic marijuana might be more dangerous than marijuana for some people, “simply because it’s a man-made chemical and the side effects are kind of . . . unpredictable at times,” Paton said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site, users of synthetic marijuana have reported experiences similar to those produced by marijuana, including elevated mood, relaxation and altered perception. In some cases the effects are even stronger, the Web site says, and some users have reported psychotic effects such as extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.
Abusers of synthetic marijuana have reported symptoms of rapid heart rate, vomiting and confusion, and the drug also can raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart. In a few cases, it has been associated with heart attacks, the Web site says. Regular users of the drug might experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms.
Although not many arrests have been made, Paton said, troopers are becoming more educated on what to look for.
“We’re trying to educate the troopers as fast as we can, and trying to keep up with the changes and the new bans on the substance as they come about,” Paton said. “This is kind of an evolving situation, and we’ll handle it the best we can.”