Dear Miss Meghan,
I’ve been hearing mixed things about these new drugs available in gas stations. What’s the truth? They’re legal, but are they safe or not?
Dear Highly curious,
Is anything you find in a gas station really safe to eat? Legal or not, the drugs you’ve heard about are often more dangerous than their illegal counterparts. Spice, is sold in gas stations and marketed as an inexpensive and safe substitute for marijuana. Though its packaging boasts of “natural” ingredients, drug manufacturers are selling something more menacing than an innocuous herbal blend. Unprocessed and safe are part of the brand’s desired image, but the actual psychoactive effects of the drug are produced by synthetic cannabinoids sprayed onto inactive plant material.
The drugs you find at gas stations (Spice, K2, Fake Weed, etc.) are classified as designer drugs. They are not legal because they are harmless; they’re legal because there is not yet enough research to ban them. Manufacturers are in a constant race against the policies of the Drug Enforcement Administration to keep their products legal. Five of the active ingredients originally present in Spice have already been banned and replaced with equivalent synthetic cannabinoids. It is likely that these will also be banned in the future and replaced with more unresearched chemicals. There are not yet scientific studies on the effects of Spice- the chemical compositions of many of its compounds are not fully understood.
Drug users are excited by the prospect of freely available equivalents to marijuana, but the effects aren’t quite the same. Synthetic marijuana is more likely to produce psychosis; though the synthetic ingredients act on the same receptors as marijuana, the compounds in Spice bind more strongly to them, producing unpredictable effects. The DEA estimates that Spice and similar drugs produce effects that are 200 times more potent than those of marijuana. Because their formulas are constantly changing, there is not enough research to make definitive claims about the health effects of synthetic cannabinoids. However, data from poison control centers links Spice to vomiting, addiction and withdrawal symptoms, kidney failure, elevated blood pressure, and heart attacks. It can also cause mental destabilization and exacerbation of existing psychological problems.
The law banning the first round of synthetic marijuana compounds went into effect in 2012. Obama’s July Synthetic Drug Prevention Act was the result of a court case in which an Iowa teenager committed suicide while under the influence of synthetic marijuana. The teenager, David Rozga, shot himself with his family’s hunting rifle an hour after smoking the psychoactive material. His death has been used as a rallying point for increased control of synthetic substances such as Spice and bath salts.
Just because you see it sold in gas stations or head shops doesn’t mean it’s safe. These products are only legal because they’re constantly evolving and not fully understood. Personally, I would want to avoid becoming a test subject for the newest batch. Stick to the risk of buying a premade sandwich- at least the ingredients listed on those are scientifically understood.
Sincerely skittish of synthetics,