A 25-year-old Clewiston man was arrested on Aug. 9 for something he claimed he didn’t know was illegal.
Cyrus Owens was arrested in the Walmart parking lot by Clewiston police officers after they found a plastic bag filled with a green, leafy substance that tested positive for synthetic marijuana, according to an arrest report released by the Clewiston Police Department.
Owens reportedly told police that he bought the substance from a smoke shop in Fort Myers and was under the impression that it was legal. Officers informed Owens it was illegal to possess such a substance and arrested him on a charge of misdemeanor possession of synthetic narcotics.
So why is something that can be purchased in a store illegal to possess and use?
A source at the Clewiston Police Department gave this analogy to explain how the popular synthetic marijuana, often referred to as “spice” or “K2,” is illegal: “It’s kind of like spray paint. It’s legal to buy spray paint, but it’s illegal to huff it,” said the source. But after a federal ban was implemented in 2012, it soon became illegal to sell products containing the five most common chemicals used in the production of synthetic marijuana in stores.
Synthetic marijuana is a designer drug, meaning it was made just slightly different from its illegal counterpart — cannabis — so that it would be considered legal. The product first became available in the U.S. in 2008 and was available for purchase in convenience stores, smoke shops and online.
Synthetic marijuana is made from herbs, incense or other leafy materials, which are sprayed with liquid chemicals that mimic the effects of natural marijuana when smoked or ingested. The chemicals used in synthetic marijuana are often more potent than the naturally occurring tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in marijuana, and could have potentially dangerous side effects.
While some users of synthetic marijuana have reported similar experiences to those produced by natural marijuana, such as elevated mood, relaxation and altered perception, other users have reported psychotic effects, such as extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
There have been many reports of users being hospitalized after using synthetic marijuana, with those users reporting symptoms like rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, profuse sweating, confusion and hallucinations. In a few cases, synthetic marijuana has been association with heart attacks, as it can raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart, according to NIDA.
The 2012 Drug Abuse Warning Network Report, issued by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, stated there were 11,406 emergency room visits involving a synthetic cannabinoid product in 2010, 59 percent of which involved no other substance, such as alcohol or pharmaceuticals. Of the 11,406 visits, three-fourths of the patients involved were between the ages of 12 and 29 and the majority were male.
Considering the potential risks associated with the use of synthetic marijuana, one encouraging statistic shows that the number of high school seniors who reported past-year use of synthetic marijuana has dropped 3.5 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to the 2013 Monitoring the Future survey.
And as synthetic marijuana manufacturers continue to substitute the chemicals they use in production to avoid legal restrictions, the Drug Enforcement Agency is continuously working to monitor production and the need for updating the list of banned cannabinoids.