Elkhart County and St. Joseph County law enforcement agencies arrested 20 people Monday in connection with the sale of synthetic marijuana at Michiana convenience stores. Here are five things you need to know about the drug:
1. It is illegal.
A 2013 bill passed by the Indiana General Assembly made it illegal to make, sell, possess or use any of the known chemical variations of synthetic marijuana or a “lookalike substance.” A lookalike substance is anything designed to mimic the appearance or effects of an illegal drug. Before this bill was passed, lawmakers had been outlawing the specific chemical compounds used to make the drug, but manufacturers would switch to a new formula as soon as one was banned.
There is no federal law banning synthetic marijuana, but as of November 2012, 45 states and Puerto Rico had laws banning the drug in at least one of its forms, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
2. It became popular in part because it was inexpensive, widely available and was not detected by standard drug tests.
When it was first introduced, synthetic marijuana was cheaper and easier to purchase than marijuana and attracted marijuana smokers looking for a cheaper high.
Many users of synthetic marijuana also started using the drug because it did not show up on standard drug screenings, said Dan Browning, programming director for the Faith Mission in Elkhart. Faith Mission began purchasing special drug tests to detect synthetic cannabinoids after staff saw residents who were obviously under the influence of some kind of drug but were getting negative results on the mission’s drug tests.
3. Synthetic marijuana is not just an alternative to marijuana.
Some synthetic marijuana packages advertise the product as a “natural” substitute for marijuana, but it is not. The drug is made by spraying dried plants with a lab-manufactured chemical compound. The compounds, sometimes referred to as “synthetic cannabinoids,” are manmade substances designed to imitate the effects of marijuana.
4. The drug can have dangerous side effects.
While synthetic marijuana is designed to give users a high similar to the calm buzz they get from smoking marijuana, it can also have dangerous side effects. Users have reported experiencing anxiety, agitation, paranoia and hallucinations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The drug also has physical side effects, including rapid heart rate and vomiting. In severe cases, the drug can cause heart attacks or death. Three 16-year-old boys in Texas were hospitalized in 2011 after they smoked synthetic marijuana and suffered heart attacks.
5. Synthetic marijuana is highly addictive.
Users of the drug report quickly becoming addicted and struggling to drop the habit. When trying to quit, users suffer withdrawal symptoms including heavy sweating, intense cravings, inability to sleep, loss of appetite and psychotic episodes, according to spiceaddictionsupport.com, a website designed to help synthetic marijuana addicts quit.