As proponents for cannabis legalization fight for access, opponents continue to look for low-hanging fruit that will damage that campaign. With stories of “synthetic marijuana” being responsible for countless fatalities surfacing weekly, opponents don’t have to look very far. It’s commonly referred to as Spice, K2, or scented potpourri. Manufacturers market the herb sprayed with chemicals as a safer, legal alternative to cannabis, and it is inexpensive. The price and accessibility appeal to younger users.
Spice has been available for almost a decade, but there has been a recent uptick in usage, with reports of severe bleeding and overdoses becoming more prevalent. Because some mixtures include brodifacoum, a form of rat poison that prevents blood from clotting, users have been hospitalized for coughing up blood, urinating blood, and having severely bloody noses and gums. There have been 54 cases of hospitalization and 2 deaths in Chicago this year, and the city of Philadelphia sees 2 to 3 cases of intoxication daily, with no antidote in sight.
Photo by Lance Cpl. Damany S. Coleman. Photo is part of the public domain.
With side effects like hallucination, violent behavior, strokes, brain damage, and even death, it has caused wide-spread panic in certain areas. In 2016, 33 people in New York city were hospitalized after zombie-like behavior because of a “bad batch” of Spice that was 85 times more potent than THC. Prisons in the U.S. and the U.K. have seen a rise in use among inmates, with staff members even having to be hospitalized because of the fumes.
Because manufacturers of Spice sell their products with a label stating, “not for human consumption” and market it as incense or potpourri, they feel no further warning is needed. In a recent case where a Spice manufacturer was ordered to pay $37 million to the family of a triple car wreck brought on by a driver intoxicated by Spice, a company representative made it clear that the label was sufficient warning. When asked why the product was sold in smoke shops if it wasn’t meant to be consumed, the company representative claimed there was rumor people were smoking it.
The truck driver who was found responsible for the vehicular homicide used a product called “Purple Chronic,” referencing a cannabis strain, though the company claimed the name was because of the grape scent.
As the American Council on Science and Health reports, synthetic cannabinoids were created as a way for scientists to study the nervous system, yet they have been used recreationally. The effects are not similar, especially when synthetic cannabinoids are combined with other chemicals. Those who sell the psychoactive plant product continue to avert the law by changing the chemical mixture, so a consumer can’t be sure what they are purchasing.
Continuing to label this poison as synthetic marijuana is dangerous and irresponsible, because natural cannabis has never caused an overdose death. While stories of tragedies continue to surface about the toxic mix of chemicals called Spice or K2, accounts of how natural cannabis can relieve symptoms and even cure chronic conditions survive. But those who are looking for any excuse to thwart access to cannabis sometimes latch on to the harmful effects of the these synthetics.
Diana-Ashley Krach is a freelance writer, journalist, and content creator whose work can be found on Everyday Feminism, Ravishly, and Playboy. She is the co-host and creator of Your Highness Podcast and founder of Good Vibes Marketing Agency. You can find her on Twitter or on her website.