Officials are terrified of synthetic weed, and they want you to know it.
A group of police chiefs, meeting in Washington, D.C. in early August, called for new scientific tests to determine when suspects are high on the lab-designed chemicals. It was just the latest in a growing chorus warning against the dangers of Spice, K2, and other brands of synthetic pot.
The cops aren’t doing themselves any favors, though. At a press conference in New York, police showed a video of a naked man they said was high on synthetic marijuana. The man, who rammed through a fence, was tackled by an officer.
Turns out, the synthetic weed wasn’t really synthetic weed. The clip was actually from an episode of COPS that aired in 2003, and the man in the video was actually high on PCP.
Police claim synthetic weed linked to crime spike
Even so, authorities insist that bath salts, as they’re also known, are causing countless overdoses and at least a handful of fatalities. Some cops also claim synthetic pot is contributing to a spike in crime seen in many major cities.
New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called the chemicals “weaponized marijuana,” and “a great and growing concern.” The NYPD pointed to more than 100 overdoses received each month at Bellevue Hospital, the city’s largest trauma center.
Synthetic marijuana was invented in a research laboratory, designed to help scientists study the cannabinoid system of the human body. It stayed in the lab for many years but eventually escaped and made its way to the black market.
There, these so-called “research chemicals” are sprayed on inert plant matter similar to marijuana. The high comes strictly from the chemical spray, not from the plant itself.
Unwanted side effects
That plant matter is smoked, releasing chemicals that wreak havoc on the cannabinoid system. Users can become high, but there are also reports of rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and other severe complications.
Synthetic pot was originally sold in head shops across the country, offered as a legal alternative to weed. Unlike cannabis, it doesn’t show up in employment drug tests, a fact that makes it especially popular to teenagers and those struggling to find work. It’s also typically cheaper.
Claims of super-human strength and other bizarre behavior are meeting with some skepticism, especially in light of the PCP video. Many healthcare workers say synthetic weed is nothing to laugh at, but using scare tactics could backfire.
In Washington, for example, cops said a man who stabbed a fellow subway passenger was high on bath salts. Toxicology reports were pending, but if they show no synthetic weed, that disclosure could make it harder to warn people off the chemicals.
Efforts to do just that don’t seem to be working very well, as last year, EMTs in the nation’s capital transported more than 400 people who showed signs of synthetic marijuana overdose. Observers complain that police are using synthetic pot to deflect blame for rising crime rates, but cops say it’s just one part of the problem.
“In some cities, synthetic cannabinoids is a huge issue,” said Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier in Washington. “In other cities it’s just beginning to grow. Its connection to violence, that’s a gap that can be fixed.”