Northeast Times

It's almost like the real thing

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Many things Amer­ic­ans buy are made in China, so it shouldn’t be a sur­prise that some syn­thet­ic marijuana that can be eas­ily pur­chased at stores on Frank­ford Av­en­ue or Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue comes from China, too.

Er­staz grass doesn’t come in­to the United States pack­aged and ready to smoke, said Ra­fael La­maitre, dir­ect­or of com­mu­nic­a­tions for the White House Of­fice of Na­tion­al Drug Con­trol Policy.

Syn­thet­ic marijuana is man­u­fac­tured us­ing chem­ic­als that come from China and In­dia. These chem­ic­als, de­sign­er drugs known as syn­thet­ic can­nabin­oids, are brought in­to this coun­try, leg­ally or oth­er­wise. Then they are sprayed on dried or­gan­ic mat­ter and pack­aged for sale, Lemaitre said.

They’re sold as in­cense with names like K2, Kush, Cloud 9, Spice or Herb­al Smoke in con­veni­ence stores and gas sta­tions all over the North­east and oth­er parts of the city.

Some of these products pro­duce marijuana-like highs, but they are not il­leg­al. Some are fed­er­ally banned or are il­leg­al in Pennsylvania. All of them are out­lawed in New Jer­sey.

Leg­al or not, syn­thet­ic marijuana is now the No. 2 drug ab­used by high school seni­ors, La­maitre told the North­east Times last month. There are hun­dreds of syn­thet­ic can­nibin­oids used to pro­duce it, said Dawn Dearden, a spokes­wo­man for the U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A couple years ago, the DEA got five of them banned, she said, and Con­gress is con­sid­er­ing a bill that would make all of them il­leg­al. Right now, with only a hand­ful of these chem­ic­als out­lawed, syn­thet­ic marijuana makers can move onto chem­ic­als that are still leg­al, but have the same ef­fects.

One of the at­trac­tions of “in­cense” is that it can’t be de­tec­ted in drug tests cur­rently in use. It gives its users a “free and clear” high. But pub­lic health of­fi­cials in­sist it is dan­ger­ous.

The White House said Amer­ic­an pois­on con­trol cen­ters have re­por­ted sharp in­creases in the num­ber of calls na­tion­wide re­lated to syn­thet­ic drugs. Last year, there were 6,959 calls re­lated to syn­thet­ic marijuana — more than twice the 2,906 re­por­ted in 2010.

Part of the health risks of syn­thet­ic marijuana come from its po­tency. The chem­ic­als that mim­ic the highs of real marijuana of­ten are used in great­er strength and can cause symp­toms like ra­cing heart, el­ev­ated blood pres­sure, para­noid be­ha­vi­or and hal­lu­cin­a­tions. 

Dearden said the DEA has made some busts around the coun­try but has not loc­ated any “hubs” where syn­thet­ic marijuana is pack­aged for dis­tri­bu­tion.

Last March, Pennsylvania made syn­thet­ic marijuana il­leg­al. New Jer­sey re­cently ini­ti­ated a full ban.

In Phil­adelphia, there have been three ar­rests for syn­thet­ic marijuana so far in 2012, said Tasha Jamer­son, a spokes­wo­man for the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice. All of those busts were made in Cen­ter City. In Novem­ber, however, a North­east busi­ness­man was ar­res­ted for selling syn­thet­ic nar­cot­ics, she said.

Jay Pa­tel was ar­res­ted Nov. 2 in his store on the 7400 block of Tor­res­dale Ave., Jamer­son said. Pa­tel will have a pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing at 8 a.m. Tues­day in Courtroom 1003 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter.

“When he was ar­res­ted, he had K2 Kush, K2 Sum­mit, K2 Straw­berry and K2 Black­berry on him,” Jamer­son said, adding that the products had a street value of about $650. 

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You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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