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Synthetic marijuana is easily purchased in any head shop and has been sold legally in the US and all over the world under brand names like Spice and K2. These products are often marketed as “herbal incense,” or “herbal smoking blends.” Manufacturers sometimes claim that these are mixtures of natural medicinal herbs. When a package of Spice or K2 is opened it’s contents is in fact dried plant material, but this plant material is usually sprayed with artificial synthetic cannabinoids designed to mimic the effects of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

With laboratory names that sound like the license plate number on your vehicle, one such compound, JWH-018, was made illegal in Germany in 2010. Four weeks after it was prohibited, analysis of synthetic marijuana products revealed JWH-018 had been replaced with another substance, JWH-073. This is an example of how manufacturers are able to dodge the prohibition of these chemical compounds by tweaking their molecular structures. New compounds with identical or similar effects can be designed and brand named synthetic cannabis stays on the shelves and one step ahead of the law.

Unlike THC found in organic cannabis, the effects and health risks associated with the synthetic cannabinoids are markedly worse. Emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers are on the rise for users experiencing rapid heart beat, agitation, vomiting and confusion and hallucinations. Other cases exhibited more severe symptoms such as seizures, acute psychosis, even heart attacks. Fifteen deaths this year have been linked to the drug.

Many of the dangerous chemical compounds found in synthetic marijuana have been filed under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act in recent years, but to avoid blatant disregard for the regulations,  packages of synthetic marijuana continue to be labeled. “herbal incense,” and “not for human consumption.”

This information is a harbinger of a potential new era in the dangerous drug problem, in which legislation will be unable to keep up with an influx of new man made psychoactive substances.  With the cutting edge science of chemical composition in full evolution new designer compounds can be milled out at a staggering rate. The days of derelict teenagers cutting class and smoking pot under the bleachers may be giving way to an age of much more threatening activities involving JWH-018, cannabicyclohexanol, HU-210 and whatever else may be found in a packet of Spice or K2.