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Alaska Outlaws Synthetic Cannabis – What’s the Big Deal?

Synthetic cannabinoids, originally intended to mimic the effects of medical marijuana, have now been criminalized in Alaska with House Bill 7, signed by Governor Sean Parnell. The bill will take effect on July 7.  These products have been changed from Schedule 2A to Schedule 3A controlled substances.

Alaskans caught possessing less than 12 grams of substances like Spice or K2 (both recently for sale in Anchorage and Fairbanks smoke shops) will face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 12 grams becomes a felony, effective next Friday. The bill also criminalizes sale of K2, Spice and other synthetics, often marketed as “incense” at smoke shops.

So, what does this all mean? What’s the big deal about synthetic pot, and why the new law?

I learned and shared more than anyone ever thought they needed to know about synthetic cannabinoids when I attended a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Juneau this past January.  It turns out that the substances in question are white powder, dissolved in acetone and sprayed on inert plant material which looks like marijuana, but acts nothing like it. The committee had received several letters of support for the bill’s passage, including ones from the Municipality of Anchorage, The Alaska Mental Health Board, police and others.

Jennifer Messick, a traffic safety resource prosecutor gave enlightening testimony over the phone.

According to Messick, synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) are considered “cyclic drugs,” which means that they affect users differently and unpredictably, and may affect the same user in a different way at different times. One user may become violent, another may hallucinate and become delusional, another may become unconscious. Each use is completely unpredictable. The effects of SCs are more similar to PCP and LSD than the marijuana of which they purport to be the synthetic version.

So, with actual marijuana, you can pretty much bet on the users getting silly, eating potato chips and sleeping on the couch. With synthetic cannabinoids, not so much.

Messick went on to tell a story about the APD being called by two roommates, because their other roommate had stopped breathing. His heart had stopped by the time the ambulance arrived, but they were able to resuscitate him. None of the three had been doing any other drugs. They had all smoked Spice together, and from the same package. The two were not affected adversely, but the third roommate was. The first responders got him to the hospital alive, but he took a turn for the worse, and his parents had just made the difficult decision to remove him from life support.

Another APD officer had gotten a call from someone reporting a man who was yelling into his cell phone, and acting irrational and highly impaired. Two officers arrived at the scene and asked if he was alright. He instantly grabbed for one of the officer’s guns and tried to remove it from the holster. He displayed a weird almost super-human strength that is sometimes seen with PCP use. Eventually the officers had to actually break a night stick over his head. He still kept going for the gun, and officers had to tase him twice. Six officers were eventually needed to subdue the man who had to be rendered unconscious. SCs were the culprit, and it was clear said Messick that these drugs should be reclassified to more closely represent what they are, and not what people assume them to be.

She went on to describe the history of the drug.

In the 1990s there was an effort to create a synthetic cannabinoid with all medical benefits of marijuana, but none of the drawbacks. The new synthetic drugs were tested on rats and pigeons. The results were so awful that they immediately decided they were definitely not suitable for human beings or anything else, so they were never even tested on people. The testing never even got past this stage when the SC “recipes” were summarily ash-canned. The compounds as they exist now, and as they are being sold were never intended for human consumption and have absolutely no medical use. But the results of how to make the compounds were available through scientific writeups, and were taken out of the trash, as it were, and marketed as “incense.” In reality, they were designed only to get you high. These compounds will never be studied further because they have already been rejected.

John Hoffman, the scientist who came up with the compound said if you use these substances “you are playing Russian roulette,” and has expressed his disgust at how they are being used and abused.

The Municipality of Anchorage, which had already criminalized the substances only became aware of these compounds in 2010. Apparently police had seen a number of DUIs with severe symptoms displayed by drivers who were obviously impaired, but there were no signs of drugs or alcohol. Then they started realizing it was Spice. They’ve known what it was since April 2010, but 18 months before that they saw cases of it but didn’t know what they were dealing with.

The Muni was quick to act because high school students had been hospitalized with out of control blood pressure, delusions, and  seeing ghosts and dead people. AFD has responded to calls where teens are unconscious, assaulting others, have breathing problems, a sense of impending doom, being combative, and with obvious altered levels of consciousness.

So far there have been hundreds of incidents reported from the APD, the fire department and school officials that only get notified when something bad happens – when people hallucinate, become delusional, aggressive, combative, or have out of control blood pressure. The most common age group of users is 14-27 years of age.

What has gone on in Anchorage is consistent with reporting from the other 49 states.

This dire situation raises some interesting questions and concerns.

*With possession soon to become illegal, how many young kids will end up in the criminal justice system for having something they thought was harmless that they bought over the counter or online? Will this ultimately help or hurt our society?

*There is only one lab in the United States that can effectively test for the substance in the blood if it is drawn within 8 hours of use at a cost of $200 per test. Urine tests, which can be done at other labs must be done within 3 hours.

*There are hundreds of ways these substances can be altered. There are more “recipes” out there, and manufacturers are anticipating laws to illegalize the substances across the country and are ready with new formulas that will skirt the letter of the law, but not its intention.

*Currently, the Anchorage crime lab cannot test for these substances. It will require additional equipment and personnel. Where will the money come from?

*And how can we help the victims of this drug – both users, and others who are endangered by the unpredictable effects of this wolf in sheep’s clothing?

We will find out the answers soon, and so will other states who are facing these questions. “Synthetic pot” is not what it seems to be.

Comments

comments

Comments
19 Responses to “Alaska Outlaws Synthetic Cannabis – What’s the Big Deal?”
  1. mike from iowa says:

    Mere mortal men should not hasten to put assunder that which Mother Nature hath perfected.Don’t mess with the best. How I long to be totally wasted while listening to Heart and Dreamboat Annie.

  2. Alexa says:

    I honestly don’t see why one drug known to make people belligerent, out of control and sick (alcohol) is legal while another drug known to make people belligerent, out of control and sick (K2) is illegal. Perhaps if we instead legalized a drug that does not make people belligerent, out of control or sick (marijuana) we wouldn’t be seeing problems like this.

    As for the question of how do we help the people who have a bad trip on K2? We treat them in a hospital and send them home. People are going to make stupid and life-threatening decisions regardless of whether or not drugs are involved.

    I say this as a person with a serious dislike for all drugs – in my opinion only weak minds feel the need to enter “altered” states. Riding your bike is recreational; getting high is not. But the weakness of the arguments against drugs here and elsewhere compel me to challenge them.

  3. AKMuckraker says:

    Remember that there is an Open Thread that is active for 24 hours every day. Would love it if you could repost the off-topic alerts over there. That way you will alleviate potention “Reply guilt” and encourage a full conversation in the right place. 🙂 Thanks!

  4. blue_in_AK says:

    They should just legalize the real stuff and be done with it.

    • bubbles says:

      a hearty amen to that!

    • Dagian says:

      Not to mention the tax revenue it would generate as a legal crop.

      For crying out loud, alcohol is legal AND there are laws against driving while too far under the influence.

      *grumbles and shambles back under my bridge*

      • mike from iowa says:

        You must not be getting any rain if you went back under your bridge. I am all for legalizing small amounts and taxing its use and using some proceeds to treat addictions,none for jails or punishment. Dagian,does your bridge go nowhere or somewhere?

  5. Dagian says:

    Wow. That’s nasty stuff and I copied, pasted & emailed it to my eldest child. Obviously, I will have to discuss it with the younger one too.

    *off-topic alert!**

    “Bristol Palin is clarifying her take on the night she first had sex with Levi Johnston.”

    snip

    “in a “Good Morning America” interview Monday, the abstinence advocate said she does not accuse her ex of rape. “I am just looking back with the adult eyes that I have now and thinking that was a foolish decision,” she said. “I should have never been underage drinking and I should never have gotten myself into a situation like that.”
    ————————

    Snide comment by myself follows:

    I’m surprised that an editor or legal department didn’t already discuss this with her prior to publication.

    Unless leaving it in the text was a marketing strategy.

    • carol says:

      It seems that few people anywhere, either in or out of the public eye, not just Bristol Palin, Michelle Bachman, the Quitter, also others on the other side of the political spectrum, and out of the political spectrum, few seem to check things before they open their mouths or start with their fingertips to text/email, etc. I blocked a long time acquaintance because I requested, multiple times, that they fact check stuff (gave them 4 sites) before sending stuff out. Since this person didn’t chose to use BCC when sending shit on, and yes, I told them mutliple times how to do it, I started getting shit from someone else. After pointing out that snopes did say who they were – on their web site, and that factcheck.org did fact check snopes and found them to be exactly who they said they were, I was flooded with shit from this other person and so just blocked the entire batch. It is NOT hard to factcheck before it leaves my computer, it is NOT hard for an editor or legal department to do that also. Why it is not done is a mystery. Or you can be Michelle Bachman and put together a whole lecture explaining that John Quincy Adams was a founding father, what was he? 9 years old in 1775. Or the Quitter and defend inaccuracies with all sorts of stupidity.

  6. Dagian says:

    **Off-topic alert!**

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/2chambers/post/report-bachmann-benefited-from-government-funding/2011/06/27/AGDVoOnH_blog.html

    Report: Bachmann benefited from government funding
    By Felicia Sonmez
    As Rep. Michele Bachmann formally launches her White House 2012 bid Monday, a new report shows that the Minnesota Republican has benefited from the kind of government aid she frequently criticizes on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail.

    According to the report, published Sunday by the Los Angeles Times, a Bachmann family farm in Wisconsin has received $260,000 in federal subsidies over 13 years, while a counseling clinic run by the congresswoman’s husband has received $30,000 in state and federal funding since 2006.

    The farm was owned by Bachmann’s late father-in-law, but Bachmann is listed as a partner. The counseling clinic is listed on Bachmann’s financial disclosure forms as one of the congresswoman’s assets; most of the government funding it received was in the form of grants for staff training.

    I was off-line this weekend, so it may be old news to most readers.

    • ks sunflower says:

      Hypocrite seems to be the accurate descriptive for GOP candidates this year. Michelle Bachmann is obviously one of the biggest and brashest of them all.

      How ludicrous for her to claim that simply because the money went to training their employees that she and her husband did not benefit. Any time you enhance the skill sets of your employees, the business owners benefit because that’s the primary reason business owners seek training for their employees.

      Why was she listed as a partner in her father-in-law’s farm? It seemed unclear to me whether her father-in-law is still alive or whether they still own the farm. However, if he is and if they do, then they will benefit from those subsidies, particularly when the enhanced value of the farm is inherited and/or sold. She is certainly knows how to spout rubbish and has the audacity to think everyone will believe it without question. Disgusting.

      Thanks for the link, Dagian. This was new to me and I appreciated hearing about it.

  7. “And I don’t buy the argument that marijuana is a gateway drug. Yes, most heroine addicts tried marijuana first. They also probably drank beer first and before that milk.”

    I so agree with you – and it somehow never occurs to people that if it is a ‘gateway’ drug, it is because it is already classed as illegal. If it could be purchased through legitimate channels, the association and connections to dealers who may sell more than just marijuana is considerably less likely.

    I was at the Anchorage Assembly meeting when this was passed and sad to say, none of the pertinent questions posed at the end of the article were touched upon that I can recall. I hope much more is done to stop the manufacturing and distribution. We need laws against the distribution of untried, untested substances for human consumption instead of laws targeting specific mixtures such as the one discussed here, especially since alterations can be made to the formulas to skirt the law as was indicated in this piece. In fact, I would think we must already have laws that protect consumers from potentially deadly products – ?? Why not focus on that and avoid persecuting users altogether – ?

  8. John says:

    I agree that we need to focus the punishment on the dealers and not the users. Most of the people who use this stuff would not do so if they knew how dangerous it was or if real marijuana was easier to obtain. We need to rethink our national drug policy. Smoking enough marijuana to get high is not good for people, and we should discourage its use. Drinking enough alcohol to get high is not good for people either. It would be better to regulate marijuana like we do alcohol. Humans seem to always want to alter their consciousness. Whether it is with illegal drugs or legal ones like alcohol and caffeine. We know what happened when we tried to outlaw alcohol. Imagine what would happen if we tried to outlaw caffeine?

    And I don’t buy the argument that marijuana is a gateway drug. Yes, most heroine addicts tried marijuana first. They also probably drank beer first and before that milk. We don’t say that milk is a gateway drug. The real question is how many marijuana users go on to be heroine addicts or cocaine users. No one ever mentions that statistic when saying it is a gateway drug.

  9. ks sunflower says:

    Thank you for the thorough presentation of this problem.

    While I agree that synthetic marijuana sounds like a really bad drug, endangering unsuspecting users and those around them, I do worry that criminalizing the user is once again the wrong way round.

    I would like to see users put into therapy and only the dealers, distributors and manufacturers of this dangerous synthetic be the ones to be put through the criminal justice system. We’ve never done a really good job at going after those who produce and sell illegal drugs. It’s so much easier to feel as if we’re accomplishing something by cracking down on the users who are really the victims of the illicit drug industry.

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