Working in the addiction field, it’s important to know what substances are most commonly being abused. So when I heard about a recent incident at a college bar involving “K2”, I decided to do some research and interview a young woman who was at the bar that night. (Names have been changed to protect identities)
I spoke with Jessica, who witnessed her friend Sarah take one “hit” of what she believed to be Marijuana, and then collapse, hitting her head on the way to the ground, in a popular bar near her university over the weekend.
Jessica described a collegiate looking man in his early twenties who had been smoking a joint in the bar with some friends, leaning over and offering it to her friend Sarah. He turned to Sarah with the joint outstretched and said, “Want some? It’s like weed?” Jessica watched as Sarah took one small inhalation from the joint.
Jessica described the incident for me in detail:
Sarah immediately started to collapse after taking one hit from the joint. I saw her lose consciousness and hit something on the way to the ground. I ran over to her on the floor and started yelling her name and trying to get her to respond to me. I then turned to the guy who gave her the joint and demanded to know what was in it. He told me that it was “Mojo”. When I didn’t know what that was, he said that it was “K2.. like Spice”, synthetic weed.
Sarah was completely unresponsive for 2 minutes. I panicked and told the bar to call the paramedics. After about 2 minutes, her eyes were fluttering and she started making noises; nothing that made sense though. She was mumbling and still not coherent for at least another 5 minutes.
It took her about 10 minutes to come to, and 15 minutes before she was able to have a conversation and, walk out of the bar. She doesn’t remember anything, except blacking out. She has a bruise or two from the fall but is fine other than being a bit shaken up.
I asked Jessica if Sarah regularly engages in risky behaviors, or takes drugs. She described her friend as a normal college student who smokes marijuana occasionally and goes to the bars with friends on the weekends, but nothing more than that. She said Sarah does well in school and was acting out of character by taking weed from a stranger. “We are careful about who we take drinks from at bars because we are aware of the danger of roofies. I think her guard was down because it was weed, and weed is considered relatively harmless”, Jessica told me.
What a lot of people don’t know is that many of the drugs on the streets these days are are being characterized as “synthetic”, or made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product, but they do not imitate the natural product. In fact, according to Lewis Nelson, MD, a medical toxicologist at the NYU School of Medicine, “It’s really quite different, and the effects are much more unpredictable. It’s dangerous, and there is no quality control in what you are getting.”
One could argue that there is not much quality control in any street drug purchase. But what alarmed me was the reasonable misconception that the synthetic chemicals in Mojo, K2, Spice etc. produce the same effects in its users, when in fact it’s producing the opposite effect. Dr. Nelson describes patients as exhibiting symptoms typically attributed to amphetamine users – violent, sweaty, agitated, tachycardia, psychosis. Jeff Lapoint, MD, an emergency room doctor and medical toxicologist, explains it perfectly:
“The first rule of toxicology is, the dose makes the poison. I drink a cup of water, and I’m fine. I drink gallons of it in some college contest, and I could have a seizure and die. Synthetic cannabinoids are tailor-made to hit cannabinoid receptors – and hit it hard. This is NOT marijuana. Its action in the brain may be similar but the physical effect is so different.”
Synthetic marijuana is often available at smoke shops and popular because it does not show up on standard drug tests. To record a “dirty test”, a specific test for synthetic marijuana must be administered. This has certainly been a factor in the rising numbers of overdoses, hospitalizations, and even deaths, as a result of this synthetic drug. New legislation has banned some of the chemicals used to create these drugs, but producers wanting to protect their market have responded by substituting still-legal compounds for the ones recently banned.
Clearly, legislation isn’t the total solution. Public awareness of synthetic marijuana and its dangers is going to be our greatest safeguard. So if you hear someone talking about trying this stuff that’s “like weed”, or you happen to be in a smoke shop where a bag of K2, Mojo, or Spice is being sold, heed the clear warning on the baggy: “not for human consumption”. Ironically, it’s the only accurate part of the label.