Synthetic Marijuana: A User's Guide
Perhaps Chris Rock said it best in the 1996 HBO special, Bring The Pain.
"People want to get high. You can get rid of all the
drugs in the world, people still going to get high," Rock said. "People will
just think of new ways to get high. Guys will go down in the basement and
become scientists like 'Yo check it out man, if you get a baby's bottle, right?
Fill it up with some gasoline and dead lima beans, then suck it. You'll be
Much to the dismay of law enforcement, drugs are still
everywhere, but nifty capitalists have once again found another way to get
high. Since around 2009, "herbal incense" packets have become popular and subsequently
began popping up in gas stations all over the country, offering a synthetic, and more importantly, legal analog to the popular, naturally occurring active ingredient in marijuana,
What separates these herbs from Mother Earth's own weed? Often, its creators remove or add just one molecule to duck federal bans and create synthetics with chemical names like JWH-018, HU-210 and CP-47. Some people have fallen in love with the stuff, replacing their marijuana use with a legal intoxicant that avoids possible prosecution. Others report absolute horror stories -- delusions, convulsions, and visits to the poison control center. With 4/20, the unofficial pothead Easter coming up Friday, Cultist decided to investigate -- try the stuff ourselves and get to the bottom of this strange, new synthetic drug.
"They cause increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and agitation," Dr. Tom Martin with the Poison Center told komonews.com. "They also sometimes cause very strong psychiatric reactions like delirium, delusions or psychosis that can last for days."
A notice issued by the DEA in March of 2011 temporarily placed into Schedule I five of the compounds (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and a CP-47,497 C8 homologue) in order to "avoid an imminent hazard to public safety." A permanent ban is being pursued and must be in place by August, but meanwhile, producers are merely replacing those compounds with similar ones.
Still, the DEA is cracking down, with several arrests just over the past few weeks. A warehouse in Tampa was recently found to contain nearly 600 pounds of the substance. Friday, 48-year-old shopkeeper Kamal Singh of Noblesville, Indiana, was arrested and charged with five counts of possessing and dealing the compounds. Closer to home, DEA agents arrested a man in West Palm Beach over this past weekend -- the first in the state to be charged in relation to the synthetic marijuana.
And they're moving south. In Fort Lauderdale, gas station owners report the DEA, which did not return repeated requests for comment, coming in and telling them to stop selling the product. The DEA apparently still hasn't made it to gas stations in Miami, and local police have not been enforcing any ban on synthetic marijuana.
"I have not heard anything in particular about (synthetic marijuana)," said Freddy Cruz, Public Information Officer for the City of Miami Police Department. "We are prepared and willing, however, to enforce any federal law in effect."
Without chemical analysis, it is impossible to determine if the stuff offered in gas stations actually contains one of the five banned substances. Still, many legal analogs produce the same effects. Since the synthetic analogues resemble THC in size and shape, they fit into CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in your brain, but don't produce a positive sample in a drug test. Though marketed as incense with a label that reads "not for human consumption," the various brands resemble weed and are known to produce a similar effect if rolled in a joint and smoked.
How similar? We've heard horror stories in the media that seem a bit contrived, so Cultist gathered up a couple buddies and sat down to an official sampling ourselves.
The first brands of this lab junk to become popular were known as "Spice" and "K2." Cultist purchased three types, named "Mr. Nice Guy," "Fire," and "Jeffrey" from a local gas station. Other brands that are offered include "Cloud Nine" and "Black Magic."
The first thing we noticed was the smell, rising from the stuff in fumes that seemed almost visible.
"Smells like someone scraped all the fish scales off a mackerel and rolled up a joint," said Bobby Jenkins, a Miami resident who refused to partake in the experiment. "I'm not smoking anything that smells like it came out of a fish store."
Everyone who smokes knows it's not just about the high -- the smell, taste, and even the texture of the leaf as it rolls against your lips while you wrap a fatty all draw the average marijuana connoisseur. With Fire, you just want to hurry up and get it over with. But along with being the worst smelling, Fire was also the least expensive, with $9.99 buying you three grams.
Thankfully, it doesn't taste as bad as it smells, but on the first drag the obviously synthetic flavor stings you in the back of your throat. About halfway through a standard half-gram joint you begin to feel the high, which seems to wrap slowly around the back of your neck and culminate with near vibrations at the top of your skull. The high was short-lived, lasting for a little less than a half-hour, but the stench stayed around for hours.
Next came Mr. Nice Guy, which some may remember as the name of the comical drug-dealing trio in the classic stoner film Half Baked. For $9.99 you get just one gram, so you expect a "higher grade," but you really just get the same thing as Fire with less of a stench. The first breath of smoke to disperse within your lungs tickles the chest, but by the fifth or sixth drag, you are inhaling into a vacuum. At first, the high seems less intense than what you would experience from regular pot. But as you try to wrap your brain around the latest Family Guy episode while consuming a peanut butter truffle chocolate-chip pancake with whipped cream and vanilla frosting, you realize something -- you are really fucking high. Well, almost.
"It's almost the same high you get smoking real weed," said fellow experimenter and New Times staff writer David Minksy. "You can't exactly put your finger on it, but the difference is definitely there."
Last, but definitely not least, comes Jeffrey. This substance smelled a little more pleasant and was a bit greener, but smoked the same. The high, however, was unbearable. All of us experienced nausea, paranoia, and shivering, with varying severity. Stand up, and you want to sit down; sit down, and all of a sudden you jump up out of curious discomfort. Naturally occurring marijuana has been said to seemingly hug the inside layer of your skull like a loving friend. Jeffrey just sits on your temple and whines like a little girl. Despite our experience, some have actually reported feelings of euphoria followed by sudden jolts of deep thinking, very similar to marijuana's effects. But that is absolutely nothing like we felt. Before, we were skeptical about the "bad trips" we'd read about in the media. This made them all seem plausible, for the right person with the right brain chemistry.
So what's our final opinion? Well, officer, of course we don't smoke anything illegal. But if you are going to smoke, smoke the real stuff.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.