New Jersey Ban on Synthetic Marijuana Results in a Drop in Use
Six months after a statewide ban on synthetic drugs, the Attorney General reports a drop in use. But some experts say the fight is far from over.
By Annie Hauser
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FRIDAY, Sept. 7, 2012 —Since New Jersey's February ban on the sale and use of synthetic marijuana and the synthetic stimulants "bath salts," the number of reported incidents involving the two drugs has dropped significantly, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced Thursday.
“Before we took action to ban these dangerous drugs in New Jersey, they were sold as a so-called ‘legal high’ by shady retailers with no regard for their catastrophic side effects,” Chiesa said in a press release. “Today it is unambiguously clear that, here in New Jersey, synthetic marijuana and ‘bath salts’ are just as illegal as cocaine or heroin. Thankfully, the numbers demonstrate that our bans on these drugs are working.”
Over the past six months, the State Police Office of Forensic Science reported a 77 percent drop in synthetic marijuana incidents, even though drug crimes overall are up about 10 percent over last year. The Poison Control hotline reports that calls regarding synthetic marijuana exposure dropped by a third. Poison Control's calls about exposure to bath salts declined by 66 percent.
In July, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, banning the use of synthetic marijuana and other synthetic drugs. Dozens of cities and states across the country have enacted similar bans to varying degrees of effectiveness.
The Health Risks of Synthetic Drugs
Synthetic marijuana comes under many names, like Spice, K2, Skunk and Mr. Nice Guy. The active ingredients in the drugs mimic the high produced by THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The drugs have only been around since 2008, the Drug Enforcement Administration reports, but use has quickly skyrocketed. In 2011, 11.4 percent of high-school seniors reported trying synthetic cannabis, the government's Monitoring the Future survey of youth drug-use trends found.
The drugs can cause muscle cell break down, kidney failure, seizures, tremors, anxiety, chest pain, convulsions, hallucinations, and heart palpitations, according the National Poison Control Center. Dozens of teens and 20-somethings across the country have died after smoking the drugs.
Bath salts cause a cocaine-like high, producing a state of "excited delirium," writes Thomas Penders, MD, in the April 2012 edition of the Journal of Family Practice. That's because the active ingredients MDPV, mephedrone, and methylone boost the amount of “feel-good neurotransmitter” dopamine in the brain. Because they are stimulants, they excite the central nervous system in the extreme, elevating heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature to sometimes dangerous levels, and sometimes cause psychotic-like breaks with reality.
Taking too much bath salts can be extremely dangerous, medical professionals warn. Bath salts overdose cases "are just very difficult to manage," says Karen Simone, Pharm.D, director and chief toxicologist of the Northern New England Poison Center, headquartered in Portland, Maine. "Users are seeing things that aren't there, they're paranoid, they're frightened, and sometimes they're quite violent."
To combat bans, drug sellers have been changing the ingredients to use other, still legal, stimulants. "What's happening now is we have a lot of drug analogues popping up, and people are hoping to get around the laws by coming up with slightly altered chemical formulas," Bruce Talbot, a former Illinois police officer who has studied and taught fellow first responders about emerging drug trends for 20 years, told Everyday Health shortly before the federal ban was signed into law.
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