By: Kerri Winick GALTime Staff
A growing number of teens and adults are getting high by lighting up a dangerous, but easily accessible substance that looks just like marijuana. And right now, it's 100% legal in every state, but one.
Take a look at the pictures below. These products are packed with greenery that is sold as incense or potpourri, under names like K2, Serenity Now and Zohai.
But to experts across the country, the stuff is simply known as Fake Marijuana.
It's a mixture of dried herbs that chemists say is sprayed with one or more chemicals. These chemicals are similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. And that has the Drug Enforcement Administration on alert.
"Most of these chemicals are not controlled chemicals right now. They're not under DEA's regulatory authority," said Supervisory Special Agent Gary Boggs.
But they are listed as chemicals of growing concern.
Supervisory Special Agent Boggs said these synthetic substances should not be smoked, and the fact that people are lighting up is a major health concern. Several states are working to ban fake marijuana. Kansas has already.
"As a parent, I think you should be very concerned. There's no labeling on these products to know specifically what's in them and you don't really know what you're putting into your body. You don't know the strength of it," said Agent Boggs.
Prominent Toxicologist Dr. Anthony Scalzo said a growing number of teens, young adults and even middle aged men and women are landing in the ER after smoking fake marijuana. Between January 1 and May 18 of 2010, U.S, poison centers took 352 calls about synthetic marijuana. In 2009, they took 12 calls related to these products. Dr. Scalzo has treated patients as young as 14-years-old.
"I think that we're seeing the tip of the iceberg here because we're seeing the patients that are willing to come in," said Dr. Scalzo.
Those who do come in are reporting symptoms like extreme anxiety and increased heart rate.
"They're having racing heart beats up to 140, 150. The highest I can recall is 170 beats per minute. Normal is 70 to 80 beats per minute. And their blood pressures are elevated. In some cases, we're seeing tremors. We're seeing hallucinations. A couple of patients that I've dealt with have gone unconscious." said Dr. Scalzo.
He says he recently treated a 15-year-old who was about to jump out a fifth-story window. Experts say reactions like these are the complete opposite of what one would expect from marijuana. Dr. Scalzo is now working with other researchers to find out what is in some of these synthetic substances. He believes that certain ones may even be coated with a contaminant.
"We have not been able to show that yet, but the analysis of these chemicals takes a lot of time," said Dr. Scalzo.
In the meantime, The American Association of Poison Control Centers has just issued a health alert. Dr. Scalzo is helping spread the word to parents and physicians across the country.
"There's people out there that are not coming to get medical attention that are having adverse affects. And somewhere along the line this product is going to meet an individual who has, perhaps, a weakness in their blood vessels or their cardiovascular system," said Dr. Scalzo.
Another worry? Information is spreading to teens at lightning speed. Online forums and YouTube are filled with chatter about fake pot.
"Until more information is known about these chemicals, I think that anyone who is willing to put this in their body is playing with, like, Russian Roulette here," said Supervisory Special Agent Boggs.