Synthetic pot, or fake weed, much riskier than marijuana, more dangerous for teens

Synthetic pot, or fake weed, much riskier than marijuana, more dangerous for teens

Synthetic marijuana is an unpredictable drug that’s often marketed as natural or safe but a new study shows it is much more dangerous than normal marijuana.

Arrest and citations have helped take synthetic marijuana off the streets of Madison over the last six months, but the dangers are still around, Madison Police Department Capt. Jason Freedman said.

“They may get one effect out of one and they may get an extremely dangerous effect from another. When we encounter someone in distress that has taken this and we take them to the ER, the ER docs have no idea what they need to use in order to counteract that,” Freedman said.

The constantly changing chemicals used to make the substance is what makes it so dangerous.

Madison police have seen instances of the substances throughout the city, including at a number of Capitol Petro gas stations dating back to 2013. In 2015, the Dane County Drug Task Force seized nearly 40 pounds and dozens of different types of synthetic pot. Last year, the Internal Revenue Service investigated some of the same stations as a part of an ongoing investigation into the sales of the synthetic pot.

“Because it’s often incorrectly seen as safe — ‘If I can buy it in a store it must be safe’ — we think this is a particularly appealing drug to young people,” he said.

The synthetic cannabinoids, often called “fake weed,” are a mix of chemicals sprinkled on what looks like incense and sold in shiny packages, often to teens and young adults.

It produces sensations similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant, yet many users report more powerful, often dangerous effects.

“You combine the fact that we don’t know exactly what these things are doing and exactly where in the brain they are having their activity and then with a developing brain of teens, I think it’s a bad recipe,” said Dr. Brian Lochen, medical director at Tellurian.

New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says young people who use fake weed are also more likely to use other drugs or alcohol, to behave violently and to have high-risk sex, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Freedman said synthetic pot is most popular among adults and not frequently seen in teens within the Madison area.