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‘Synthetic marijuana’ worries authorities

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

Editor’s note: Most of the research for this article was conducted prior to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s emergency announcement last week that it will temporarily ban the chemicals in “synthetic marijuana.” Many retailers, including those in this story, have since altered their practices in anticipation of complying with the DEA directive.

It sold for $9.99 a jar, and comes in strawberry, vanilla, blueberry, even original bubblegum.

At the Barn Store convenience store at the western edge of Granby, Assistant Store Manager Zack Seay pulled out the large display case he kept behind the counter with tobacco products.



Seay says the jars inside, carrying the name “Black Mamba,” were sold as “incense.”

The manufacturers tout using the product in tea for “male enhancement,” he said, and the store sold about two jars per week during the three months it carried the product, mostly to people in their mid-20s to early 30s. The store’s policy was to sell the product only to consumers 18 and older, even though there is no regulation to do so, Seay said.



However, many people smoke the product, which looks and smells like low-grade pot, to gain a high stronger and for a shorter duration than marijuana, according to law enforcement and other government officials.

But since Black Mamba is not illegal in Colorado, and since the store was selling it for its intended use as written on the label, the store manager said the store was not culpable for other forms of use.

“If you’re dumb enough to smoke dirt, well then,” Seay said as he shrugged with his palms turned upward.

Not what nature intended

Black Mamba – known by many names such as Spice, K2, K3, Damiana, Pep Spice, Ocean Breeze, Dragon, Bombay Blue, Puff, Sugar Sticks, Genie, Smoke and many more – has been growing in popularity around the world since 2006 for its ability to go undetected in urine analysis testing and for its “legal” high.

But health officials are becoming increasingly alarmed, since the drug can create hallucinogenic trips and has been blamed for one suicide of a college student in the U.S.

The drug’s origins can be traced to a university laboratory, where an organic chemistry researcher studied the properties of marijuana and its effects on humans.

The JWH chemical compounds derived from the research are now building blocks of what has come to be known as synthetic marijuana, or plant material that has been coated with chemicals that mimic the active marijuana ingredient THC.

Fake pot is sold at smoke shops, on the Internet and in convenience stores.

“These chemicals, however, have not been approved by the FDA for human consumption,” states a Nov. 24 press release from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. “And there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.”

Already, several countries and 15 U.S. states have taken steps to ban the chemicals used in synthetic marijuana, and the DEA itself is racing to catch up.

The Agency just announced its plans to ban five chemicals (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol) used to make fake pot products.

Starting in 30 days, a temporary control on the substances will last 12 months, giving time for the DEA and the United States Department of Health and Human Services to further study whether these chemicals and products “should be permanently controlled,” according to the DEA’s Nov. 24 announcement.

During that interim period, the chemicals will be designated as Schedule I substances, the most restrictive category, which is reserved for unsafe, highly abused substances with no medical usage.

Use among local teens?

Meanwhile at Middle Park High School, one student this year has been caught in possession of synthetic marijuana, according to Principal Jane Harmon.

The substance was tested by Granby Police and came up negative for marijuana, she said.

The school is treating possession of the product on campus the same it does for any controlled substance: a mandatory three-day suspension or drug counseling.

The ease of obtaining this presently legal product, along with the lack of knowledge about its properties, worries local parents, administrators and law enforcement officials.

“It is becoming more popular as kids learn more about it,” said Granby Police Chief Bill Housely. “It’s an unknown substance. That in itself is dangerous,” he said.

“I encourage citizens to use good judgment and not place something in their systems they’re not familiar with.”

But at least one high school student doesn’t see what all the worry is about.

“Personally, I hear a lot about drugs, and I don’t really hear much about K2,” said a student from Middle Park’s senior class. She requested her name not be used.

“I don’t think it’s that big up here. I think it’s more of a Denver thing. I’ve heard a lot about pot being used, but I haven’t really heard much about K2.”


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