Synthetic marijuana use responsible for recent medical emergencies, say police

Multiple types of synthetic marijuana

An uptick in overdoses from synthetic marijuana use has police in Beaumont very concerned, especially after officers and EMS personnel responded to a call New Year's Day and found three Beaumont residents in need of immediate medical attention resulting from use of the illegal narcotic.

According to a news release from the Beaumont Police Department, at about 9:35 a.m. on Jan. 1, patrol officers responded to a house in the 2400 block of Linson Street to assist Beaumont EMS with a combative patient. Upon their arrival to the location, they found a 47-year-old Beaumont man who was incoherent and combative. He appeared to be under the influence of some type of illicit substance, reports BPD. A 51-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man, both unconscious, were also discovered at the residence.  Officers were reportedly able to able bring the combative man under control so paramedics could treat the man along with the other two apparent victims.

Officers spoke with other people in the house who said that the three people showing signs of illness had been up all night smoking synthetic marijuana.

"We have experienced a recent increase locally in the number of people who have required immediate medical attention because of overdosing on synthetic marijuana," reports BPD Sgt. Rob Flores.

At the time of the release, doctors were treating the 22-year-old man at Baptist Hospital's emergency room. Doctors listed him in stable condition. The 51-year-old woman was being treated at St. Elizabeth's emergency room and was listed in stable condition but was expected to be admitted. The 47-year-old man who was extremely combative was also being treated at St. Elizabeth's. Doctors listed him in serious condition and said, at the time of the release, that he would be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for treatment related to his drug overdose.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), synthetic marijuana, often called “spice” and sold as potpourri or “herbal incense,” refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and are marketed as safe, legal alternatives. Sold under many names, including K2, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, Spice and others — and labeled “not for human consumption” — these products contain “dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive (mind-altering) effects.”

In March 2014, The Examiner reported in-depth on the negative effects of synthetic marijuana, both to crime in the area and particularly to the health of users of the drug who expose themselves to dangerous and mostly untested chemical compounds that are used to cause the illegal narcotic to simulate the effects of actual marijuana.

An undercover BPD officer said one strange effect the drug has on users is commonly referred to as “getting stuck.” He said to consider every bag of synthetic marijuana as different, even when the packaging is identical, and warned that the substance used to spray the herbs that become spice contain hallucinogenic chemicals that affect each user differently. He compared the hallucinogenic chemicals to LSD and said some users “get stuck” in a kind of psychoactive loop that prevents them from coming out of the hallucination back into reality, a frightening prospect.

Researchers from the Department of Neurology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. released findings in November 2013 in the journal publication Neurology pertaining to the relationship between synthetic marijuana, stroke and heart problems. The journal’s website at summarizes the neurologists’ conclusions regarding two siblings who used synthetic marijuana and experienced acute embolic-appearing ischemic strokes.

“We found that our 2 patients who smoked the street drug spice had a temporal association with symptoms of acute cerebral infarction (an ischemic stroke). This association may be confounded by contaminants in the product or by an unknown genetic mechanism. The imaging of both patients suggests an embolic etiology, which is consistent with reports of serious adverse cardiac events with spice use, including tachyarrhythmias and myocardial infarctions.”

And they are not the only ones who have discovered and are reporting health problems associated with the use of synthetic marijuana. From seizures and strokes to death, the negative effects of synthetic marijuana vary and are still being discovered as researchers learn more and as the chemical compounds used in the drug change to defeat designations within state legislation. Numerous reports from prestigious institutions such as the University of Colorado School of Medicine, warnings from organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) and other researchers all agree. Synthetic marijuana not only potentially causes serious long-term health problems for users; it can also kill them.

Even during The Examiner’s prior investigation into the dangerous drug, local law enforcers complained that synthetic marijuana use was saturating the area in spite of measures taken by local city governments and even the state. At first, legislators just could not keep up with the ever-changing compounds, which were very specifically chemically defined. But, since then, some cities and states have gone further in their definitions of synthetic marijuana in order to combat the tricks of the drug’s traders, using more sweeping terminology to encompasses all types of synthetic marijuana. For example, while Texas specifically defines synthetic marijuana by compound, other states, like Colorado, have more inclusive statewide bans that mention not only specific compounds and derivatives that have thus far been legally identified as synthetic cannabinoids, but they go a step further than Texas. They include language in their legislation that is meant to encompass all types of synthetic cannabinoids, even if the chemical compounds are not on the list of compounds already discovered to be synthetic marijuana.

Colorado law reads, “Any chemical compound chemically synthesized and either 1) has been demonstrated to have binding activity at one or more cannabinoid receptors; or 2) is a chemical analog or isomer of a compound that has been demonstrated to have binding activity at one or more cannabinoid receptors. Includes, but is not limited to: HU-210; HU-211/dexanabinol; JWH-018; JWH-073; JWH-081; JWH-200; JWH-250; CP 47,497 and homologues.”

But, state legislation is only one way to They are still working out the kinks, but many cities around the area have passed ordinances with language meant to make synthetic marijuana and bath salts – another big problem in the area in 2010 and 2011 – illegal across the board.

However, while a number of Orange County cities jumped on the ban wagon early on in the battle against synthetic marijuana, the city of Beaumont has passed no such ordinance.

In March, Sgt. Steve Perricone of the Beaumont Police Department said he believed it would be better if they had. He said the drug is still readily available, even after state legislation, but, instead of the product being sold in stores like before, it is being distributed by drug dealers on the streets along with other illegal narcotics. After the initial drop in distribution due to legislation limiting the availability in stores, Perricone said he has not seen the overall decrease of the drug’s presence that he hoped to see. In fact, he has observed just the opposite.

“Honestly, I think there has been an increase in synthetic marijuana distribution locally,” Perricone said, referring to street dealing. “It’s a huge problem right now.”

Perricone said state legislation’s strict definitions of chemical compounds used for synthetic marijuana limits the ability to prosecute distributors. He said there are approximately 245 chemical compounds specified as illegal in Texas legislation that mimic the effects of THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, the ingredient that gets marijuana users “high.” Often, according to him, when police find what they believe to be synthetic marijuana in large quantities, there is a “50/50” chance the herbs are untreated, possibly on their way to be sprayed with the chemicals that cause a marijuana-like high. He said that he believed a blanket ban on the substance could decrease the availability locally and would be a tool law enforcement officers could use in fighting the dangerous drug.

Captain Cliff Hargrave of the Orange Police Department said he is not sure the ordinance his city passed has had a long-term effect on synthetic marijuana use and distribution. According to him, immediately following the city of Orange’s ordinance outlawing the sale of synthetic marijuana and creating a kind of “blanket” ban on all types of synthetic marijuana, he saw a drop in crime related to abuse of the narcotic. But, he added, officers at OPD were still reporting numerous incidents following the ban.

“After the initial decrease (following the ban), I have seen no downward trend,” Hargrave asserted in March 2014.

Still, said Perricone, the city ordinance would provide a tool police could use to combat synthetic marijuana locally.

Whether by city ordinance or new state legislation, many law enforcers believe stricter laws against synthetic marijuana must be passed for eradication of the drug to ever be realized.