Drugs

New Hampshire Declares State of Emergency Over Synthetic Marijuana

Forty-four people have overdosed after using a chemically engineered marijuana imitation.

Photo Credit: Stefan Petru Andronache / Shutterstock.com

Forty-four people in the Manchester, New Hampshire area have reportedly overdosed since August 11 after using a synthetic drug called "Smacked" that is supposed to imitate marijuana. In response, the state’s governor Maggie Hassan has declared a state of emergency. While none of the overdoses have been been fatal so far, three convenience stores selling the product have had their business licenses revoked as a result of the overdose emergency.

Smacked, sold as potpourri in packets, is made from herbs that have been sprayed with “chemically engineered substances” that supposedly mimic THC (tetrahydrocannabinol—the active ingredient in weed), NBC reported. The state of emergency gives state health officials the authority to open investigations of any vendors selling Smacked, and quarantine the product.

The decision to make the emergency declaration may have been influenced by the Southern California teen who died last week after reportedly taking just one hit of the synthetic pot product K2.

Chemically engineered marijuana imitations, often called "spice," have caused health issues and been linked to deaths several times in the past couple of years. Last December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked illnesses in more than 200 people to two different chemical pot products. One of those products was also linked to illnesses reported in Georgia last August.

Last year, when teenager Emily Bauer suffered brain death following the use of a synthetic pot product, her parents attributed her symptoms to the chemical (however, there is no hard evidence that smoking it actually caused her stroke). Deaths and strange symptoms have been linked to "spice" going futher back as well. In 2010 a mother of two died following synthetic pot use in Indiana, around the same time that three Texas teens arrived in a Texas emergency room with heart attack symptoms following synthetic pot use. Though most synthetic pot products are illegal, they are popular even in Colorado and Washington where safer, plant-based marijuana products are allowed. And their chemical makeup is ever-evolving, so the government has had a tough time keeping up and outlawing all of the numerous concoctions of spice coming onto the market.

In May, AlterNet reported that a DEA raid in Alabama uncovered hundreds of thousands of bags filled with a spice concoction dubbed “Scooby Snax” in large storage warehouses. After tracing the $30 to $40 million in profit from those drugs back to Yemen, the agency acquired 200-plus search warrants and extended its raid into a nationwide crackdown. DEA agencies across 29 states arrested more than 150 people allegedly involved in a global synthetic drug trade funneling cash into the Middle East. They found ties to Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

The federal government passed a general ban in 2012 on many of the compounds found in spice, as well as the synthetic “bath salts” that are rumored to create a zombie-like effect in users. As NBC reports, “New Hampshire and more than 40 other states adopted similar bans. But such laws have proven difficult to enforce, as drug makers can make slight modifications to the products' chemical compositions.”

April M. Short is a yoga teacher and writer who previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor. She currently works part-time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide. 

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