National News

U.S. moves to make synthetic marijuana illegal

Posted November 24, 2010 11:09 a.m. EST
Updated November 24, 2010 6:04 p.m. EST

— The federal government is moving to outlaw herbal and chemical blends sold as synthetic marijuana at head shops and on the Internet.

The Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday temporarily classified five chemicals used to make fake pot as illegal drugs. The agency says the chemicals mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and are not approved for human consumption.

The government says smokeable plant products coated with these chemicals are increasingly popular among teens and young adults and produce a marijuana-like high. It says products like "Spice," ''K2," ''Blaze," and "Red X Dawn" are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.

"That is a marketing ploy. They know that people are going to use it for human consumption," DEA Special Agent Michael Sanders said Wednesday.

The ban would put the chemicals in the same category as heroin and cocaine. It would take effect in 30 days and last at least a year.

"I don't even know why it is sold. It's just a terrible thing," said Austin Walker, who nearly died in September when he smoked a brand of the herbal incense. 

Walker, 18, and Daniel Carr, 23, tried the product at Carr's parents' house in Cary. 

"Within minutes, we were hallucinating incredibly. I was having a seizure for a very long time. My friend was having really bad heart problems," Walker said Wednesday. 

Both men were taken to the hospital. 

"It was like a terrible nightmare. It didn't feel real, but there was so much pain involved, there was no doubt that it was definitely real," Carr said. 

The friends were among a group of people who reported frightening experiences with the product and urged lawmakers to take a closer look.

"Once they get time to actually study it and figure out its effects and all that kind of stuff, only good things can happen from here," Carr said. 

Sanders said the ban is about trying to keep a dangerous drug off the streets. 

WRAL News found six stores located in the Raleigh area that sell K2. Store owners declined to comment on Wednesday. 

John Huffman, a Clemson University chemist who developed the product while doing pharmaceutical research, said in September that the research did not shed any light on the safety of the product and that he is not responsible for its recreational use.