National view: It’s synthetic, legal — and scarier than potThe package is small and brightly colored. It’s in a case near the register, alongside the breath mints and not far from the candy. The label clearly states it is not suitable for children and not intended for consumption, but those who buy it really aren’t big on warnings.
By: John Romano, Duluth News Tribune
The package is small and brightly colored. It’s in a case near the register, alongside the breath mints and not far from the candy. The label clearly states it is not suitable for children and not intended for consumption, but those who buy it really aren’t big on warnings.
This innocuous cellophane package contains a synthetically formulated and chemically enhanced marijuana substitute marketed as incense. And this neighborhood convenience store, down the street from elementary and middle schools, is your new drug corner.
To be clear, this isn’t a rant against the evils of drugs. And it isn’t a sermon on the virtues of a vice-free society.
It’s just the worries of a parent trying to comprehend how keeping our children away from pot may have led them to a more dangerous and easily accessible drug.
“Kids are kids; they’re going to do some things you wish they wouldn’t,” said Dr. Cynthia Lewis-Younger, medical director for the Florida Poison Information Center. “But having kids play with this stuff scares me to death.”
So what’s the danger of synthetic pot? It’s a matter of escalating problems.
First of all is availability. Since it is technically incense, it can be sold at convenience stores and gas stations, as well as on the Internet. This gives it a false appearance of legitimacy and safety. It also makes it more accessible for minors.
Outlawing it is difficult because manufacturers simply change the composition slightly and have a new, and once again legal, product.
Ingredients are another concern because no one is monitoring the chemicals being used. There are websites that critique brands of incense, giving higher marks to products with increasingly hallucinatory results, encouraging manufacturers to continue pushing the envelope.
The end result is that instead of smoking marijuana, there is now an incentive to smoke synthetic drugs that are cheaper, produce greater highs, don’t show up in most standard drug tests and won’t get you arrested.
The drawback is increasing danger.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that calls for synthetic marijuana doubled between 2010 and 2011. A product known as bath salts, which mimics cocaine or meth, went from 300 calls to 5,600.
So what’s the solution? That’s what’s so disturbing. There is no easy answer.
Even if there is some way to slow down synthetic drugs legally, it will simply force the market underground.
So perhaps it is our thinking that must change.
We have to stop just saying no to our children and start explaining why. We have to be realistic about the allure of drugs before we can educate about the dangers. We have to stop obsessing about the supply and better address the demand. And we have to recognize it is not someone else’s children at stake, but our own.
“If we continue to go on this way,” Dr. Lewis-Younger said, “we won’t need to worry about the terrorists because we’ll destroy ourselves.”
John Romano is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.