At least 33 people have been hospitalized in New York City on Tuesday thanks to a synthetic marijuana overdose. The epidemic has been affecting the country’s less affluent population due to its low price and easy-to-make composition. This week alone, the number of k2 cases

The synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or ‘Spice,’ was the common denominator in a local crisis on the border of two developing neighborhoods in New York City, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Bushwick, as reported by the New York Times. Eight people were rushed from the Stockton Street area to the Woodhull Medical Center after suffering from an “altered mental state”, lethargy and respiratory issues around 9:40 a.m., according to a spokesman for the Fire Department.

For regular pot heads without access to natural marijuana, the K2 or Spice is the next best thing. However, it can cause severe adverse effects on users. Image Credit: RT

The rest of the intoxicated people were found in the surroundings.“It is like a scene out of a zombie movie, a horrible scene,” commented Brian Arthur, a 38-year-old man who watched and recorded three people collapse from the overdose as he made his way to work.

“This drug truly paralyzed people,” said witness Brian Arthur.

According to Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, the drug messes up with people quickly. Users can become extremely irritable and very aggressive, and others can become sleepy and unable to stand by themselves, he commented.

What exactly is the K2?

The relatively new drug is a blend of industrial chemicals sprayed on dried marijuana leaves and lawn clippings. The product is commonly wrapped in brightly colored packages and sold in the poorest areas of a city using different names.

Even though one of its names is synthetic marijuana, the drug causes a different effect than the natural cannabis, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Users can experience anxiety, agitation, nausea, vomiting, high-pressure hallucinations, and paranoia. It was created as a research project by South Carolina chemist John W. Huffman, who succeeded to mimic cannabinoids to investigate the therapeutic effects without facing the red tape of experimenting with Schedule 1 substance.

The mix he developed was shown to help non-melanoma skin cancer and brain tumor in lab mice, so the team decided to publish the results with the how-to-do-it instructions. Since then, low-level chemistries have been able to replicate and improve the formula while managing to create a whole new market for it. However, its creator has shown concerns over the fact that people could try something so dangerous, and compare its consumption to a “Russian roulette”, as reported by the Rolling Stone.

The K2 grown popularity is mainly due to its very low price. While an ounce of the real thing could go up to $350 on the street, the synthetic replacement costs only $50 online, and nearly $10 in some shops. Another reason is that the K2 does not appear in any drug test, making it more popular among those who constantly are under surveillance for any common type of drug.

The market for synthetic drugs such as the artificial pot market has proven to be as safe as the natural, yet legal. Image Credit: TIME
The market for synthetic drugs such as the artificial pot market has proven to be as safe as the natural, yet legal. Image Credit: TIME

A growing problem

In other parts of the country, the drug has been linked to heart and kidney damage, delirium, coma and even dead, WebMD reported. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported at least 20 deaths from K2 between 2011 and 2015.

Also, calls to poison control were also linked with the drug and presented a 300 percent growth within the first quarter of 2015, the DEA stated. The agency started to force a more specialized and harsh control over the industry, but the dealers continue to avoid it by continually tinkering the formula and labeling the products as not fit for human consumption.

After months of raids and arrests, new legislation in the fall banned synthetic cannabinoids and threatened business and owners with heavier consequences such as closing their business, heavy fines and even jail time. Since those measures, there was an 85 percent reduction in K2-related emergency room visits, a down from 6,000 last year but a surprising peak over the last few weeks.

One addict confess during an interview with NBC New York, that after the convenience stores were banned from selling the potpourri-packaged drug, the substance just moved to the streets and people were randomly selling it on every corner.

“They have guys that walk around and sell it because they know police are here watching the stores,” he said. “Everyone knows who the guys are.”

People have been commenting that maybe if authorities were to legalize marijuana, the dangerous drug consumption would slow down. Even Huffman, the drug’s creator, believes this would probably happen and that the natural substance would be less dangerous than its synthetic counterpart.

“This is another reason that we should be taxing and regulating marijuana, rather than criminalizing it and driving people to alternatives like K2,” New York City Councilman Corey Johnson commented during the last fall intervention to convenience stores.

Source: The New York Times