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News State / Region Synthetic marijuana resurfacing in Macon County

Even though the sale of synthetic marijuana is legal in Macon County, Sheriff Robert Holland says that illegal versions of the drug are being sold and it is a problem that his department is currently taking measures against.

“We are aware it is an issue and a problem and we are taking measures to address it,” said Holland. “It is very difficult when you are talking about chemical compounds and scientific makeup of the substances.”

Synthetic marijuana, which is sold under many names including K2, incense, and Spice, is typically a blend of herbal mixtures that when consumed create effects similar to cannabis, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The product can be found in gas stations and in smoke shops. The packaging for the substance clearly states "not for human consumption," but people often buy them for their psychoactive effects.

Holland explained that the manufacturers of the substance stay one step ahead of the law. “While there are legal forms of the substance, it is illegal to sell certain chemical compositions,” said Holland. “By the time the law catches up with the types of the substances being manufactured, the people making it change the makeup and the scientific build of the product making it legal, but still equally as harmful.”

The substance often claims to be made from natural plant material, but is also sprayed with synthetic cannabis compounds which result in a hallucinations if consumed. Synthetic marijuana first became prevalent in the United States nearly four years ago and since its inception, a majority of the drug's chemical composition has been deemed a Schedule I drug by the DEA.

On July 10, 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 into law on July 10, 2012.

It may not be considered "real" pot, but synthetic marijuana may cause real health problems and have detrimental effects when consumed.

In 2010, 11,406 people were sent to the emergency room after consuming the drug, according to a new report released by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a federal government program branched off of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

DAWN's report showed that one-third of the people who went to the hospital for synthetic marijuana were between the ages of 12 to 17 and another 35 percent were individuals ages 18 to 24.

According to The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) and the experts at America’s 57 poison centers, from Jan. 1, 2012 to Nov. 30, 2012, they received 4,905 calls nationally regarding those being exposed to synthetic marijuana.

North Carolina banned the sale of synthetic marijuana nearly a year ago, and law enforcement officers across the state have since been at war with manufacturers to keep products off the street, while working with the state legislature to prove that newly developed chemical compositions of the drug should also be outlawed.

Earlier this fall, a woman in Jackson County was arrested after stripping off all of her clothes on Main Street and running in the road. The woman admitted to police that she had consumed synthetic marijuana earlier in the day. After an investigation, police were unable to find solid evidence to prosecute the establishment where the product was purchased.

Sheriff Holland stated that whenever his department receives a concern regarding the product being illegally sold, they try to take necessary measures to prove it, but so far have been unsuccessful. “If the opportunity arises where we have enough evidence to support a report, we will prosecute under state law,” said Holland.

According to the Sheriff, proving the product is a compound currently illegal under state and federal law is tremendously difficult. “We have to send off a substance we confiscate to a lab for further testing to prove the chemical compound,” he said. “It is a very lengthy, time and cost consuming process.”

The American Association of Poison Control Centers explains side effects of Synthetic Marijuana

With names like Spice, K2, No More Mr. Nice Guy, and hun dreds of others, the drugs often called “synthetic marijuana” are – in reality – very different from marijuana. They contain powerful chemicals called cannabimimetics and can cause dangerous health effects. The drugs are made specifically to be abused. Like many other illegal drugs, synthetic marijuana is not tested for safety, and users don’t really know exactly what chemicals they are putting into their bodies.

These synthetic drugs can be extremely dangerous and addictive. Health effects from the drug can be life-threatening and can include:

* Severe agitation and anxiety.
* Fast, racing heartbeat and higher blood pressure.
* Nausea and vomiting.
* Muscle spasms, seizures, and tremors.
* Intense hallucinations and psychotic episodes.
* Suicidal and other harmful thoughts and/or actions.

Poison center experts – as well as many federal, state, and local government officials – have called synthetic drug use a risk to the public’s health and a hazard to public safety. Poison centers received nearly 7,000 calls about exposures to these drugs in 2011 alone.

What should you do if someone has used synthetic marijuana?

Call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. Fifty-seven poison centers around the country have experts waiting to answer your call. These experts can help you decide whether someone can be treated at home, or whether he or she must go to a hospital.

Dial 9-1-1 immediately if someone:

* Stops breathing.
* Collapses.
* Has a seizure.

For more information, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. Poison centers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year for poisoning emergencies and for informational calls, too.

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