NEW YORK (MainStreet) Connor Eckhardt reportedly inhaled one hit of a marijuana alternative called Spice and fell into a coma. The 19-year-old was declared brain dead after four days on life support. Although tests at the hospital did not detect Spice in his young blood stream, Eckhardt still had a packet in his pocket.
"People are coming up with new synthetic drugs almost daily and young people think it's safer or that they can get away with it but synthetic marijuana is more potent than marijuana with a similar high and side effects that are much worse," said Dr. Damon Raskin, medical director with Cliffside Malibu, an addiction treatment facility in California.
Synthetic cannabinoids, created by human beings in a laboratory, are substances with chemical properties similar to Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the mind altering ingredient that grows naturally in a marijuana plant. The chemicals are sprayed on leaves or potpourri and when smoked or boiled into a tea the combination mimics the effects of marijuana.
"There are 5 different compounds that can be found in it but we don't know exactly what they are," Raskin told MainStreet. "Synthetic marijuana is dangerous because the chemicals are 100% more potent than just plain old THC. We are seeing more emergency room visits from teens who have high blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures and heart attacks related to the use of Spice."
Since mid-August some 44 people have reportedly overdosed on the substance with 20 hospitalized in Manchester, New Hampshire alone.
"We strongly recommend that merchants who have similar products remove them from their shelves and destroy their current inventory," said Attorney General Joseph Foster.
The overdoses from synthetic marijuana so concerned the Governor of New Hampshire that she declared a state of emergency just last week.
"These products pose a serious threat to public health especially to young people and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to combat the recent rash of overdoses," said Governor Maggie Hassan. "I have declared a state of emergency so that we can move quickly to stop the sale of this dangerous substance that has caused an outbreak of serious overdoses."
The declaration enables the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate, isolate, quarantine and destroy the man-made drug.
"It's made by the same people who make meth amphetamines, crystal meth and ecstasy," said Raskin. "These individuals and cartels are in business to make money from drugs."
Synthetic marijuana was legally sold in head shops, convenience stores and gas stations under the brand name "potpourri" until it was banned two years ago. Currently, synthetic marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug.
"These substances are now illegal in the U.S., but you can still get it online," said Raskin.
While not related to the recent overdoses, samples of at least two other brands of synthetic cannabinoids called Crazy Monkey and Green Giant have tested positive for controlled substances.
--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet