Pro: Synthetic marijuana carries unknown risks

Sept. 5, 2010 at 4:05 a.m.

The unknowns of herbal incenses, otherwise known as synthetic marijuana, spark worry among drug officials.

"It's definitely something to be concerned about. It's not FDA approved, and there's no consistency or control in the manufacturing process," said Gary Boggs, executive director of the Drug Enforcement Agency's Office of Diversion Control. "You really don't know what you're taking."

When synthetic marijuana first started appearing in the U.S. about a year ago, Boggs said concern arose among the DEA about the unregulated ingredients of the products, which are often not listed on the packages, as well as its improper usage.

"It's widely not used as an incense. It's rolled up and smoked by young adults and teens," Boggs said.

Although synthetic marijuana is still relatively new, some scientific observations have been made about its effects on users.

Despite some knowledge of the potential effects, officials are still largely in the dark about fake pot.

"We don't know what we don't know," said Boggs.

The process of classifying chemicals as a controlled substance is two-fold, said Boggs, who said the DEA is in the process of looking at the chemicals that compose synthetic marijuana.

First, an A-Factor analysis must be conducted by the DEA.

Secondly, the Department of Health and Human Services has to analyze any mental or physical effects of the drug.

There are no widely known advocacy groups for synthetic marijuana. Although herbal incenses are legal in several places, including Victoria, it still sits in a legal gray area.

"With this drug, you can go to work, sit in your car, get impaired and possibly hurt someone," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML. "Insurance and law enforcement wouldn't really be able to prove you were high on an illegal drug."

St. Pierre said NORML does not take any side on the issue of banning.

Jerry Epstein, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, said law enforcement officials' plans to ban fake pot is a usual reaction to new products of this nature.

"A certain amount of exaggeration happens when a new drug comes around," said Epstein. "The typical answer is ban it until they know more."

He continued, "The law is an expression of an attitude."

Many drug advocacy groups view marijuana homologs as a new fad that will eventually die down with or without banning.

"Usually these things are pretty faddish," said Epstein.

"It's new and unknown, therefore, it immediately catches the attention of law enforcement," said St. Pierre, who described the herbal incense as "just a street drug that's remotely related to cannabis."

Epstein, along with many others, think the rise of marijuana homologs can be attributed to the prohibition of marijuana.

"The uncertainties are a function of banning marijuana," said Epstein. "New products arise that would not normally arise in a regulated market."



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