Morning Update: Here's What You Need To Know About Synthetic Marijuana

A deep dive into synthetic marijuana and announcing our newest podcast. Your BuzzFeed News newsletter, August 20.

We aren’t talking about synthetic marijuana enough

Last week, at least 76 people overdosed in a New Haven, Connecticut, park. The overdoses happened over 36 hours.

That number is startling.

The drug they overdosed on isn’t getting enough attention. The overdoses are believed to have happened after people used a drug commonly known as synthetic marijuana that was laced with fentanyl.

The local police chief said that a sample sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration for testing had shown the drug was just synthetic marijuana, but they had sent more samples and were awaiting additional tests. At least 72 people who overdosed were taken to local hospitals, but there were no fatalities.

Part of a pattern

Here’s the thing: This wasn’t the first outbreak associated with synthetic cannabinoids. Earlier this year, Chicago experienced a fake weed–related outbreak of illnesses in which 164 people were affected. At least three people died in that outbreak.

In Chicago’s case, the fake weed was contaminated with a rat poison. Three people were arrested in connection with that incident.

What are we dealing with here?

Synthetic cannabinoids are also known as synthetic marijuana or fake weed, or by brand names like K2 and Spice. They contain an artificial chemical that is sprayed on dried plants so it can be smoked. They can also be sold as a liquid, to be used in a vaporizer.

Why is weed being dragged into this? The chemicals are called cannabinoids because they mimic chemicals found in marijuana, but they don't actually have much in common with cannabis.

Is fake weed legal?

No. It’s illegal but it’s often sold in convenience stores, smoke shops, gas stations, and online. In addition to K2 and Spice, some of its other names are Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, Genie, and Zohai.

People who sell it try to get around the regulation by labeling it “not for human consumption.”

What else do I need to know?

Well, unlike plant-based cannabis, the side effects of synthetic cannabinoids can be severe, and include kidney damage, muscle damage, seizures, and the need for antipsychotic medication. That’s intense.

One expert we talked to said, “Whatever you think about plant cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids are definitely medically and psychiatrically dangerous.”


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This letter was edited and brought to you by Elamin Abdelmahmoud and BuzzFeed News. You can always reach us here.

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