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Jacksonville Health Professionals Warn of Fake Marijuana, Called K2, on First Coast

6:01 PM, Aug 2, 2010   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It looks like marijuana, but authorities say it is odorless and it is legal. 

"That doesn't mean it is safe. Legal doesn't mean it is safe," said Dr. Jay Schauben. 

It's also cheap, undetectable by a standard drug test and sold under a number of names like Zombie, Blaze and K2. The synthetic marijuana is becoming a real concern for health professionals. 

"Ultimately, it could cause death," said Dr. Keecia King, of the Duval Health Department. "We have seen a few hospitalizations, 13 cases in Florida."

Nationwide, fake pot is generating an increase in calls to Poison Control Centers.

"What we're finding is individuals who are using, are getting side effects and adverse effects you would not expect from marijuana, such as panic attacks, agitation, hypertension, hallucinations, and just passing out," said Dr. Jay Schauben, who runs the Florida Poison Information Center at Shands.

On July Fourth, "John," 25, who wants to remain anonymous, said his friends introduced him to fake pot is a  package labeled Zombie.

"It is not something I usually do, but this stuff is legal so (I gave) it a try," he said. 

John's age group is described by experts as the typical K2 user: college students and high schoolers, attracted to it partly because it is undetectable in standard drug tests.

"I think the issue here is safety. I think you need to have a one- on-one conversation and stress the point that legal does not mean safe," Schauben said. 

But if it is so dangerous, why is it legal? He said it is marketed as an incense and labeled not for human consumption.

"If you mark it, 'not for human consumption' you get around the FDA," said Schauben. 

He said the problem is the synthetic cannabinoids added to dry leaves vary in strength from package to package. 

"You are playing Russian roulette; you don't know what is going to be in the bag today, tomorrow or next week," he said. 

John said he used the synthetic marijuana because he knew it was undetectable in a drug test and he's looking for a job. He described his experience as disappointing. "It was a little bit odd, nothing spectacular," he said. 

But he said it was enough to put an end to his days of smoking synthetic marijuana.

It already has been banned in European countries, and now several states are taking action to get it off store shelves. "There are a number of states that are looking into putting this on a list that would be banned for sale," said Schauben.

Florida is not one of those states, but state Sen. Stephen Wise, who has only just learned about synthetic marijuana and its potential danger, wants to ban the sale of the product.

"My plan is...my staff is going to put together a bill and try to find a House sponsor to make it illegal," said Wise, who plans to introduce a bill banning the sale of synthetic marijuana in the next Florida legislative session.

MORE: Coverage of K2

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