Dr. Neil Capretto said one patient who came into Gateway Rehabilitation called the synthetic pot he was smoking “like marijuana on steroids.”
—often packaged as incense and labeled “not fit for human consumption”—Capretto, Gateway’s medical director, said the use of such “designer drugs” is on the rise.
It’s not just in Washington County, either—although Capretto said he’s treated plenty of patients from the area.
“It’s everywhere,” the doctor said. “It’s through most of the country now.”
And it’s getting worse, he said.
Right now, he said there are 140 different versions of synthetic marijuana, and each has its own “tweaked” version of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol—or THC—the active ingredient in the drug.
The concept is based of research done in the 1990s by a scientist who was working to create a synthetic form of the drug for legitimate reasons, trying to mimic the relaxation and sedation effects of marijuana.
But Capretto said the doctor later abandoned the research because the synthetic version was similar “but much, much more potent.”
How much more?
“It was two to 10 times more potent,” Capretto said, adding that the potency causes much more extreme effects—including hallucinations and loss of motor-coordination skills.
Generally smoked, the products sold and seized at local shops come mostly from China, where makers spray the drug on plant material, and market it as incense or potpourri.
“It’s like, ‘Wink, wink,” but everyone knows,” Capretto said. “This is some very potent, dangerous stuff.”
And while the drugs have made its way into many circles, the doctor said it’s use it most common in two groups.
The first group includes people between the ages of 18 and 30.
The other group? People in the legal system or a work environment that requires regular drug testing.
Capretto said that while technology is advancing, it’s difficult to screen for the drug because its make-up is slightly different from traditional THC.
“So you pass your drug test,” Capretto said.
He asked parents and members of the community to be vigilant—and not assume that the name “synthetic marijuana” or the fact it can be found in convenience stores and gas stations are signs it is safe to consume.
And he said he thinks the stores—which he said have made as much as $100,000 a year selling the synthetic marijuana also known also as K2 or K3—should be held accountable.
“We have to hold their feet to the fire,” Capretto said.