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Synthetic marijuana has serious side effects

Contributing Writer

Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013

Updated: Sunday, February 10, 2013 15:02

Synthetic marijuana

Susannah Bryan/MCT Campus

Synthetic marijuana, sold in colorful packages with names such as Cloud Nine and Maui Wowie, sits behind a glass counter at a Kwik Stop in Hollywood.

It comes in different shapes, sizes, flavors, names and catchy packaging, yet “fake weed” poses many health risks to its users.

Danger looms with the use of synthetic marijuana that can be easily purchased at local shops, though state legislature outlaws it from containing certain chemicals.

The average age of young adults who use synthetic marijuana is 24.

Megan Pabian at UCF Health Services said she has not seen many students complaining of side effects from synthetic marijuana, but advises students to stay away from it. Pabian noted that one doctor at UCF Health Services said, “I would hope that our students are smarter than to use products of this nature.”

There is a statewide ban on 22 specific chemicals that make synthetic marijuana products illegal. People selling or in possession of synthetic marijuana that contains the banned chemicals can be arrested and charged with a violation of illegal substance laws, Jeff Williamson, public information officer at the Orange County Sheriffs Office, said. However, drug manufactures have been clever in changing the active ingredients and labeling the product as incense to undercut state laws and continue distribution of their products.

It’s not as easy to purchase the synthetic marijuana as it used to be in the UCF area after Florida banned many of the active chemicals these products contain; however, there are still local shops peddling the products.

Some local smoke shops, such as Climax Smoke Shop, have removed all the synthetic products from their shelves and have not carried them for more than a year. Other nearby smoke shops, including Mystic, still carry synthetic marijuana products. This is legal as long as the synthetic products do not contain the banned chemicals.

There is a substantial health risk involved with using synthetic marijuana. Using “fake weed” can cause vomiting, heart palpitations, seizures, violent outbursts and psychotic episodes, Pabian said.

“It’s way more intense than weed and it made me throw up," senior health services administration major Cory Lobkovich said. “I felt physically different and out of control. Me and my friends refer to it as spice tripping.”

Lobkovich has tried synthetic marijuana but said he would never use it again.

“My brother has been in the hospital several times from using it,” he said.

Opinions about the substance vary among students.

Matt Barnes, a sophomore engineering major, said buying natural marijuana seems to have lesser consequences than synthetic marijuana.

“I do not smoke and I do not know where to buy it, but marijuana on the street seems more trustworthy than the synthetic marijuana.”

The OCSO is actively investigating the sale of illegal synthetic products and has not seen a large amount of the illegal products in stores. Lt. Mike Rosier of the criminal investigations division said officers are also carrying field test kits so they are able to identify the products when they encounter them.

In Seminole County, law enforcement officials have visited more than 350 local retailers that sell synthetic marijuana and have warned them to remove products with the banned chemicals. Seminole County has even offered to safely dispose of the banned products. No criminal action was taken with the warning visits, but officials have vowed to take criminal action if the stores continue to sell banned chemicals.

The UCF Police Department has not seen an epidemic of synthetic-drug-related crimes on campus but are on the lookout for the substance.

“The Police Department’s No. 1 concern is for the safety of our students. If there are violations of state law, we can make an arrest or file charges against an individual. We would prefer for our students to be educated about the serious medical health issues that synthetic marijuana can inflict,” said officer Pete Stephens with the UCF PD.

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