Homeless people across the nation are proving to be especially susceptible to a new, cheap version of synthetic marijuana, which can lead to various dangerous health complications.
The synthetic marijuana leaves users glassy-eyed, aimless, sprawled on streets, and sidewalks oblivious to their surroundings or wandering into traffic.
Almost 300 homeless people became ill in December of 2016 in St. Louis due to the man-made hallucinogen. Experts believe that it is far more dangerous and unpredictable than actual marijuana. Other outbreaks have occurred in New York City, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.
“It was common for us to see reactions where they were violent, incoherent, sometimes catatonic on the ground,” Austin police Lt. Kurt Thomas said.
Homeless are easy targets because the drug is cheap (as little as $1 or $2 for a joint), more difficult to detect in drug tests and is a fast escape from the harsh realities of life.
Things have gotten so bad in St. Louis, the region’s largest provider of homeless services urged people to stop giving the homeless money, because they were worried it would be used to buy the drug.
The Rev. Larry Rice saw the odd behaviors from multiple homeless people in the streets outside his New Life Evangelistic Center shelter in downtown St. Louis.
Synthetic marijuana has been around since the late 2000s, and it is usually packaged under names like K2, Darkness and Mr. Happy. The Drug Enforcement Administration says it is usually a mixture of herbs and spices sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana. It is typically manufactured in China and sold in places like head shops, but it is also sold on the street and over the internet.
State legislatures have outlawed it based on its chemical makeup, but the makers tweak the formula just enough to escape the provisions of the law.
There are real medical dangers with synthetic marijuana. According to Dr. Anthony Scalzo, director of toxicology for the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, synthetic marijuana can be up to 100 times more potent than real marijuana.
Users often experience rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, anxiety and hallucinations.
130 people were hospitalized during one outbreak in Brooklyn in July, 2016. Witnesses said many of the users were shaking or leaning aimlessly against trees and fire hydrants.
The Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles saw the scourge over a few days in August, when 36 people were treated for overdoses. Some had seizures, while others staggered through traffic or collapsed on curbs.
In Austin, Texas, around 150 homeless people overdosed on synthetic marijuana since August and one death is to blame on the drug. Police and homeless advocates are warning those on the street to avoid the temptation to use these synthetic marijuana drugs.
Ariana Marisol is a contributing staff writer for REALfarmacy.com. She is an avid nature enthusiast, gardener, photographer, writer, hiker, dreamer, and lover of all things sustainable, wild, and free. Ariana strives to bring people closer to their true source, Mother Nature. She graduated The Evergreen State College with an undergraduate degree focusing on Sustainable Design and Environmental Science.