Synthetic Marijuana Joints Cause Hundreds To Get Sick In St. Louis
Homeless people around the country are at a higher risk to getting seriously sick after using a new cheap version of synthetic cannabis, and this outbreak has been spreading from state to state. The fake version makes users red eyed, have difficulty thinking, and oblivious to traffic and others around them which makes them sprawled out on streets.
Just last November, 300 homeless people in St. Louis got sick from trying fake cannabis. This has also happened in New York, Austin, and LA. According to Lt. Kurt Thomas of Austin police, ““It was common for us to see reactions where they were violent, incoherent, sometimes catatonic on the ground.” In Austin, around 150 people overdosed from synthetic cannabis and one died from it, says Thomas. Homeless advocates as well as police are working to convince the homeless not to take it although this only seemed to be an uphill battle.
The fake version provides a temporary escape from the painful reality of the homeless, who become easy targets. It costs as little as $1 for a joint, and is harder to detect on drug tests. The situation in St. Louis got so bad that homeless service providers had to urge people to stop giving homeless people cash since they were worried that they would use the money to buy synthetic cannabis. Rev. Larry Rice witnessed the weird behavior from homeless people outside New Life Evangelistic Center, a shelter that he established in St. Louis. “They told me, ‘You get so low, you get such a sense of hopelessness. Somebody wants to sell this for a dollar and you take it,'” he said. “People are desperate out there.”
Synthetic cannabis has been around for a long time, with the first few versions being released during the early 2000’s. It’s sold under dubious names like Mr. Happy, K2, and Darkness. Synthetic cannabis is made from a mix of herbs combined with synthetic chemicals that are designed to mimic the effects of THC in users. Most of the supply comes from China and is sold in the streets, gas stations, on the internet, and even in some head shops.
The side effects are serious: high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, and in some cases it impairs thinking so bad that the user may never be able to go back to normal. In 2015, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that there were 20 deaths from 2011 to 2015 which was caused by synthetic cannabis. However these numbers still don’t include deaths caused by overdose. Surviving a hit from synthetic cannabis can also lead to permanent brain damage as well as kidney failure. When people take synthetic cannabis there’s no way to tell what you’re getting.
Last July, there was an outbreak in Brooklyn where 130 victims had to go to a hospital. Michelle Nolan from the New York City Health Department said that emergency room interviews revealed the victims would have preferred to take the real thing and only resorted to the synthetic version so that they wouldn’t get caught in drug tests which could lead to more problems for them specifically about their prohibition and parole status. Nolan also added, ““For individuals still using a psychoactive substance, this afforded them, criminally speaking, fewer risks,” Nolan said.
The solution to this problem is to legalize cannabis completely - people need it as medicine and let’s stop the stigma!