Editorial: Synthetic marijuana has very real risks
While the ballot battle for and against medical marijuana grinds ever closer to a conclusion, the debate has turned to synthetic cannabis.
Proposition 203 still is undecided - with 50.12 percent (790,468 votes) against and 49.88 percent (786,834) in favor. The difference is 3,634 votes, as of Tuesday morning, with an estimated 30,000 early ballots and slightly fewer than 59,000 provisional ballots statewide that are yet to be processed and counted, according to the Secretary of State's website. (Only a difference of 200 or fewer votes would trigger a recount, and no provision exists in state law allowing one side or the other to demand a recount.)
In Tuesday's newspaper, we reported that police are seeing more and more teenagers using an over-the-counter product generically known as "spice." Its politically correct label is "incense" or an "herbal smoking blend." It's better known as synthetic cannabis - an herbal and chemical product that mimics the effects of marijuana.
Unfortunately, no official studies have been conducted on spice's effects on humans. Though its effects are not well-documented, extremely large doses can cause negative results that are generally not noted in marijuana users, such as increased agitation and vomiting, which the Courier's report noted. A 2009 study in Europe reported a wide range - a single patient exhibiting withdrawal symptoms, and another, psychosis.
With the jury still out on medical marijuana and full legalization of pot - a natural, non-synthetic product - likely years away, the prudent thing for lawmakers to do is ban sale of spice products in the state of Arizona.
Many countries in Europe have already banned synthetic marijuana, which first appeared in the European market in 2004 before spreading across the Atlantic, according to The Associated Press. Spice still is legal in Canada. Earlier this year, Kansas became the first state to outlaw spice. Similar laws are under consideration in Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah. However, after several incidents at military bases in Japan, the U.S. government has banned the use of spice in all U.S. armed forces.
Short of banning it, lawmakers should treat it like other products that youth use incorrectly, such as huffing paint vapors, by requiring photo ID for purchase of the product. You would have to be an adult to buy it and make the decision to use it. But that doesn't always work either: A 28-year-old Indiana mother died in August after smoking a spice product, according to Fox News.
The bottom line is the very telling conclusion from Professor John W. Huffman, who first synthesized many of the cannabinoids used in synthetic cannabis. He told CBS News in February, "People who use it are idiots. ... You don't know what it's going to do to you."