New Hampshire and Massachusetts are facing a growing crisis of synthetic marijuana abuse and overdose. New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan recently declared a public health emergency after dozens of people ended up in the emergency room, made ill by the synthetic drugs. Last week, nine people in Manchester, New Hampshire, overdosed in one night.
Known by names like “Spice” and “K2,” the synthetic drugs are usually a mixture of herbs and spices sprayed with synthetic compounds. The drug is marketed as a safer version of marijuana, but studies have shown that synthetic cannabinoids are much more potent than marijuana.
Samantha Nolte, program manager of Phoenix House Academy in Dublin, New Hampshire, says that Phoenix House clinicians have encountered many kids who are using the drugs and experiencing symptoms of psychosis, one of the drug’s side effects. The psychotic symptoms can make it difficult to determine if the users have underlying mental health issues or are experiencing the temporary effects of the drug.
“I think it’s a serious danger because kids are often using the synthetic drugs along with other substances,” Nolte says, adding that the drugs are easily accessible and popular with kids who are on probation because drug tests may not detect them.
The drugs are a national problem, and other states have faced overdoses and regulation quandaries as well. Across the country, states have seen overdoses that lead to vomiting, hallucinations, and sometimes death. In July, over a dozen New York City residents were hospitalized after using the drug. The parents of Connor Eckhardt, a 19-year-old who died after overdosing on synthetic marijuana, are now trying to prevent similar deaths.
Synthetic marijuana is extremely difficult to regulate because its manufacturers simply adjust the chemical formula to comply with the latest law and then continue selling the substance legally. Most states have banned synthetic cannabinoids and the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies the drugs as a controlled substance. New Hampshire has not yet banned the compounds but is now considering legislation to do so. In Worcester, Mass., officials have called for a ban on K2. Officials in Oklahoma are also trying to address the problem, which has led to impaired driving and car crashes in the state.