Some Minnesota Schools Target Synthetic Marijuana
It can be made to look like tobacco, herbal incense or a typical baking spice. But it packs twice as much of the active ingredient in marijuana, and the side effects can be life-threatening. Synthetic marijuana is legal for all ages and typically sold as an incense. Officials are seeing more of it in St. Cloud- area schools. Several Minnesota cities have banned the substance, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plans to temporarily control five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana. But St. Cloud school district chemical health counsellor Dan Becker said that isn't enough, because people who make synthetic marijuana can just create a new chemical recipe to get around a ban.
Becker has become the area's expert on synthetic marijuana. In his small office at McKinley Area Learning Centre, he has dozens of packages of synthetic marijuana that have been taken from students. "A year ago you couldn't find it anywhere," Becker said. But now synthetic marijuana can be purchased in local shops and online. Becker said the use of the substance has expanded quickly because it's so easy to buy on the Internet. Users describe switching from marijuana to synthetic marijuana as like switching from Coke to Diet Coke. The first time they use it, they can get sick or just dislike it.
"It's an acquired taste," Becker said. But once users get used to it, they never go back to marijuana, he said. The buzz is stronger, it's cheaper, and it's more accessible. It's also difficult for parents to detect. The substance doesn't have a scent; some manufacturers mix it with fragrances such as strawberry or cookies and cream. "How can marijuana compete with that?" Becker said. Every maker is his or her own chemist, mixing different chemicals to get the effects they want, Becker said. Then those combined chemicals are mixed with an organic substance so it can be smoked.
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