MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 24, 2013

Synthetic marijuana market legal but quiet

— Synthetic marijuana is a growing problem across Oklahoma, and its reach has spread to Muskogee. The product is a dangerous mixture that authorities say can produce a high similar to marijuana. But it can have deadly side effects, causing a number of health problems, ranging from elevated heartbeat to death.

Synthetic marijuana, or “spice,” is a plant-based substance that’s sprayed with chemicals intended to give it a high similar to that of marijuana. It’s sold at a number of privately owned gas stations and head shops in the area — not quite openly, but not entirely secretly either.

“It’s not going to be sitting out on the shelf,” said Ryan Lowe, an investigator in the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office. “But if you go in and ask for it, the clerk will know what you’re talking about.”

Synthetic marijuana products exist in a legal gray area. Some brands are legal to sell because they feature chemical compounds not yet banned. And even those “legal” brands sit in the middle.

“It’s like spray paint,” said Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. “I can go to a store and buy spray paint. But if I say, ‘Will gold or silver spray paint get me high?’ and the clerk says, ‘Yeah, gold is good for that,’ he’s selling it in an illegal manner.”

That’s the reason many of the packages are labeled “not for human consumption,” Lowe said.

“Or they’ll say, ‘Only for use for ages 18-plus,’” he said. “Well, OK, if it’s just potpourri, if it’s just there to smell good, why is it only safe for adults to use it?”

Muskogee County Deputy Jeff Gragg and Lowe have given presentations in schools about the danger of the products.

“What we’ve found is that many teachers and school officials haven’t even heard of the stuff,” Gragg said. “Right now, we’re doing everything we can to get the word out.”

Gragg said kids often think that because the products are sold in the open that they’re safe to use or that because they see a friend enjoying a seemingly safe high, that it’s safe for them, too.

“It affects everyone differently,” he said. “To think that it’s safe in any way, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Because of the way the product is made — the substance itself is regular plant byproduct, the chemicals sprayed on it are what produce the high — some batches are stronger than others.

“They’ll lay it all out, spread it out, and then go over it, spraying it down with the chemicals,” Gragg said. “Well, you’ve sprayed your yard down before, do you do it perfectly even? There are parts that get sprayed more than others.”

Gragg said tests have showed some of the product to be 600 percent stronger than other parts from the same batch.

“And when you get to the hospital, they don’t even know how to treat you, because there’s no telling what chemicals you’ve just put into your body,” he said.

“And believe me, you use this stuff enough, you’ll get put in the hospital.”

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.

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