The Scourge of Synthetic Marijuana Descends on Denver

Yellow "caution" tape warns readers of potential danger

For hour after hour ambulance lights sliced through the night in New Haven, Connecticut. Emergency rooms in hospitals just a stone’s throw from the stately halls of Yale University were overwhelmed with victims, many of them vomiting and convulsing. It had all the earmarks of a chemical gas attack. And in an indirect way that’s what it was. But this particular chemical attack didn’t come courtesy of a Scud missile or terrorist’s makeshift explosive device. No. The victims of this chemical attack administered the poison agent to themselves. Its name: K2, synthetic marijuana.

The Wrong Drug at the Wrong Time

Whether you call it Baby J, Atomic Blast, Earth Blend, Ice Dragon, Spice or K2 synthetic marijuana is an idea whose time should never have come. The incident in New Haven was just the most recent calamity visited upon unsuspecting victims by the scourge of make believe weed. Less than a year ago 56 people in Chicago and vicinity were hospitalized after they started coughing up blood, peeing blood and breaking out in spontaneous nosebleeds related to synthetic marijuana. Two of those people died. And just a few years ago right here in Denver, three people died and as many as 75 were hospitalized after smoking synthetic weed. So what is it and how can you avoid it?

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana can trace its origin back some 30 years when a chemist for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals first developed synthetic compounds that would mimic the effects of weed. For years these compounds went unnoticed and unused and were considered little more than chemical curiosities. Then in 2004 a product called “Spice” began to turn up in head shops around Europe. Spice was the result of unknown players getting their hands on those long moldering compound recipes and marketing it as a low cost alternative to cannabis.

By 2008 Spice and scores of imitators had made their way across the North Atlantic, gradually appearing beside smoking devices and accessories on the shelves of head and pipe shops in the US. Once the concept of synthetic weed reached here typically enterprising American types, working under the time honored assumption that there is indeed a sucker born every minute, began doing things like sprinkling rat poison on ground up dead leaves and selling it as synthetic weed.

The FDA Acts

It didn’t take long for FDA to get wind of this new pseudo weed and to use its emergency powers to ban sale of the compounds behind synthetic marijuana. However, entrepreneurial chemists emboldened by the profit potential devised new compounds to take the place of the banned ones. In 2013, the FDA acted again and banned the new versions of these compounds. But, as is usually the case, banning these drugs did little more that enhance interest in them. As a result, more compounds were created and with each succeeding generation their effects became more unpredictable. It wasn’t long before it was hard to tell if it was rat poison on dead leaves causing the mass meltdowns or offshoots of the original chemical compounds created to get around FDA sanctions.

So How Can You Spot Synthetic Weed?

While everyone here at 710 Pipes is all for a high quality buzz we’re also dead set against unscrupulous scumbags poisoning the unsuspecting. So here are a few ways you can identify fake weed before you make the mistake of stuffing some in your new vaporizer and wind up wandering the streets like a character from the Walking Dead.

Bottle of toxic, synthetic green substance with skull-shaped printed warning label and cloud of noxious orange fumes

  • It doesn’t look like weed – Spice – or whatever name it’s being sold under – doesn’t look like marijuana. Almost all real weed is sold in bud form. There’s really nothing else that looks like it on earth. Synthetic weed by comparison is a chemical blend (either the aforementioned lab created compounds or rat poison, Drano or some other abomination) that is sprayed onto a bunch of dead plant material.
  • It doesn’t smell like weed – The rich, musky odor of freshly hewn marijuana is unmistakable. Familiarize yourself with the smell before you ever purchase a cannabis product. If you don’t know anyone who has some legal weed ask someone at your local head shop if they can help you out. Once you know what the real thing smells like you’ll be able to wave off anyone trying to sell you synthetic garbage. Keep in mind too that weasels sometimes try and fool you by selling their junk already wrapped up in rolling papers so you can’t see what you’re buying.
  • It’s being offered by someone you’ve never met – At the time of this article’s publication there are more than 100 outlets, smoke shops, and/or head shops in Denver near me where weed can be purchased legally by just flashing a driver’s license and forking over the cash. That means the days of having to follow strangers down dark alleys to procure some buds are over. Or at least they should be. If somebody you’ve never met approaches you while you’re walking down Colfax or across campus at DU and offers to sell you some great shit at discount prices give them a polite “no thanks” and keep walking.
  • The Bottom Line

    Synthetic weed is bad news waiting to happen. Those of us at 710 Pipes urge you to enlighten yourself about what to look for and how to identify it before you wind up in the emergency room or worse. Our expert smoke shop team is here seven days a week to help you choose the best options for smart rigs, pipes and accessories – and to help you stay safe by steering clear of dangerous synthetic compounds like Spice.