In an eleven hour period back in July, thirty-three different people collapsed on the sidewalks of Brooklyn due to overdosing on synthetic marijuana (aka K2 or spice). The high number of hospitalizations in such a short period of time was especially alarming, and in turn raised critical questions across the country about the safety of this somehow legal substance.
Earlier this week, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study based on blood and urine samples from eight of the victims that were hospitalized on that fateful day. According to the report, the drug was identified as the synthetic cannabinoid AMB-FUBINACA, originally developed by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
The research shows that these synthetic cannabinoids have a completely different chemical structure in comparison to plant-based THC. In fact, the drug responsible for the overdoses in Brooklyn, AK-47 24 Karat Gold, was found to be 85 times as potent as the THC found in marijuana.
This highly potent drug left multiple people collapsed within a few blocks of one another, “all of whom had a degree of altered mental status that was described by bystanders as ‘zombielike.’” The synthetic marijuana has since been pulled off of the shelves in Brooklyn (as well as in many other states), but that doesn’t mean that the streets will now be safe from this dangerous substance.
This type of synthetic drug is usually developed in Chinese labs based on some kind of research, but are not regulated and are oftentimes difficult to remove from circulation. According to the report, these substances are growing increasingly powerful and contain new chemical compounds, meaning that even more dangerous concoctions may find their way to the market.
While the New England Journal of Medicine’s research doesn’t really account for the illegality of plant-based cannabis, it’s obvious that the natural substance is much safer and provides a less “zombielike” mental state.
All in all, it’s unfortunate that these dangerous synthetic drugs seem harder to prohibit than cannabis, which as we all know, has never directly led to a drug overdose or death.