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article imageHomeless have become targets for synthetic marijuana sellers

By Karen Graham     Dec 17, 2016 in Health
Our country's homeless have proven to be especially vulnerable to a new, synthetic marijuana making the rounds on city streets. There is only one problem —this stuff leaves the smoker so far out in left field that they have no idea where they are.
Synthetic marijuana has been around since the mid to late 2000s. It has been packaged under names like Spice, K2, Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, or Mr. Happy. Regardless of what the drug is called, it's a designed drug and is chemically different from the chemicals in cannabis, but is sold with the claim that it will give the user a high similar to marijuana.
And while it's taken as a matter of fact that the real thing, marijuana, is getting more potent — probably because of specialty bred, designer strains — the garbage the nation's homeless have been getting on the streets the last few months is best described as "mind-melting" and extremely dangerous.
The synthetic product, typically manufactured in China, leaves the user glassy-eyed and often in a stupor or sometimes aimlessly wandering around bumping into things. Sometimes victims have been found sprawled on the sidewalk or in the middle of the street.
This latest hallucinogenic product is really dirt-cheap, costing only a dollar or two for a joint. ABC News points out that the homeless are being targeted because they are usually found in a confined area, and basically, most of these people are in desperate straits.
In St. Louis last month, almost 300 homeless people became ill because of the man-made hallucinogen that experts believe is more dangerous than the real thing. Outbreaks have also occurred in New York City, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.
The New York outbreak occurred in July this year in Brooklyn. Police and first responders had to deal with over 130 people reduced to doing little more than staggering around in the streets with blank stares on their faces. The New England Journal of Medicine reported the event and created quite an uproar when they referred to the victims as "zombies."
"It was common for us to see reactions where they were violent, incoherent, sometimes catatonic on the ground," Austin police Lt. Kurt Thomas said.
The medical dangers are very real with synthetic marijuana use, and cannot be downplayed. Dr. Anthony Scalzo, director of toxicology for the Saint Louis University School of Medicine says synthetic hallucinogens can be as much as 100 times more potent than marijuana, and quite often, the chemicals used to create that "high" have never been tested in humans.
As an example, in the Brooklyn event, investigators discovered the chemical in the synthetic marijuana joints was something called AB-FUBINACA. It was developed by Pfizer in 2009 as an analgesic medication but was never tested on humans. In 2012, AB FUBINACA popped up as an ingredient in synthetic cannabis blends in Japan, along with a related compound AB-PINACA which had not previously been reported.
The two compounds have never been studied in humans and scientists can only go on anecdotal evidence by people who have used the drug. But the list of effects and adverse effects is long, based on what users have said. Particularly worrisome is the use of the chemicals in people who are suffering depression or have a predisposition to psychosis.
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