Montgomery County Councilmembers on Thursday will discuss the increase of so-called synthetic marijuana among teens and what, if anything, the county should do about it.
Synthetic marijuana, or “synthetic cannabinoids,” as described by the state law that makes it illegal, is made of chemical substances that are not derived from the marijuana plant but are designed to affect the body in ways similar to THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Synthetic cannabinoids are typically sprayed onto plant material and marketed under names such as “Spice” or “K2.”
The popularity and availability of these substances has grown since 2000, which has raised concerns because health experts say the products can mean longer and more detrimental psychological effects than marijuana and lead to acute kidney injury.
Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services identified 170 emergency department visits in 2011 in the county as a result of K2 use or other similar poisoning cases.
K2 was officially declared illegal in Maryland last summer after President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 last July.
According to state law, “criminal enforcement of the sale and possession of these substances has been challenging, since manufacturers can elude legal bans on products by making slight changes to their chemical structures.”
Officials from the county’s Health and Human Services Department and the Montgomery County Police will brief Councilmembers on K2 and Spice trends in Montgomery.
The Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committees want to know how many arrests police make related to synthetic marijuana and how they find retailers who sell it. The Council is also asking for recommendations from both departments about actions it can take to curb its use.
HHS prepared information for the Thursday hearing that said testing for K2 could be increased. But it is costly. HHS does test for K2 among clients of its Adult Drug Court program with special funding from the justice system. It began the testing in 2010 and said about 10 percent of the participants tested positive for the substance.
HHS says that number has dropped to less than one percent of Drug Court clients.
There aren’t many places around the country that test for K2, HHS reported. HHS sends its samples to a lab in California at a cost of $30 per test.
HHS also recommended the county and MCPS should expand its prevention activities to make parents and students more aware of synthetic marijuana abuse in their communities.