November 9, 2011
By SUZANNA LOURIE
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Officials say a dangerous national trend is catching on in and around Saratoga County: synthetic marijuana. It’s perfectly legal, but its dangers are very real.
About three weeks ago, Saratoga Springs High School Resource Officer Lloyd Davis caught several students skipping school. He brought the students back to school and while searching one student Davis discovered the student had a small green package of “herbal incense” called Supernova.
It was herbal incense, Davis discovered, a synthetic mixture of plant materials and unregulated chemical compounds that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“That’s when it first came to my attention,” Davis said at a Saratoga Partnership for Prevention meeting Wednesday. “We asked — what is this? And he explained it’s something he gets high off and it’s completely legal and that he bought it at a shop in Saratoga.”
Marketed as herbal incense or herbal smoking blends, synthetic marijuana is called by a variety of street names including Wicked X, Posh, K2 and Thunder. These artificial marijuana products actually have 4 to 5 times the potency of marijuana, causing intense and dangerous side effects including hallucinations, anxiety, vomiting, heart failure and even death.
On Wednesday, Davis shared his concerns about synthetic marijuana with Partnership members including representatives from the Saratoga Springs High School, the Saratoga Springs Recreation Center, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Four Winds Hospital.
“This is just like kids sucking chemicals into their body and possibly having hallucinations or seizures — there’s no gray area on this,” Maureen Cary, of the Prevention Council, said.
Smoking herbal incense can cause harmful health effects and erratic, even dangerous behavior, and those side-effects have been seen in communities across the Capital District recently.
Several weeks ago, a 15-year-old Whitehall girl was treated at Glens Falls Hospital after having an adverse reaction to smoking herbal incense. Police also say a man was high on synthetic marijuana when he beat a 7-week-old child, landing the infant in Albany Medical Center.
Police in Glens Falls, Queensbury and Fort Edward are investigating a series of burglaries and break-ins at stores that carry herbal incense.
In Saratoga Springs, one local shop owner chose to remove synthetic marijuana from her store altogether.
Theresa Sheffer, owner of Smoke & Fire, a tobacco accessories shop on Caroline Street, noticed strange addictive behavior in her herbal incense customers — just one of the reasons she stopped selling “fake weed” in October 2010.
“Every time I would show up for work there were people waiting for herbal incense and it made me feel uncomfortable — it was an addiction almost like crack or cocaine — they were obsessed,” Sheffer said. It was a costly decision. Packages of herbal incense don’t come cheap — 3-gram packages can sell for up to $25.
“We started learning about it and what they were finding in the products. We made a lot of money off it, but at what expense? Do we need to make money if it’s hurting our customers?” Sheffer said.
Some other local head shops still carry brands of herbal incense, though.
Before Wednesday’s Partnership for Prevention meeting, Cary visited several of these shops to find out where the product was being sold and discuss with the owners the possibility of not selling herbal incense if there were a community-wide agreement.
Synthetic marijuana is currently available in Saratoga Springs at the Getty station on Church Street and Smoke n’ Save in Congress Plaza. But, Cary says at least one shop owner seemed agreeable to pulling the product if other local stores do the same.
Though they don’t have a solid plan as to how they would approach local government, the Partnership agreed something needs to be done in the community to help make parents — and kids — aware of herbal incense and its dangers.
“This looks like a package of candy or gum. If I saw this on my son’s desk I wouldn’t think twice,” a concerned parent said at Wednesday’s meeting.
In addition to being legal — even for kids younger than 18 — herbal incense is fruity and sweet-smelling. It has been popular among people on probation because it does not show up in drug screening.