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The District recently set its sights on addressing the distribution of synthetic marijuana that is apparently beginning to plague the streets. This fake pot mimics in various ways the effect of marijuana and due to its unpredictable effects on their users, is considered dangerous.

According to the White House, synthetic drugs, which are sold under names like K2, Spice, Bizaro or Scooby Snax, were first documented in this country in 2008, and since then, because of their relative ease of possession and inexpensive price tag, have become a problem for jurisdictions across the country. There is, however, no Federal statute that forbids these drugs from being distributed or used, so separate states have to make their own legislation to control the substance.

As of July 10, D.C. joined that fight with Mayor Muriel Bowser signing legislation that would enforce harsh penalties on businesses caught selling these synthetic drugs.

But is this overkill?

The long-term and short-term health effects of these synthetic substances are still undetermined because the various forms of these synthetic drugs are growing so rapidly. However, reactions to the drugs can include violent behavior and convulsions, hallucinations, high blood pressure, kidney disease, etc.

According to news reports, the Metropolitan Police Department and Bowser associate the city’s spike in crime to synthetic drugs usage. They have been described as a potential contributing factor in the murder of an American University graduate on the District’s metro system earlier this month. Synthetic drugs are also blamed for significant brain damage to a Houston teen in 2013.

But, what is really known about the effects of synthetic drug use?

In an effort to unlock part of the mystery, the AFRO questioned medical professionals on synthetic drugs (See article on D1). They said that the drug has intense brain altering side effects, but there is still much to learn on the ways synthetic drugs affect the human mind and body. However, it appears that in spite of the incomplete understanding surrounding the effects of these drugs, the early prognosis on these drugs is indeed not good. They appear to be dangerously harmful.

What should the community do?

It appears that numbers of school-age D.C children, who could purchase the unregulated drug at neighborhood stores, made up a large segment of the users of these synthetic drugs when they first appeared available. However, news reports are now finding that since the use of these unregulated drugs is arguably not illegal, many incarcerated individuals upon their release are using the drugs in order to avoid violating their parole restrictions. It has also been reported that, since these drugs became illegal to sell in stores, its distribution has increased on the D.C. streets.

With the increase in illegal sales, the community needs to become more aware of these potentially harmful synthetic drugs. Stores caught selling the product will be in for a hefty fine and other business damaging repercussions.

The AFRO cautions residents from using the drugs, because the health effects seem to be worse (both physically and mentally) than using the real substance, which is now legal in small quantities in the District.