New breed of weed
During the middle of the summer, Towson University junior Bill, who requested to not have his real name revealed, was caught with drug paraphernalia in his car. It’s a charge worthy of a fine, potential prison time and if kept on his record, could hinder future employment opportunities. Bill was able to negotiate having the charge stricken from his record as long as he would take drug classes for a year and have his urine tested regularly during that time.
Bill has been clean for more than two months, at least, according to his drug tests. But a new popular substance has allowed him to beat the system that only tests for Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active substance found in marijuana.
“It’s not really cheating the test, because what you’re doing is legal,” Bill said. “But it just feels so weird because you’re like, ‘I’m holding the bowl, it’s got green herbs in it and I’m smoking it.’ And it’s weird to think what I’m doing is 100 percent legal. And I’m getting high from it and there’s nothing the cops can do. It’s just weird.”
Bill is one of many young adults who have taken the legal route to getting high, or at least what used to be legal. JWH, a synthetic cannabinoid, is available in more than five chemical forms and produces effects similar to THC.
Monday, Oct. 4, the Baltimore County Council unanimously voted legislation that bans the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana products, specifically K2, a potpourri blend that contains JWH. Other potpourri blends with names like K3, Red Dot, Spice, Funky Monkey and Game Over, which contain varying potencies of the chemical, are still available in stores around Maryland.
Sponsored by democratic county executive candidate councilman Kevin Kamenetz, the new bill states that anyone attempting to sell, distribute and/or possess K2 and other products that mimic marijuana will face a $500 fine, 60 days in jail or both.
“As a parent, I am keenly aware of our government’s responsibility to protect children and families. Baltimore County is a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family, and I am very pleased that a group of concerned mothers in the Catonsville area brought this issue to my attention,” Kamenetz said on his campaign website.
Owners of Towson head shops Elevation Underground and The Other Side said they have not sold the synthetic marijuana. Geoff Gentry, owner of Elevation Underground, has been in the head shop industry since 1995 and has never seen such an explosion with a new product.
“It’s like spice merchants gone wild,” he said.
Gentry said he doesn’t sell the product in his store and is against it because there’s no regulatory system in place to determine what people are putting into the substance.
“People are subjecting their bodies to something we don’t know a lot about,” he said. “My job is to hurt people’s wallets, not their health.”
Towson junior John, who also requested no to have his real name revealed, smokes JWH regularly and has talked with Gentry about the substance’s effects.
“He was kind of against it because ‘People don’t know what’s in it … it burns up your lungs,’” John said of Gentry. “I’m like, ‘It burns up my lungs just as much as weed.’ I haven’t been coughing up blood or anything.”
JWH was invented 15 years ago in the laboratory of John W. Huffman, a research and organic chemistry professor at Clemson University. The goals of creating such a substance were to explore potential new pharmaceutical drugs for nausea, glaucoma and appetite stimulants, as well as study the way receptors in the brain react to cannabis. In a May 24 article in USA Today, Huffman said if consumed, his creation could be harmful.
“It shouldn’t be out there,” he said.
The first experience Bill and John had wasn’t as positive as their usual reaction to marijuana. They smoked together after Bill bought the drug in its pure form, a white powder, from a dealer who was out of his usual ware.
“We sprinkled it all onto this blunt and it was way more than we should’ve done and we lost our minds,” John said. “It was at night in the woods and we just sat there for three hours. I thought I was dying, but it turned out alright.”
A friend of Bill and John’s told them later he had an out-of-body experience when smoking the substance and saw himself floating over his own body. In research Bill did online, he read stories of JWH smokers who heard voices and hallucinated images of angels and demons.
Bill and John began buying regularly from a head shop in Bel Air. A gram of Red Dot costs $8, much less expensive than how much they regularly spend on marijuana.
“I just smoke because it’s convenient, you can just buy it at the store,” John said. “With weed you’ve got to actually find a dealer and stuff, you’ve got to meet him on his time. I’m too lazy to do that. You just go to the store and you get [JWH blends], it’s just like going shopping.”
While at his regular trips to head shops, Bill has met other users who testify to the product’s benefits.
“I meet people and I talk to them and they’re not on probation, they can smoke weed. They’re smoking weed when they’re there,” Bill said. “They’re getting it because they were saying the same thing: this shit’s a lot cheaper than pot.”
There have been no reports of students with the substance, according to Jerry Dieringer, assistant vice president for student affairs, housing and residence life.
“If it is a smoked item, then it is prohibited under our smoke free policy,” Dieringer said.
While living under his own form of a smoke free policy, Bill said he will continue to use JWH not as a substitute, but a different option.
“If I had the choice I would smoke God’s green herb, I wouldn’t smoke this stuff,” Bill said. “I’d rather be smoking pot, but I can’t.”