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While synthetic marijuana shares a common nomenclature with cannabis, they are two vastly different drugs; the former having a host of unpredictable, terrible side effects, some of which are potentially life threatening. As the nation becomes more tolerant of cannabis use, health experts and law enforcement officials have become intolerant towards synthetic marijuana.

Historically, synthetic marijuana was purchased over the internet or in convenience stores, but government crackdowns have forced the insidious drugs into the shadows and it becoming a street drug, PBS NewsHour reports. What’s more, the drug is being predominately used by the most vulnerable communities, such as the:

  • poor
  • urban
  • homeless

“We originally felt that [synthetic marijuana] was being marketed for younger people, for teenagers,” said Lt. Andrew Struhar, acting lieutenant of the Narcotics Unit of the Washington DC Police. “But it has definitely drilled down to the street, and unfortunately a great deal to the homeless population.” 

The move from shop windows and online stores to the streets makes it much more difficult for law enforcement to police, according to the article. It is no longer a game of fining shop owners and shutting down websites; street busts will now be required which is exceedingly more difficult.

“The progression of the drug from when we started, being advertised in windows of gas stations and convenience stores to street sales, has definitely been a bad case scenario. Because street sales are much more difficult to find, to locate and prosecute.” 

In Washington D.C. hospital emergency rooms treat four to five synthetic marijuana overdoses every night, Dr. Kama Tillman told PBS. What’s more, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that at least 15 people lost their lives from synthetic drug use in the first five months of last year. Please take a moment to watch a short video about the subject below: