Monday, June 18, 2012 at 5 a.m.
I remember the exact moment I decided that I would never again smoke synthetic marijuana. I was in the shower watching my heart beat out of my chest.
I wasn't panicking or anxious or very stoned, just severely uncomfortable. The muscles in my face cramped tightly. A headache bore through my temples, shot toward the center of my skull, and crept behind my eyes. My carotid pulse seemed audible; THUMP THUMP, THUMP THUMP, my index and middle fingers jumping with each surge of blood that ran through my neck. I kept arching my back and trying to force a yawn in hopes of taking a deep, cleansing breath, but was overwhelmed with a sense of feeling full, like I just downed a Thanksgiving feast.
This was the culmination of an approximately four-week stretch of smoking various brands of synthetic marijuana, including K2 and Spice. During the period, I consumed 3 grams of the stuff, give or take. I was living in Chicago at the time, working an immensely stressful job that often brought on headaches that radiated through my face and seized my jaw. But this was something different.
Usually, I just smoked a joint of the real stuff to unwind. Sure, I'd get hit by the occasional burnout headache after inhaling some seed-ridden bush that was more brown than green, but in more than a decade of smoking pot I had never come close to feeling like I did in the shower. It was a palpable display of synthetic marijuana's deleterious nature.
Legal mechanisms to ban these drugs have been slow coming for myriad reasons. In March, the DEA placed an emergency ban on them, which this month resulted in a Boca Raton retailer getting hit with a $300,000 fine
on conspiracy to distribute charges. He'll be sentenced later this year and could face up to 20 years in prison should the feds seek the maximum sentence.
Last week, Sunrise became the first city in Broward and only the second in the state to outright ban the sale of the stuff. It's expected that Deerfield Beach, Pompano Beach, Davie, Tamarac and other local cities will soon follow with similar bans.
All of this hubbub - scrambling politicians, stoned teens rushed to the emergency room, man hours and tax dollars squandered by the DEA to crackdown on something that's sold at gas stations - is costly blowback from our nation's antiquated marijuana laws.
The first wave of media reports a few years back touted how synthetic marijuana appealed to veterans, parolees, and other people who have a lot to lose should bona fide THC show up on a drug test. This was a foolproof alternative to getting stoned without getting caught.
If natural marijuana was legally available, would demand for potentially dangerous knockoffs persist? Would there ever have been a market for this synthetic stuff in the first place?
It's too late to know. There's now a market clamoring for these products, and no ban or law will quell the demand.
Admittedly, I didn't make it past the third paragraph of the first article I read about the stuff before I was zipping up my coat and sprinting to the nearby bong shop to buy a bag. My connect for regular weed had recently moved, my girlfriend was out of town, and I was bored.
The first few hits were harsh. The stinging smoke tasted like it came from a piece of construction paper that was doused in tawdry perfume then lit on fire. And while the sensation of being stoned diminished quickly, it was close enough to the real thing to make me want to try it again. And again. And again.
There were headaches over the course of the month, and maybe a few respiratory issues. I chalked them up to lack of sleep and living in Chicago during the winter.
But it all coalesced that night in the shower into a perfect storm of synthetically stoned anguish.
Fortunately, I shook off the effects, brushed my teeth, and vowed to find a good old-fashioned drug dealer. I've never felt better.