Commentary: Legalize marijuana, stop synthetic cannabinoid overdoses

By Russell Jones – Special to the American-Statesman

Posted: 9:00 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016

(An empty package of Klimax K2, green package at left, is in a bush outside the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless during an outbreak of K2 overdoses on Thursday August 25, 2016. ATCEMS District Commander Mark Karonika said dozens of people have been overdosed at K2 at the ARCH since Wednesday. An incident command post was set up on 7th Street to handle all of the emergencies. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The 16 synthetic cannabinoid overdoses in Hermann Park at the end of June are enough evidence that punitive policies aimed at creating a drug-free world have utterly backfired. Instead of ushering in a utopian society without drugs, the War on Drugs has incentivized the creation of new psychoactive substances (NPS) purported to mimic the effects of “classic” drugs like marijuana.

However, these newly emerging drugs are widely misunderstood. Synthetic cannabinoids, often referred to as “fake marijuana” or “synthetic marijuana” have a different chemical structure and produce profoundly different effects in their users than marijuana.

Rather than being a safer alternative to marijuana, several studies have found that synthetic cannabinoids produce a wide range of dangerous side effects, such as nausea, convulsions, hallucinations, and psychosis. All too often these common misconceptions result in tragedy, perhaps best demonstrated by the 229 percent increase in NPS-related poison center calls between 2014 and 2015.

A mounting body of evidence suggests repressive drug policies play a large role in driving people to use “legal highs” as replacement drugs. This may explain why states with harsh marijuana laws, like Alabama andMississippi, experience more severe outbreaks of synthetic cannabinoid emergencies. Legality, however, is not the only barrier people face when acquiring their drug of choice.

For many, marijuana is accessible so long as one has the money to purchase it. As noted in the 2016 Global Drug Survey, the unique challenges posed bypoverty mean synthetic cannabinoids “might find their long-term relationships with those already marginalized in our society.” It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the 16 people who overdosed on synthetic cannabinoids last week were reported to be “homeless people who hang out at the park.”

Instead of continuing to play a game of cat-and-mouse with drugs like synthetic cannabinoids, society must acknowledge the abject failure of prohibition and immediately work toward legalizing, regulating, and controlling marijuana. Though the Texas Legislature banned 1,000 unique chemical combinations used to make synthetic cannabinoids last September, the nature of NPS means new chemicals are likely to be synthesized at a rate that far outpaces these new laws.

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One thought on “Commentary: Legalize marijuana, stop synthetic cannabinoid overdoses”

  1. I am a 62 year man with chronic back pain. I had surgery and the Doctors (6) decided to put 2 rods in my back with 12 screws. They told me 3-5 years recovery time. I’m at two years now. My back gets very sore even now
    so I do smoke Marijuana for the pain and IT DOES HELP MY PAIN ! I am in the molina group insurance and does not reconize Marijuana for pain
    You know the idiots in Austin know it’s a money maker but we have enough money and don’t need it. This election is like every election There is nobody to vote for ! People might go to their heart to hearts and closely reconize that Trump could not run this country on a bet. Too much drama follows him around. God Bless.

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