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Synthetic weed legal but dangerous

Marijuana use is ubiquitous on the Mills College campus, and because of its accessibility, students rarely use its legal alternative, synthetic marijuana, often labeled “potpourri,” “K2,” or “Spice.”

Real marijuana is relatively accessible to students in the Bay Area. (Natalie Meier)
Real marijuana is relatively accessible to students in the Bay Area. (Natalie Meier)

In December 2012, Texas teenager Emily Bauer smoked synthetic marijuana that she bought from a gas station. Hours later, she was in the hospital with persistent migraines, and was quickly rushed to the ICU after suffering multiple strokes, a CNN report said. After two weeks, Bauer left the hospital blind and paralyzed from the neck down.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana is credited with being the second most used illicit drug, after real marijuana, among high school seniors. In a survey conducted on Facebook about marijuana use, six out of 52 Mills students said that they have tried synthetic marijuana, while some participants said that they have not tried it because they prefer smoking real marijuana.

“I’ve heard mixed things about it,” one responder said. “I know it’s more expensive than actual marijuana, so why get the fake when I can get the real stuff easier and cheaper?”

Synthetic marijuana is clearly labeled “not for human consumption,” and produces far worse side effects compared to those caused by real marijuana, including a stronger, more dangerous high. According to the American Association of Poison Control Center, synthetic marijuana’s side effects include severe anxiety, high blood pressure, nausea, seizures, intense hallucinations and psychotic episodes.

“My dad works in an emergency room,” sophomore Sasha Reed said. “Synthetic marijuana can give people full-on heart attacks.”

On the other hand, the survey circulated on Facebook showed that 42 out of 52 Mills students smoke real marijuana occasionally or on a regular basis.

“I would say on average, I smoke marijuana three times a day,” senior Maggie Cummings said. “I use it to do homework because I do a lot of creative stuff.”

Cummings believes that the Mills community should not frown on smoking marijuana because some students can function and get good grades while using it.

“I feel like I can handle being a stoner and managing real life because I get up in the morning and go to my classes,” Cummings said. “I always tell people when they find out that I smoke that if I do something wrong, I would want you to blame it on me instead of the marijuana.”

Ninty-seven percent of students who responded to the survey said that they use marijuana in order to fall asleep, sleep more deeply, or catch up on sleep they have missed because of studying or for other reasons.

“Because my disability prevents me from sleeping at regular hours, using marijuana before I sleep allows me to regulate or catch up on sleep,” one anonymous responder  said.

Some students also use marijuana to control anxiety and other psychological issues. Many have medical marijuana cards that provide them with ready access to marijuana in doctor-prescribed doses from Bay Area dispensaries like Harborside Health Clinic.

Synthetic marijuana is for sale at many convenience stores. (Wikimedia Commons)
Synthetic marijuana is for sale at many convenience stores. (Wikimedia Commons)

“I use it for medicinal purposes—painkiller, mood-stabilizer,” an anonymous senior said in an email. “It’s the easiest, quickest, most reliable way to help with these issues.”

Some students also maintain that marijuana helps them feel more comfortable in social situations that they do not otherwise feel like they can handle.

“I have high anxiety, but weed mellows me out, allows me to take jokes that normally would make me upset, communicate with people who I’m nervous to talk to or holding a grudge against,” one survey response said. “Since I’ve started using weed, I’ve been able to socialize much better than I used to.”

Despite the push to legalize marijuana in California, and the insistence by proponents of marijuana legalization that the drug is not harmful like its synthetic counterpart, an anonymous sophomore said that she became paranoid, extremely suicidal, and unable to communicate her thoughts the first time she tried real marijuana.

“I also think there are dangers surrounding it because it is illegal,” the anonymous sophomore said. “If someone has a bad reaction, they aren’t going to go to their parents or RA or RD because they don’t want to get into trouble.”

88 percent of students who took the survey said that they did not know what synthetic marijuana was, but real marijuana is alive and well on the Mills campus.