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Boucher: 'Fake Pot' is a Real Danger

After successfully preventing the legalization of marijuana in Connecticut, we have a renewed fight on our hands: banning "fake pot." I began work on halting efforts to expand marijuana use after emotional appeals for help from mothers and fathers who had found their young children dead from drug overdoses after years of marijuana use. Along with a team of players, from law enforcement officers to drug treatment centers and two governors, we have been able to forestall legalizing this federally illegal and prohibited drug.

Now, we are confronted with a new popular smoke-able herbal plant that can produce marijuana like high. It is undetected in a urine test, a most insidious aspect of "fake pot." This herbal bag of tricks is sold over the counter right here in Connecticut. The ingredient used to make fake pot products, known as spice, K2 and liquid gold, consists of plant material that has been coated with chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Some effects of using this synthetic cannabinoid are euphoria, lapse of short term memory, dilated pupils, confusion, agitation, racing heart beat, mania, hallucination, elevated blood pressure and seizures.

The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the chemicals for human consumption, and there's no oversight of the manufacturing process. Since 2008, the Drug Enforcement Administration has received an increasing number of reports from poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement concerning these products. The National Poison Control Center reports in 2009 that it received 14 calls concerning synthetic cannabinoids. The number has jumped to 2,750 calls in 2010. News accounts tentatively link some form of fake pot to the deaths of at least three teenagers. It has been reported that parents in one of the deaths said their child was high on the drug when he was behind the wheel of a car that crashed. The family of another child claims their son shot himself after smoking it.

The link between "fake pot" and real pot is the symptom of being high. The hallucinations and paranoid delusions are a direct result of THC. As research has shown, THC and its harmful effects are mimicked in the chemicals with in "fake pot" substances. Most do not realize that the THC in today's marijuana is 10 times more potent than in years past, and researchers have found fake pot is substantially more so. Just as nicotine has been engineered to increase one's use of tobacco, so has marijuana. Dependence is the goal as there is a great deal of money to be made in this cash crop. According to medical experts, however, one marijuana cigarette is even more lethal than a cigarette, four to five times more.

Yale researchers and the Connecticut Medical Societies have already determined that smoking marijuana causes damage to the heart, brain, immune system and lungs, and can cause paranoia. The Yale study also suggests marijuana has been known to trigger transient schizophrenia-like symptoms. The mental stability of those who abuse pot has come into question. Most notably, authorities are looking into the connection between 22-year-old Jared Loughner and his reported abuse of marijuana, which was the principle reason he was rejected by the U.S. military. The Arizona man was recently arrested in connection to the deadly shooting of six people, including a federal judge, and injuring 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Currently, 15 states ban the sale or possession of "fake pot" and eight states are considering a ban, including New York and New Jersey. Along with many of my colleagues, I believe Connecticut should be on this list.

As elected officials and advocates for a health and safety of our constituents, we are entrusted to help improve the lives of the people we represent, not place them in harm's way. Marijuana is a harmful drug. It is illegal. Synthetic herbs are harmful and should be made illegal. Both can ruin a life. There's nothing fake about it. It's real.

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