A trifecta of incidents involving synthetic marijuana have made headlines this week, raising more serious questions about the effects and regulation of fake pot.
On Thursday, the governor of New Hampshire declared a state of emergency in response to nine synthetic pot overdoses during a single night in the town of Manchester. Since August 11, Manchester officials have reported a shocking 41 overdoses.
That same day, the owner of a now-closed Minnesota head shop that sold synthetic marijuana was sentenced to 17 ½ years in prison. And in California, the parents of Connor Reid Eckhard, the 19-year old who died from a synthetic pot overdose on July 19, have launched a public awareness campaign warning about the dangers of fake weed.
The overdose victims in Manchester reportedly used "Smacked," a brand of synthetic marijuana that's sold in convenience stores under the guise of 'potpourri.'
"Smacked" comes in fun flavors like lemon-lime, tropical punch and blueberry, but Manchester officials suspect the bubblegum flavored "Smacked" is to blame for the recent rash of overdoses.
New Hampshire's Department of Health and Human Services will reportedly will work with local police departments to quarantine bubblegum flavored "Smacked."
So what is fake pot? We asked Ryan Nerz, Fusion's own Cannabis Correspondent, to explain.
"Synthetic pot is a green leafy herb sprayed with a substance that's chemically similar to THC," Nerz said.
One major problem with the manufacturing of synthetic marijuana is the lack of regulation and oversight.
"You might get one of these manufacturers with a particularly heavy hand, who sprays more of the chemical on the herb than normal," Sgt. Brian O'Keefe of Manchester told Fusion. "That's when the problems start."
The number of overdoses in New Hampshire keeps rising. It all started when patrol men went out to one of Manchester's local parks and found an group of people completely passed out.
"This wasn't the typical homeless person passed out in the park," O'Keefe said. "You couldn't even get a response. They were in a catatonic state."
Because it's packaged as a non-drug item, it's available at convenience stores and head shops across the country.
"People report feeling a little bit of a buzz, somewhat similar to marijuana," he said. But far more unpleasant effects have also been reported, ranging from hallucinations and paranoia to violent behavior. The overdose victims in Manchester became "zombified," said O'Keefe.
With all these negative side effects, what's the point of buying fake pot?
"There's one reason for synthetic marijuana: kids can buy it," Nerz said. "But I can assure you: if you can access real marijuana, there's no reason to use the fake stuff."
Which raises an important question: is real marijuana safer than the synthetic versions?
"As a police officer, I certainly can't say that it's good to smoke marijuana," O'Keefe said. "But one thing is for sure: the synthetic stuff is causing a lot more trouble."
Alexandra DiPalma is a producer for Fusion Lightworks, Fusion’s In-house Branded Content Agency.