A letter signed by 43 attorneys general — including Roy Cooper from North Carolina — was sent to nine major oil companies last Tuesday, urging them to eliminate synthetic marijuana from their gas stations’ convenience stores and retail locations.
Use of the drugs is a national problem — sending 28,000 people to the emergency room in 2011.
“Given the significant danger synthetic drugs present to users, especially our young people, we are extremely troubled that these drugs have been readily available in well-known retail locations,” the attorneys’ letter said.
Synthetic marijuana is often marketed under names like “K2” and “Spice” and is not tested for safety, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which received 3,679 calls due to exposure to the drug in 2014.
Kelly Alanis-Hirsch, a researcher who studies substance abuse disorders at UNC, said the synthetic drug is not comparable to the organic drug, and the lack of regulation poses a serious threat to users’ health.
“It is created by spraying various chemicals on herbs or other leafy material,” Alanis-Hirsch said. “The chemicals mimic the effect of THC that appears naturally in organic marijuana, but the synthetic marijuana compounds vary by manufacturer.”
Federal and state laws prohibit the manufacture, sale and consumption of synthetic marijuana. Synthetic marijuana was made illegal in the state in 2011 when the N.C. General Assembly classified it as a controlled substance.
In 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which categorized 26 synthetic cannabinoids as Schedule 1 drugs under the Controlled Substances Act — outlawing the drugs at the federal level.
But Alanis-Hirsch said that drug companies have evaded the federal law by manufacturing substances similar, but not identical, to those prohibited by the federal government.
“Recipes are changed in response to governmental efforts to make the product illegal; thus, it’s marketed as a ‘legal high,’” she said.
Mary-Nel Saarloos, a medical doctor in Asheville, said she often treats patients who have overdosed, but the constantly changing chemical components make it difficult to diagnose. Blood and urine tests often can’t detect these components of the drug, she said.
The National Association of Attorneys General called for major oil companies to revoke franchises of gas stations that violate the federal controlled substances laws.
“Young people should not die or be seriously injured from using products bought at gas stations or convenience stores,” the letter says.