Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said synthetic cannabinoids — the scientific term for synthetic weed — are a series of molecules made in a lab and are chemically related to THC and other plant-based cannabis. K2 and Spice are two common names for the drug, he said.
“It’s really difficult to regulate because it’s so easy to come up with a new, modified version that falls out of the provisions of the law,” Baler said. “You can make one molecule illegal and then in a week, they would come up with something that doesn’t fall within the constraints of that particular regulation.”
Elizabeth Forbes, director of the prisoner advocacy group NC-CURE, said she is unaware of any legislation that is being passed regarding the synthetic marijuana overdoses, but was told by state prison officials they were trying to enhance a training program on the inside for both staff and inmates.
Forbes said the information she has received from inside prisons contradicts these reports.
“We have been told that there has not been any training and that many inmates are unaware of the dangerous effects and the carcinogens that are used to formulate K2,” she said.
Keith Acree, N.C. Division of Adult Corrections spokesperson, said the prisons have stepped up entrance and exit procedures, screen staff and visitors as they come and go and have set up posters.
“We’re just trying to get inmates to understand this is much more dangerous than marijuana,” he said.
Forbes said she has spoken with and received calls from several concerned family members because they do not want their loved ones smoking or overdosing on the drug.
She said how synthetic weed gets into prisons is a major issue.
“I think that prison officials have already readily admitted that the majority of contraband coming into the prison system is coming in via prison staff,” Forbes said.
Forbes said she was confident the state prison system needed to adopt more strict hiring standards and start holding their officials more accountable for smuggling in contraband.
Acree said he believes the N.C. Department of Public Safety is holding people accountable because officials face severe punishment like loosing their jobs if caught bringing contraband into the prison.
“The big thing we’re trying to do is educate the population about how dangerous this stuff is,” he said. “They’re really taking the risk on their own life when they use it.”