LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The use of synthetic marijuana is growing across the United States and the Pineywoods in not immune from the man-made drug that is doing everything from causing users to hallucinate to even claiming their lives.
If you are not familiar with the proper name, you may know it by its street names. Authorities across the country have all noticed it being sold under names of K2, Spice, Bliss Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Kush, Genie and Zohai. In East Texas, other names have also shown up on packets that have been confiscated by law enforcement. Names that include Sexy Monkey, Mr. Happy and Klimax.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports the first shipment of the drug was seized at the U.S. border in 2008. According to a Drug Enforcement Administration fact sheet the drugs a mixture of herbs and spices that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana. The chemical compounds typically include HU-210, HU-211, JWH-018, and JWH-073. Changes over the years due to DEA and FDA regulations that were set up to make the substance illegal have forced the makers to change their formula.
In 2016, The Center for Disease Control released statistics that indicated intoxications by the drug are on the rise in the United States. The Center tracked calls to their organization that referenced use of synthetic cannabinoids. A clear spike in 2015 can be seen below:
Cody knight is currently on probation in Angelina County. Knight said he was lured into using synthetic marijuana to clear drug test.
"When I was young man, I loved to smoke weed," knight said. "Weed was my thing. I got pulled over one day and got in trouble with some weed. I got put on probation. Of course, on probation you cannot smoke weed. This was years back. The next thing you could do to get away on probation was smoke K2. It was legal they didn't know nothing about it. Back then you got the same high. There was nothing to it."
Noah Carnes started smoking it when he was 15. He was first introduced by family.
"It all started when I was about 15," Noah Carnes said. "I was introduced to it by my nephew. He showed it to me and explained to me that it didn't show up on any drug test so I didn't have to worry about failing anything. That is what got me on board at first. I didn't have to worry about failing a drug test or getting caught or anything."
With illegal substances being sold in stores, The DEA stepped up their efforts in 2011. On Tuesday, March 1, 2011, DEA published a final order in the Federal Register temporarily placing five synthetic cannabinoids into Schedule I of the CSA. The order became effective on March 1, 2011.
"The companies that would produce it so that people would buy it would make chemicals and the DEA would come in make those chemicals illegal and then those companies would then in turn make new chemicals," Zavalla Police Chief Stefani Wade said. "Those chemicals are nowhere near what started originally. They are very dangerous and very deadly.
Carnes and Knight are not alone when it comes to using the drug. District Judge Bob Inselmann said his court room has noticed more and more cases coming in that involved synthetic marijuana.
"We see a lot of problems with what they call synthetic marijuana but it is not synthetic marijuana," Inselmann said. "It is a contraption of chemicals that are used that people are manufacturing and it is a very dangerous drug. Drugs do scare me but I'm telling you k2 or synthetic marijuana really does scare me. You are a complete fool if you use it. It is a crapshoot with synthetic marijuana, k2 or those man-made drugs. You don't know what is going to happen. It is a very dangerous situation. "
The situation has become so serious that the U.S. Attorney's Office is working with officials in Jasper and Newton Counties after three men died in January. The death in Newton County came just days after Billy Rawles was sworn in as sheriff.
Rawls has been in law enforcement for almost 50 years. In that time, he has seen an evolution in drug use.
"Nothing would surprise me," Rawls said. "Being in law enforcement this long nothing surprises you. You see stuff every day that you wouldn't think would happen but it does. This has got to stop. We're talking about young men that are removed from the face of this earth and leaving families behind. I don't know of anything more you could get involved in that ruins families' life."
On Wednesday night, the East Texas News will air our special report: The New K2. Tune in to see more including the last side effects of the drugs.