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New York Bans 'Synthetic Marijuana'

A package of K2, a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals sometimes called synthetic marijuana. New York moved to ban a wide range of products like these this week.
Kelley McCall

There will be no more "Mr. Nice Guy" in New York. No more "K2," "Skunk" or "Zohai" either.

The New York State Health Department banned the sale of synthetic marijuana products like those on Thursday. So all kinds of wacky stuff that's made to get people high — but is often disguised as potpourri, incense or some mixture of herbs — is now verboten.

A week ago Dr. Nirav Shah, New York's health commissioner, warned doctors that products containing so-called synthetic cannabinoids (chemicals tweaked to be like THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but different enough to evade legal action) can have some serious side effects.

"Calls to New York State Poison Control Centers have increased dramatically in 2012 and severe side effects including death, acute renal failure, as well as other significant negative effects to the cardiovascular and central nervous systems have been linked to use of these products," Shah wrote.

The New York Daily Newshas been covering the growing popularity of the until-now legal substances — and the problems that crop up as more people use them. "Synthetic marijuana is really a misnomer," Lewis Nelson, an ER doctor at NYU Langone Medical Center told the News. "It's really quite different, and the effects are much more unpredictable. It's dangerous, and there is no quality control in what you are getting."

Quite a few states have taken steps to stem the sale of fake marijuana. And a year ago, Drug Enforcement Administration took emergency action to ban five chemicals used in fake pot.

But the makers of the stuff have been creative in coming up with different variations of the chemicals used to avoid restrictions. The New York order goes pretty far in defining a very wide range of chemicals that are no longer allowed for sale.

The New York order took effect immediately, and it's up to local health officials to enforce it.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.
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