Synthetic marijuana use on the rise, counselors say

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WICHITA, Kansas – A recent Drug Enforcement Administration drug bust at a south Wichita store is raising questions about what synthetic marijuana is and what is being done to limit its use among young people.

Brett Welch, 55, of Hutchinson, was indicted Wednesday in federal court on 13 counts of drug distribution and two counts of criminal gun possession. The indictment alleges Welch sold synthetic marijuana to undercover officers out of his store, the Mystic Planet on South Seneca.

Synthetic marijuana, known on the streets as “K2″, “Spice”, or “Diablo”, is becoming a more common drug of choice, among young people.

“They are stunned to hear that K2, Spice, Diablo are illegal because many of them have gone into corner stores, smoke shops, convenience stores, and seen the packages on the shelves up for sale,” Meredith Reuter, a drug abuse counselor at Higher Ground in downtown Wichita, said.

Synthetic pot is made through the spraying of chemicals onto herbs, giving users a similar feeling to the use of naturally-grown marijuana. Users report that it gives a stronger high, but more abrupt, Reuter said. It emerged in the last five years with prisoners trying to get a legal high, but in 2010, the DEA banned synthetic controlled substances.

“It seemed like it was going away for a period of time, but unfortunately, I would say that in the last 6 months to a year, we’ve seen it coming back,” Reuter said.

Most synthetic pot smokers tend to use other substances, making it hard to tell if it is a more difficult substance to give up, she said.

“There’s someone I’m thinking of that talked about how this was the hardest substance for him to quit, and he considered himself very addicted to it,” Reuter said. “So I think the potential is there for it to be quite an addictive substance in certain people.”

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