Stories of businesses being raided for selling synthetic marijuana are cropping up more and more in Oklahoma these days, but law enforcement officials say the battle against the drug is far different from the one being waged against traditional street narcotics.
Oklahoma law changed years ago, when substances like “K2” hit the U.S. market, to try to stop convenience stores, head shops and other businesses from the selling the product, which authorities say is dangerous and potentially lethal.
Common names of the products, which are ever-changing and typically sold in packages containing just a couple of grams, include “Kush,” “Mad Hatter” and “Cloud 9.”
In Oklahoma, a handful of young people have been hospitalized after smoking synthetic marijuana, which is marketed as incense or potpourri.
In November, a 15-year-old boy in Mustang was hospitalized for days after telling his mother he'd smoked synthetic marijuana. The boy was on and off dialysis for several days.
At the time, the Mustang High School student was one of two patients at the Oklahoma City hospital being treated for kidney failure after admitting to smoking synthetic pot.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Oklahoma two patients had smoked a product by the name of “Flame 2.0.”
CDC documents show the two patients in the Oklahoma City area complained of vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain.
Last April, school officials in Tahlequah announced that two students were taken to a hospital after smoking synthetic marijuana.
About the time of the Mustang teen's hospitalization, Dr. David Myers, an OU Children's Physicians pediatric nephrologist, said not much is known about which chemicals in synthetic pot are causing people to experience adverse reactions such as kidney failure.
In February, a House committee approved a bill that adds 21 new chemical compounds to a growing list of illegal substances found in synthetic marijuana and so-called “bath salts,” which many users substitute for methamphetamine.
The bill was requested by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, according to agency spokesman Mark Woodward.
Woodward said there are already more than 200 illegal chemical compounds on the list. He said law enforcement is “playing a game of cat chasing mouse” with the companies who create new synthetics, which are not on the list.
Because of this, Woodward said new drugs are added to the list each year.
The March 22 arrest of a Norman couple, who were operating a shop called Ancient Aromatherapy on the outskirts of the city's historic downtown area, seems to illustrate the cat-and-mouse game described by Woodward.