Synthetic marijuana has serious effects


by Kate Hayden

It’s legal. It’s found in many stores. It’s easy to get a hold of for teenagers and college students.

Police don’t pull people aside to search for it. But, the consequences for taking synthetic drugs are larger and more devastating than many people realize.

David Rozga graduated in 2010, and had his whole life ahead of him. His brother, Dan, described him as well liked, a musician who played baritone in the school band and guitar at church or with friends.

“He was a Christian,” Dan said. “He wasn’t perfect, but he put other people first.”

A week after David received his high school diploma, he tried a legal substance called K2, a synthetic marijuana. Later that night, while under the influence of K2, he committed suicide.

What David tried may be called ‘fake marijuana,’ but it is often stronger and more dangerous than the real pot that many students are familiar with.

Also known as ‘spice,’ K2 is an herbal blend mixed with synthetic compounds that was originally marketed as incense. However, it is now growing in popularity as a way to get high and avoid legal trouble.

Although it’s hard to know what is in each batch – “There’s different stuff on different packages, so you’re always getting something different,” Dan said “The most common effects from the drug include intense, nightmarish hallucinations, an increased heart rate and seizures.”

Other deaths aside from David’s have been known to occur, and in January 2011 an assistant principal at an Omaha school was shot and killed before the 17-year-old gunman fled the scene and committed suicide. According to The Daily Nebraskan, the gunman, Robert Butler Jr., was under the influence of K2.

“In David’s case, he felt like he was in Hell,” Dan said.

While marijuana is known to make people feel more relaxed, K2’s effects are nearly polar opposite, with feelings of extreme anxiety and intense paranoia accompanying the high. Synthetic marijuana is also addictive.

The chemical compound found in K2 (psychotropic drug JWH- 018 and JWH- 073) is similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but has a chemical structure that is shared with known cancer-causing agents.

According to the Iowa Department of Public health, these agents will bind to the body’s cannibinoid receptors much better than THC does, making it addictive to the person using K2.

Since David’s death, the Rozga family has been working to bring synthetic drugs like K2 to national attention, and runs the website to keep people informed on synthetic drugs and the legislation nationwide.

In March 2011 Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley introduced a bill named the David Mitchell Rozga Act (S.605, H.R. 1254), also known as the Synthetic Drug Control Act, to ban the chemicals used in synthetic drugs. In December of 2011, the act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and is now waiting to be passed by the Senate.

“We’re confident that it will pass,” Dan said. “All I can really do is keep spreading the word. The legislature just needs to move it.”

Synthetic drugs are not something to be messed with. They aren’t just a fun time to be enjoyed at parties on the weekend. They are misguiding, dangerous and little is known about the long-term effects.

Not enough people are aware of the effects and consequences, and change needs to come.

As Dan said, “it’s just a matter of time before more people end up like David.”

Kate is freshman multimedia journalism and political science double major and a member of the debate team.