There’s been a lot of debate regarding marijuana over the last few years: legalization, medical applications, recreational use, and economic benefits, primarily. While it’s hard to deny there are advantages to the legalization of marijuana, it is irresponsible to imply that it is in anyway a perfect drug, or that use of marijuana is without it’s consequences.
Let me just shut this argument down before it begins: marijuana is in fact a drug. By the classic definition of the word, as provided by Oxford Dictionaries, a drug is:
“1. A medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.
1.1 A substance taken for its narcotic or stimulant effects, often illegally.”
While marijuana is not a drug in the same way as heroin or cocaine- that being, it is not manufactured- the psychoactive plant has been modified into thousands of variations. In fact, the potency of today’s marijuana dwarfs that of the 1960s and 70s, when it first peaked in popularity.
While, yes, it would take an absurdly large amount of marijuana to cause death by overdose, this does not inherently deem it safe, mostly for a few very important reasons:
- Marijuana is often laced with other drugs, sometimes without the knowledge or consent of the user. This leads to an increased danger of adverse effects,
as individual reactions are unpredictable; what may merely boost the high of one could prove deadly for another.
- Marijuana can act as a gateway to other substances, especially alcohol, which in itself is a gateway to other drugs.
- Danger has proven to have benefits for some forms of cancer- lung cancer is not one of them. In fact, marijuana contains some of the same harmful toxins and carcinogens as tobacco smoking. Because marijuana smokers inhale deeper and hold their breaths longer than tobacco smokers, it can lead to greater exposure to these harmful chemicals.
- Marijuana impairs perception and judgement just like alcohol does when it comes to operating motor vehicles. While drunk driving still leads to more accidents and deaths, driving under the influence of marijuana is by no means safe.
With the legality of marijuana up in the air for most states, people became desperate for a way to get high without risking legal ramifications; for a while there seemed to be an answer in K-2, synthetic marijuana one could buy at the corner store. Before the life-threatening effects of K-2 were fully understood, it was sold openly and freely alongside tobacco products and incense.
As the truth slowly came to light about this highly addictive and potentially deadly substance, manufacturers and profiteers attempted to continue their business through legal loopholes- by labeling synthetic marijuana an ‘aromatherapy’ product or branding it “not for human consumption”, they could continue doing business without consequence. Thankfully, K-2 is now a schedule-I substance and sale is illegal throughout the U.S.
So What’s the Difference?
While K2, also known as Spice, was once marketed as a legal substitute for marijuana, there are some major differences between the two drugs. Most notably is the fact that K-2 is know to be lethal: in just the first 6 months of 2015 it claimed 15 lives, which was three times the death rate of synthetic marijuana in 2014. Other striking differences include:
- K-2 is entirely man-made. It is composed of synthetic cannabinoid chemicals which are then either applied to dried plant matter and smoked or used in a pure liquid for inhalation through a vaporizing devices.
- K-2 has no medical applications whatsoever. While oils and essences derived from marijuana have shown promise in pain management and treatment of certain diseases, K-2 is in no way medicinal or therapeutic.
- While K-2 has been attributed to overdose deaths and marijuana has not, that does not mean marijuana is not deadly- several accidental deaths list marijuana use as a factor, including a dramatic increase in vehicular deaths following the legalization of medicinal marijuana in Colorado.
K-2 and marijuana do share a few things in common- namely the side effects of use and withdrawal. These effects include paranoia, irritability, depression, anxiety, and psychosis, as well as physical symptoms like shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and physical dependency. Addiction can develop with both substances; reportedly 30 percent of marijuana users develop a marijuana use disorder as a result.
While the debate weighing the pros and cons of marijuana may continue for many years to come, understanding that synthetic marijuana like K-2 comes with risks which far outnumber the benefits is paramount to preventing unnecessary deaths and suffering. Both substances are popular among teens and young adults, lending to the importance of spreading proper education regarding substance abuse and resources for help overcoming addiction.