The statewide campaign against bath salts and synthetic marijuana will kick up a notch next month as state law makes buying, selling and using synthetic drugs illegal, and some local teens, having sworn off the drugs because of firsthand experience, are warning their peers to do the same.
Lawmakers have struggled for years with loopholes that allowed the consumption of synthetic drugs by illegalizing specific compounds, which chemists could alter to skirt drug tests. Inundated with stories, statistics and comments about the issue, state legislature recently passed a law to cover all imitations of illegal substances. Starting July 1, Michigan's list of Schedule 1 controlled substances will include K2, Chronic Hypnotic, Happy Smurf, Spice, Genie, Yucatan, Fire, King Krypto, Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Smokey, K-3, Red Magic, LOL, OMG, bath salts, White Rush, Cloud Nine, White Lightening, Scarface, Sextasy, Hurricane Charlie, and any other ingestible agent deliberately made to imitate an illegal substance. For some teens and their families, the new law comes none too soon.
According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, the number of synthetic marijuana cases reported to the Michigan Poison Control Center rose from 17 in 2010 to 224 in 2011 to 126 within the first three months of this year. A 2011 report by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research said 11 percent of 12th-graders admitted using synthetic marijuana in 2011.
Alpena's drug court recently claimed 100 percent of its probationers tested positive for the drug, and some former users like 16-year-old Dillon Clark have come forward to dissuade people from trying it.
"I quit because I was in drug court and I was working out and stuff, and in the Youth Academy, and you can't work out and do that stuff," he said. "I used it one time when I was doing the Youth Academy, and with physical activity, your stamina is just gone. Your chest hurts bad as soon as you start moving and stuff."
Like most kids who try it, Clark said, he first started smoking synthetic marijuana a few times a week as a freshman in high school and found it impaired his ability to function even when he wasn't high. He said his first bad experience with the drug was at a friend's house and recalled experiencing hallucinations, paranoia and other symptoms typical of synthetic marijuana abuse.
"I was just sitting there on the couch, and it was like I had this second voice in my head. It was talking to me. It was like, 'Yeah, this is our last time to go, Dillon. Tonight, it's all going to end,' or something like that. It was creepy, and everything was in my face. It's hard to explain," he said.
He recalled another chemically-induced nightmare on the road.
"We smoked like two bags, just me and one other person ... and I was just tripping so bad," he said. "The person who was driving was the kid that I smoked with, and I thought we were going to get in an accident. We pulled over."
After about three months of smoking it on and off, Clark said he physically feels much healthier being free of it and has no intention of trying it again.
"Before, I would smoke, go home, eat a bunch of food, and just sit there. School? It wasn't helping in school, I know that. I'd go there, and I just would not know what I'm doing. Now it's like I have a clear head, and my body just feels better. It's not so stuffed up with that stuff," he said.
For 17-year-old Raymond Bendig, who smoked synthetic marijuana for two years, quitting was only the first step to recovery. Bendig attended Families Against Drugs' protest in Culligan Plaza last week while on leave from rehab and said he received a number of residual effects from use, including anxiety and cognitive issues.
"It puts holes in your brain, and since coming out of rehab for eight months, I realized that when you're on that stuff, you're really rude to people, you're disrespectful, all you care about is getting high. All your money goes to waste just for your drug. When you go to rehab and come back out, you realize all the small stuff that matters," he said.
To report anyone selling synthetic drugs, witnesses may call 855-642-4847.
Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693.