Chris was a promising, smart, college- educated and outgoing young man who dreamed of being a journalist specializing in sports. He was also interested in theater and wrote several scripts with his friend John. He hoped one day to make a movie.
Then Chris began abusing synthetic marijuana, a dangerous and toxic substance. On the day after his 21st birthday, he killed himself by jumping in front of an oncoming train.
His story was told by Herman Lozada, a resident of Rosedale and specialist in the drug addiction field for more than 25 years. He is presently the managing director at Phoenix Career Academy, an adult business and trade school in Brooklyn.
Chris was someone Lozada knew personally and he revealed what happened to him at a Community Board 13 meeting on Monday to illustrate how harmful synthetic marijuana is, and yet it can be purchased at bodegas, candy stores and over the Internet, he said.
Synthetic cannabis, often known as K2 Spice, is sold as potpourri and incense or marketed as aroma therapy. It has been on the market since the early 2000s. Two to three grams of the drug can be purchased for about $5. Lozado said it has been “rampant throughout our communities for many, many years.”
The drug, which is labeled “not for human consumption,” is particularly appealing and attractive to youth, Lozada said, because of its colorful packaging. One brand even has an image of “Spongebud Squarepants,” a twist on the popular children’s cartoon character, shown puffing on a joint.
The product does not produce a positive toxicology result, meaning it often goes undetected in drug tests, Lozada said. K2 is sprayed with some 15 chemicals, and only about eight can be detected as compounds in drug tests using existing technology.
“We do not know the long-term effect this drug will have or the permanent damage it can cause,” Lozada said. “We have had many emergency room cases documented of seizure-like symptoms. Depression and cases of suicide have also been reported by individuals under the influence of this drug.”
K2 is a mix of herbs and flowers that is sprayed with research chemicals. The synthetics were created in laboratory settings to test neural receptors found in the brain and body and were never meant for human consumption. They were supposed to be tested on animals and cell structures in a controlled environment.
The chemicals used in K2 are a minimum of five times as potent as the THC found in marijuana, can be highly addictive and have led to increased emergency room visits nationwide, Lozada said.
Synthetic cannabinoids can lead to attempted suicides, anxiety and panic attacks, heart palpitations, racing heartbeat, respiratory complications, aggression, mood swings, altered perception and paranoia.
CB 13 unanimously passed a resolution by a vote of 30-0 at its meeting calling on Council Speaker Christine Quinn to hold public hearings to determine if these products should be ordered to be removed from stores.
Kangela Moore, the chairwoman of the board’s education committee, has noticed K2 increasingly becoming a problem in the district as the product is not only sold at bodegas but is also allegedly being smoked at several area hookah bars.
Use of the drug has increased over the years, according to Lozada, who cited statistics collected by the National Poison Data System. In 2009, there were 112 calls made to the American Association of Poison Control Center regarding K2 and similar products. In 2010, there were 2,906 calls and 6,955 calls in 2011 about the substance.
New York State has legislation pending to ban synthetic marijuana. Some 40 other states already have laws that classify K2 as an illegal drug.