9 Overnight Overdoses of ‘Synthetic Marijuana’ in Manchester, NH

Manchester police said a trend of overdoses on synthetic marijuana continues, with nine reported overdoses Tuesday night from the synthetic marijuana brand “Smacked.” The latest overdoses occurred in Bronstein Park.

Sgt. Brian O’Keefe told Boston.com that there were between 17 and 25 overdoses on the substance Monday night, and believes the bubblegum flavor sold in area stores may be a “bad batch.”

“Smacked” is sold in brightly colored packages with flavors such as bubblegum, lemon-lime, and blueberry. Though the product is marketed as potpourri, it is often smoked like marijuana, and is sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC.

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According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the substance is often marketed as a “safe” alternative to marijuana that has similar mind-altering effects, and is usually sold in gas stations, head shops, and on the Internet.

O’Keefe said since the product is not regulated in any way, sometimes the green vegetated matter has chemicals applied to it with a “heavy hand,” causing more overdoses.

Because the chemicals used in synthetic marijuana have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances, making it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them.

In New Hampshire, it is not illegal to sell, since it is marketed as incense or potpourri and “not for human consumption,” O’Keefe said.

A person must be caught in the act of smoking to be charged with “inhaling toxic vapor,” he said, but it is not a crime to carry the product.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that at least 43 states have taken action to control one or more synthetic cannabinoids, but not New Hampshire. Prior to 2010, synthetic cannabinoids were not controlled by any State or at the Federal level.

NIDA reports that some users experience some effects of marijuana, such as “elevated mood and relaxation,” but sometimes they experience stronger effects like “extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.” The users taken to Poison Control Centers typically report symptoms varying from vomiting and agitation, to confusion and hallucinations.

O’Keefe described those who had overdosed as “extremely out of it.”

“It’s almost like they became zombified,” he said.

Tuesday night, Manchester officers fanned out across the city, hitting 53 stores in search of the product. They found 11 bags in one store, which O’Keefe declined to name.

There have not been any synthetic marijuana-related fatalities in Manchester yet, but three deaths in Colorado in 2013 were believed to have been linked to the substance.