Cloud Nine. Maui Wowie . Mr. Nice Guy. The names seem harmless, but the side effects of synthetic marijuana, can be as serious as a heart attack, experts say.
Photographer: Susannah Bryan, Sun Sentinel
So say city and county officials around South Florida.
Sweetwater has banned the stuff and Sunrise officials are expected to give final approval to a ban in June.
Others may be close behind, including Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Hallandale Beach, Pembroke Pines, Pompano Beach and Miami Gardens.
Locales in Palm Beach County may also jump on the "ban" wagon.
"We will be looking into it," said Richard Radcliffe, executive director of the Palm Beach County League of Cities. "I can guarantee you that."
Fake pot, known on the street as "Spice" and "K2," is sending the people who smoke it to the hospital or the morgue, experts say. Side effects include rapid heart rate, anxiety, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, renal failure and, in extreme cases, death.
In Sunrise, the next step is to ban anyone from manufacturing the stuff, says Mayor Mike Ryan.
He came up with the idea after an explosion rocked a West Palm Beach warehouse Monday that was making fake pot. No one was injured, but the raging fire damaged nearby businesses.
"We have no knowledge of anyone involved in this manufacturing process in our city," the Sunrise mayor said. "However, we do not want anyone hurt or property destroyed because someone decided to cook up a cocktail of explosive chemicals next door."
With a sales ban on the way in Sunrise, stores are already pulling packets of fake weed from shelves, Ryan said.
Police officers visited nine stores selling synthetic marijuana in Sunrise to warn them of the ban. Commissioners are expected to take a final vote on June 12.
"I am proud of those responsible businesses who, even before this ordinance becomes law, decided to voluntarily remove the product from shelves," Ryan said. "Together, we are saving lives."
In response to a series of Sun Sentinel stories, several readers have called or sent emails to say their children are addicted and won't stop smoking it despite the dangerous side effects.
A Coral Springs woman says her 20-year-old son has been in a coma since April because he got into a car accident while high on Spice.
"They don't know if he will come out of it," Mariana Guttierrez said Friday.
Another woman said her son, also 20, has been smoking "this poison" for a year now. Worried he might die, she flushed his stash on May 19.
"The next morning when he found out, he became violent, knocked my lamp off of my nightstand and said he would kill me if I ever flushed his Spice again," she wrote.
A Dallas woman said her husband rushed her to the hospital last week when she got sick trying to stop her two-year habit. After two days in the hospital, she called the Sun Sentinel after finding the paper's stories online.
She compared the high of fake pot to that of crack.
"This high is so powerful and short-lived that you find yourself smoking again in 20 or 30 minutes," she said. "I would have energy for a second, but once it was gone, that was it. I have never physically been addicted to anything. And I got addicted to this."
Users are drawn in because it's a quick and easy high that's readily available, she said.
That may be changing, city by city.
On May 21, Sweetwater says it became the first city in the nation to outlaw synthetic marijuana by banning the sale of loose leaf or granular incense.
Manufacturers have skirted state and federal laws banning the chemicals by changing the compounds and labeling the packets as herbal incense "not for human consumption."
Exposure to synthetic marijuana resulted in 2,906 calls to poison control centers across the nation in 2010; 6,959 calls in 2011; and 1,901 calls in the first three months of 2012, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
At least nine states, including Florida, have tried to outlaw the chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana. Florida law bans herbal incense, but only if it is for human consumption.
This week, Ryan sent emails urging the ban of herbal incense to several government officials and agencies, including Gov. Rick Scott, state legislators and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He also alerted the Florida League of Cities and its counterparts in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
"There is no safety oversight on any of the products — not by FDA, not by any state agency, and not be any authority," he wrote. "These unknown chemicals are being mixed up in bathtubs and backrooms — and then distributed with happy faces and marketing proclaiming it is safe for human consumption."
Ryan urged the Florida Legislature to tackle the problem.
"Local communities should not be left to struggle with identification, enforcement, and compliance through a patchwork of potentially inconsistent regulations and code changes," he wrote.
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