Editorial: Smokers should weigh health benefits before going synthetic


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Weren't we all taught as children, "If you're going to do something, do it right?"

This may have been applied to household chores such as washing dishes and making our Star Wars-theme beds, but this logic should also apply to getting high.

While the Daily Iowan editorial board does not endorse any illegal activity, those looking to get high should carefully weigh the legal and health impacts of real marijuana versus synthetic marijuana (also known as K2, Spice — both of which have been banned in Iowa — and a new compound called JWH-018, which Iowa lawmakers are trying to outlaw). Upon examination, one will find that although authentic pot caries legal issues, it's far safer than its synthetic cousins.

These synthetic substances are usually marketed as incense but are often used as a marijuana substitute for those worried about the consequences of being arrested for marijuana use — but does this small benefit outweigh the cost that could potentially be your life?

K2 and Spice are used as synthetic marijuana for a reason: They are a blend of plant matter and chemical-grade synthetic cannabinoids. To date, there has been very few research regarding the pot alternative, but determined psychiatric effects include anxiety, paranoia, agitation, and psychosis. Some researchers have attributed seizures as a possible side effect.

In one case study, a man smoked three grams of Spice every day for eight months. After the eight months, he showed several signs of withdrawal, including "inner unrest, drug craving, nocturnal nightmares, profuse sweating, nausea, tremor, headache, hypertension, and tachycardia."

Many manufacturers, including those of JWH-018, have found legal loopholes to existing bans by altering minuscule parts of a banned drug's chemical makeup — making it legally different but effectively the same.

These chemical compounds were created years ago at Clemson University by now retired Professor Richard Huffman to mimic the effects of THC for research purposes only. Huffman stated that these chemical compounds have never been tested for human consumption and have the potential to be very toxic.

"I want to stress that these compounds were not meant for human consumption," said Huffman in a formal statement. "Their effects in humans have not been studied, and they could very well have toxic effects. They absolutely should not be used as recreational drugs. I would emphasize the risk people are taking when they smoke these products. We simply don't know what the health effects might be."

The health effects of real, natural weed, however, are well-documented.

We're sure we have all heard our token stoner friend tirelessly advocate for the legalization of marijuana by calmly explaining, "It's not like anyone has ever died from smoking too much weed."

Any skepticism about marijuana's harm should vanish upon learning that the former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is an agreement with our token stoner friend's statement. She publically announced her support for the legalization of marijuana because it is "not a toxic substance" and has "never caused anybody, directly, to die."

Marijuana's illegality continues to be the only valid argument for choosing synthetic over natural weed. So those who do choose to smoke drugs (and even those who don't) should be aware of their rights when dealing with law enforcement.

Whether you're breaking the law or not, you are not obligated to say yes when a police officer asks to search your car, home, or person. One way to opt out of this right is to provide the officer with "probable cause" to search. In this case, marijuana's distinct odor is the most common way to provide the officer with probable cause.

So, again, if you choose to smoke weed (which we don't encourage or support), never smoke in your car, do not let the smell leave your doorstep, and be sure to know your rights. If you are able to comply with the above, you may be able to enjoy your high throughout your life without many harmful side effects — medical or legal.

While the all-out legalization of marijuana continues to be unseen on Iowa's horizon, manufacturers will continue promote legal designer alternatives. These may seem like fine alternatives, but be sure: They are not natural. They were developed in a lab. They are not proven to be safe — in fact, it is more likely they are objectively harmful to human health. Even though natural marijuana is illegal (for whatever reason), it is proven not to be detrimental to health by any significant measure.

If you choose to get high, learn your rights.

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