BLOG: What is 'synthetic marijuana?'

David Weissman

On Friday, police confirmed that they had located opened packages of synthetic marijuana and a smoking pipe at the scene of a suspected homicide in Jackson Township, where a mother was charged in the death of her 3-year-old daughter.

Packets of illegal "spice." 
(Photo courtesy of the DEA)

The sad story, which included the 30-year-old woman allegedly running around the neighborhood naked, telling a neighbor she needed to kill their children, unfortunately, is not the first time synthetic marijuana has been linked with horrible crimes.

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Synthetic marijuana, known by many names including Spice and K2, is technically illegal in the United States, but it's proven to be a complicated drug to outlaw.

According to Spice Addiction Support, an online forum dedicated to informing the public on the dangers of the substance, traditional Spice looks like traditional marijuana and is sold under more than 500 names, including Mojo, Scooby Snax and Black Mamba.

But while marijuana's active ingredients are within the plant, synthetic marijuana is made from dried plant material and chopped up herbs with the active ingredients sprayed onto the plant material.

Spice, commonly sold in colorful, foil packets, used to be legally sold in gas stations and convenience stores. State and federal lawmakers moved to ban the substance, but they focused on the synthetic cannabinoids, banning specific chemicals sprayed on the plant material.

The manufacturers simply responded by changing their recipes, and the substance — marketed as incense — can still easily be purchased online.

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Chris Goldstein, a leading Philadelphia-based advocate for cannabis consumers and patients who has written extensively on the subject, refers to Spice as a "chemical cocktail," and said the substance can be very dangerous.

"I'd rather set a plastic spoon on fire and inhale that," he said.

Goldstein said part of the problem is law enforcement and press referring to the substance as synthetic marijuana.

"People hear that and know that real marijuana isn't harmful," he said. "The reality is (Spice can include) like 800 chemicals that haven't been fully tested. It can amount to sticking your face in a hazmat fire."

Goldstein said most people use Spice because it doesn't show up on traditional drug tests. Common users include military members and former inmates on probation or parole, he said.

Goldstein wasn't surprised to learn that Regina Lester, the woman accused of killing her daughter, was subject to drug testing by the Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Official: York-area mom accused of killing tot was being drug tested

He added that the rise of Spice is a direct result of marijuana prohibition.

"If (Lester) could smoke pot, she wouldn't be smoking spice," Goldstein said.

— Reach Dispatch business reporter David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid. Like the blog on Facebook at The CannaBiz Kid.