Though it has been three years since a major drug bust in Story County practically wiped out synthetic cannibinoids in the area, Central Iowa Drug Task Force Sgt. Scott Kickbush said that officers are now trying to ensure that drug manufacturers do not return with a restructured product.
“They make the laws based on the chemical makeup of these synthetics, and then as soon as they pass the law, the labs just change the chemical makeup,” Kickbush said. “It’s like a dog chasing its tail as far as that goes.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic cannibinoids (or marijuana) are man-made mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices. These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they are related to chemicals found in the marijuana plant.
In 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) temporarily placed five synthetic chemicals — JWH-018; JWH-073; JWH-200; CP-47, 497; and cannabicyclohexanol — into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Each one of these substances produce drug-like effects similar to that of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Kickbush said that the biggest issue they encountered once those chemical were considered Schedule I, is that manufacturers just altered the chemical makeup, to create a loophole.
“That’s the biggest problem; they just keep changing the formulas and putting them back out there,” Kickbush said.
But the drug went on a massive decline in 2013, following a major bust in Cambridge, where CIDTF officers seized thousands of packages from a convenience store. From there, Kickbush said they were able to follow the trail to the main supplier in Waterloo, and arrested him.
Since then he has said it has pretty much dried up in Central Iowa, though he has still heard of various cases around the state.
“Are they still available? Sure. I mean, you can get them through the internet,” Kickbush said. “But we haven’t had near the reports of them being sold out of stores in central Iowa like we did three years ago.”
In fact, Kickbush said that there have not been any seizures in Central Iowa in over two years. However, on a national level, 2015 saw a major spike in the number of telephone calls to poison centers reporting adverse health effects related to synthetic cannabinoid use, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. And just over a month ago, Brooklyn, N.Y., saw 33 people taken to the hospital after overdosing on “K2” synthetic marijuana.
Though the numbers have declined drastically in Central Iowa, Kickbush said he does not believe any increase in other drugs correlates with synthetics.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s really replaced synthetics,” Kickbush said. “If someone wants to get high, they will find something to get high on.”
Understanding that synthetic drugs will never go away because of the revolving chemical makeup, Kickbush said the fad seems to be over.
“Once a lot of these stores stopped selling it, kids stopped buying it,” Kickbush said. “To be honest, I think it was kind of fad that is hopefully dying off and going away.”