Combatting Synthetic Cannabinoids

K2 and Spice

Synthetic cannabinoids encompass a wide variety of chemicals designed to stimulate the same receptor in the human body as THC.  These drugs are commonly manufactured in Chinese laboratories, sprayed onto herbs or plant material, then packaged under brand names such as “Spice” or “K2.”  A large part of the appeal of these drugs, which are not approved for medical use in the U.S., is the fact that they are unlikely to show up in standard drug tests.  Drug testing laboratories have been frustrated in their efforts to develop new panels to test for synthetic cannabinoids because the manufacturers respond by frequently altering their products’ chemical composition in order to evade positive results.

Because consumers do not know the chemical composition of these constantly evolving synthetic cannabinoids, the adverse effects are unpredictable.  Side effects can include rapid heart beat, agitation, confusion, lethargy, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures.  Nonetheless, in recent years synthetic cannabinoid use has skyrocketed.

For example, between April 1 and June 30, 2015, compared to the same time period last year, New York experienced a tenfold increase in emergency room visits and poison control center calls due to health effects associated with synthetic cannabinoid use.

Last week Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City, signed a new law banning the manufacture and sale of several popular synthetic cannabinoids including K2, as well as the sale of the synthetic stimulants known as bath salts and their imitations.  Also last week, New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, launched two new public service announcements warning of the dangers of synthetic drugs and prescription opioid abuse.  In addition, New York State’s Public Health and Health Planning Council has issued an amendment prohibiting the possession, manufacture, distribution, sale or offer of synthetic phenethylamines and cannabinoids, and adding additional chemicals to the list of explicitly prohibited synthetic cannabinoids.

Employers should confirm that their policies prohibit reporting to work under the influence of psychoactive drugs irrespective of their legality.