Marijuana can't hurt you, right? Wrong, if it is the synthetic kind.
Last week, emergency rescuers in Austin responded to dozens of calls involving synthetic marijuana overdoses and adverse reactions. More than 50 people were treated. Some were rendered unconscious after using the drug, known as K2 or Kush, while others experienced seizures and strange behavior.
There were no deaths reported in Austin's latest outbreak, but the drug was linked to at least 20 deaths between 2011 and 2015.
The Austin Police Department said three people are suspected of distributing the drug downtown. They were taken into custody for questioning.
What is synthetic marijuana?
The drug is a combination of shredded herbs, spices or plant material that is sprayed with a synthetic, or manmade, chemical compound that is similar to the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC.
The drug is dangerous because only the person who creates it knows for sure what is in it. Oftentimes, the drug is made in China and shipped to the United States.
Is synthetic marijuana illegal?
Many forms of synthetic marijuana and its ingredients are against the law in Texas.
In the past, synthetic cannabinoids were sold in smoke shops and some convenience stores. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration expanded its ban on the drugs in 2011 by including variations of the drug and its ingredients on the list of controlled substances.
Additionally, in Texas last year, a new law took effect that makes even more of the chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana illegal, which was aimed at making it easier to criminally charge people in possession of the drug.
Synthetic marijuana charges
Someone who is charged with possessing synthetic marijuana will need to take the situation very seriously. Penalties for drug possession can range from misdemeanor to felony offenses.
The consequences that they face depend on factors including how much of the drug they are accused of possessing, if they are accused of attempting to sell the drug and whether they have a past criminal record.