Suwannee Democrat

Local News

November 3, 2011

Fake pot once again at issue

Use here on the rise, say officials

Live Oak — The warning, “Not for Human Consumption” seems to be going on the wayside for  some users purchasing synthetic incense or potpourri, often called synthetic marijuana, at various local convenient stores to smoke.

The problem seems to be gaining more momentum here as manufacturer’s place cartoon characters such as Scooby-Doo on some of the packages.  

“I would say this thing is more wide-spread than what we realize is going on in Suwannee County,” said Suwannee County Public Safety Director Charlie Conner.

Although it is sold as potpourri or incense, some users purchase this synthetic marijuana to use as a form of legal high. The intended purpose is for aromatherapy, and although these are the directions and the package clearly warns about consumption, a local convenient store itemizes the incense and potpourri as a “tobacco” product on the sales receipt.

The products are supposed to be for adults aged 18 and up. However, the packages are familiarly named, such as Scooby Snax or The Wizard of Oz with cartoon pictures, and come in flavors such as Yum-Yum, Sour-Apple, Blue Twist, Chronic and Menthol. Packages are sold in grams, in the same manner as its illegal counterpart.

The Suwannee Democrat visited six convenience stores in the city of Live Oak and three of them sold multiple brands of synthetic incense or potpourri products.

It is a growing concern in Suwannee County, Conner said, who noted that rescue receives calls from time-to-time on those that have used the product.

What concerns Conner the most is when rescue gets on scene and “we can’t figure out what is wrong with them. They are not having a heart attack, their blood sugar is fine, it’s like they are in a trance.”

The issue of synthetic marijuana is nothing new in Suwannee County. In November 2010, the Democrat reported that at least five residents were hospitalized in one month due to use of the product. However, the situation was revisited Tuesday by concerned resident William Starling who told the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners that the use of the synthetic product is becoming more of a problem. Starling told the Democrat that he knows of several cases of teenagers who have complained of issues associated with the product’s use.

Conner told the Democrat he and his crew will be going back through medical emergency files over the past year that fit the symptoms of smoking the incense or potpourri to investigate the issue further.

In national cases, people of all ages, starting as young as 13, are being brought to emergency rooms or being reported to emergency medical services with heart palpitations, dizziness, paralysis and seizures. The allure of the product is the alleged high with no way to test for them in common drug tests.

Although there have not been any life-threatening reactions that have been attributed to the synthetic products locally, Live Oak Police Chief Buddy Williams said “it’s only a matter of time.”

“I have had officers that have had to go on calls to people under the influence of synthetic (incense or potpourri),” Williams said. “It’s like Russian roulette, it might not get some, but it is devastating to others.”

Although bans have been placed on certain compounds used to make the synthetic incense and potpourri products, manufacturer’s have answered by changing the chemical compound.

Williams believes the change has to come from store owners and legislature measures.

“Store owners need to take consideration to try to help with the problem. The companies are going to continue to manipulate the compound and have a product with the same affect,” Williams said. “Regardless of the compound it should be against the law to sell anything that mimics illegal drugs.”

Conner wants parents to take notice of their children’s behaviors and ask questions like, “Where is the money going?”

He also expressed the importance of communication and awareness.

“Have open communication with your children. We are trying to give our kids too much privacy, I don’t think it’s right. Parents should be checking their rooms, being aware of who their children are hanging out with,” he said.

Some other warning signs of children and youth in possible distress would be a sudden change in friends or, Conner said, noticing them selling cherished items for quick cash.

“This is an ongoing problem and it is going to continue to grow,” said Williams. “It’s legal, so people think there are no issues with it.”

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