COLUMBIA — A new state drug law went into effect Sunday banning the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana commonly called K2 and K3, as well as the drug marketed as “bath salts.”
The law is one of Missouri’s attempts to lessen synthetic drug use. It was passed in May by the Missouri House of Representatives, and signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon on July 14, according to a previous Missourian report.
John Mruzik, a physician with Boone Convenient Care, said these drugs have a molecular structure similar to marijuana. The new law expands the definition of marijuana to include these synthetic materials.
These drugs — which can be snorted, injected or smoked — can have dangerous affects. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the drugs can have effects similar to cocaine, causing increased blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia and delusions.
Mruzik said the drugs also can have serious long-term effects, such as seizures, psychotic episodes and memory impairment.
Despite their dangerous effects, the use of these artificial drugs has been growing. The national poison control association reported that, as of July 31, centers across the country had received 3,787 calls related to synthetic marijuana exposure. That's 800 more calls than the total received in 2010.
"Bath salt" use has risen sharply. The association said poison centers across the country have received more than 4,000 calls related to the drug this year. There were only 303 calls in 2010.
In the past six months, University Hospital has treated six patients who had ingested bath salts, hospital spokesman Jeff Hoelscher said.
“Treatment involves supportive care such as hydration, and in some cases, a mild sedative,” he said.
Columbia smoke shops market the drug as “herbal incense” and tag it with the code names “Pandora,” “Sweet Leaf” or “Happy Fun Time.” A three-gram bag at one shop, Eye Candy, sells for $10, a ten-gram bag is $20 and a 125-gram bag is $174.
The drug attracts customers from other places in Missouri, like Sedalia and Springfield, said Eye Candy employee Sarah Watney.
“I am interested to see what head shops will shut down,” Watney said of the law's effects.
Columbia Police Department Sergeant Geoff Jones, who is part of the department's narcotics division, said the police will monitor smoke shops and make arrests for possession of the drugs.
Under the new law, possession of any bath salts or more than 35 grams of a synthetic cannabinoid like K2 or K3 is a Class C felony, according to a recent Columbia Police news release. Less than 35 grams of synthetic cannabinoid is a Class A misdemeanor, the release stated.
The law eliminates the need for the police to seek new legislation every time these drugs are slightly changed, according to the release.
"I think the law will likely slow down the availability of synthetic drug use in Missouri," Jones said.