Special Report: Fake Pot

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Lawmakers are concerned about what some Mid-South teens are smoking.  It's a kind of potpourri, or incense, that sells for about $45 a pop.

The substance is legal, at least for now, and doctors worry it could be more dangerous than the drugs it emulates.

The herbal leafy substance goes by names like Spice, Euphoria, and K-2. A synthetic compound added to the herbs mimics the effects of marijuana.  But Family Medicine Physician Dr. Ann Payne-Johnson says for those who smoke it, fake pot more potent, and could be more harmful than the real deal.

"We're having calls to poison control, and we're not really sure exactly if it's the drug itself or the things that are...how they're manufacturing it...that are making kids have side effects," Payne-Johnson said.

There's no real science yet to determine the long term health effects of fake pot, but many side effects are being reported.

"They're having side effects similar to pesticide overdoses," Payne-Johnson said.

According to Payne-Johnson, these side effects could be caused by chemicals added to the herbs, which the manufacturer isn't required to disclose. Some users report having panic attacks, heart palpitations, hallucinations, delusions, vomiting and increased agitation.

So, why is it legal? Because, right now, its being sold in smoke shops as herbal incense.

We purchased some in Midtown Memphis. The package of Voo Doo Magic incense is marked NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.  But parents, don't be fooled.

"That's the guise that it's under, but actually they're smoking it," said Shelby County Drug Court Judge Tim Dwyer.

Dwyer recently discovered violators in the court's rehab program were replacing illegal pot with fake pot, because it doesn't show up on drug test screenings.

"We found about 10 people that we had to terminate and sentence to the penal farm for violating the rules," he said.

The trend is so alarming, State Representative Ulysses Jones sponsored a bill to ban sales in Tennessee.

"We found out that this was going on across other states, and the first place to hit is here in Shelby County," Jones said.

"Our best hope would rest in the legislature passing it and making it illegal here in Tennessee," Dwyer added.

Until then anyone 18 or older can buy it in stores and online.

"That's very scary, and hopefully this will be off the shelves and we'll fight another battle another day," Dwyer said.

So parents, familiarize yourself with the lingo and the labels, because good things don't always come in small packages.

We contacted the makers of VooDoo Magic for comment.  This was their response:

"The product is intended to be sold as incense and we understand it has plenty of potential for abuse, but it's created a lot of jobs. Stores are making a lot of money. It's created taxes for the government and it's being sold by legitimate businesses. We'd like to see some government regulation, an 18 or 21 year old age limit. It's not fake pot and it's not marijuana. THC and marijuana are illegal. This product isn't illegal."

Some stores, like the one where Action News 5 shopped, do have independent age restrictions for the purchase of the item.

Jones says there are also products being sold that mimic the effects of cocaine. He's amended the bill making its way through the Tennessee legislature to include those products as well as fake pot.

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