- Associated Press - Monday, June 30, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Synthetic marijuana is illegal to use in Louisiana.

Law enforcement and health officials say it’s becoming the new drug of choice because many users think it’s a safe.

The chemical compounds sprayed on grass clippings or some other smoke-able plant to create a cannabis-like high changes faster than the law can keep up.

“It’s not a drug. This is a poison,” Dr. Beau Clark, the coroner for East Baton Rouge Parish told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1k5lRgX). “It’s some kind of synthetically made chemical that can be anything.”

Calls to the Louisiana Poison Control Center have increased in recent months. The Southeast Veterans Health Care Center reported a disturbing escalation of calls from young veterans experiencing psychotic episodes after use.

Four months into the year, there had already been 200 incidents at Baton Rouge hospitals.

Hospital emergency room visits after have increased considerably, with problems ranging from bleeding in the brain, increased heart rate and blood pressure that can lead to strokes and paralysis. Then, there’s the aggressive, hallucinogenic psychotic behavior and bizarre behaviors linked to the compounds.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recently identified synthetic marijuana as the third most abused substance by U.S. high schoolers - behind alcohol and marijuana.

At a recent behavioral health collaborative meeting, Linda Lamendola, of the Ascension Parish schools, said a few isolated instances occurred at parish high schools last school year. In one instance, a student had “an awful response to using it, having seizure-like behaviors,” she said.

“In 2009, we didn’t even know the stuff existed,” Rebecca Nugent said. “Since 2010, it’s become increasingly more popular.”

Nugent is chemistry manager at the State Police Crime Lab, which tests evidence as part of law enforcement investigations.

At the State Police Crime Lab, synthetic marijuana - called cannabinoids - will surpass cocaine in the evidence submitted for testing as part of law enforcement investigations.

In 2010, synthetic marijuana ranked 10th on the top 10 list of drugs submitted for testing.

Real marijuana, the plant, led the pack, followed by cocaine.

In 2013, synthetic marijuana ranked third with 850 positive tests, behind the 1,282 cases for cocaine and 6,782 items testing positive for real marijuana.

During the first five months of 2014, 3,093 items have been tested positive for marijuana, 584 for cocaine and 800 for cannabinoids.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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