MINOOKA — It goes by many names, including K2, Blueberry Haze, Hawaiian Hybrid and Blaze. Those who market synthetic cannabis want users to believe it’s organic, legal and risk-free.
Synthetic cannabis is anything but those things, Victor Markowski, director of the Joliet-based Metropolitan Area Narcotics’ Squad (MANS) told students during an assembly at Minooka Junior High on Tuesday.
“I don’t care what they call it,” Markowski said. “It’s all illegal and it’s all bad for you.”
Minooka Junior High Principal Shane Trager arranged two assemblies with MANS, one each for seventh- and eighth-grade students.
“This is nasty stuff,” Trager whispered during the assembly.
Along with Markowski came Commander Tony Kestner of Illinois State Police Task Force 6 in Central Illinois, Corporate Services Clinician Sandra Beecher from the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, and Community Policing Officer Denis Tatgenhorst from the Minooka Police Department.
While Markowski presented the students with an in-depth look at synthetic drugs – also known as designer drugs – and their dangers, the rest of the team stood at the ready to answer questions from students, school staff and parents who also attended.
With a video slide presentation, Marakowski showed what the drugs look like, how they are packaged and even discussed how they are made.
“It’s about education and prevention,” said Beecher following the assembly. “”If they don’t already know about it, they can find it on the Internet.”
One in 10 high school kids admit to having already used synthetic cannabis, Markowski said. If at least some of those students had been educated or warned, they might not have tried it.
Synthetic cannabis is made by spraying chemicals on leaves such as dandelion, tea and other herbs or spices. It gets the user high like cannabis, but can be more deadly because the user has no idea what’s been sprayed on it or how potent it is.
“They can contain different chemical formulas and potencies,” Markowski said. “If I don’t know what I am putting in my body, I don’t know how it will affect me.”
Along with creating a sense of euphoria, synthetic cannabis can also cause hallucinations, rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, vomiting, paranoia, increased agitation, suicidal thoughts and complete unresponsiveness.
In 2010, there were 2,915 calls to poison control centers in Illinois about problems with the use of synthetic cannabis, Markowski said.
The presentation also included information about what is referred to as bath salts, a synthetic drug in the form of crystals that is snorted, injected, inhaled and even dropped into the eyes. Bath salts also have many of the same risks as synthetic cannabis, including violent behavior.
While all synthetic drugs have been outlawed in Illinois, makers of the drugs try to bypass regulations of the FDA and DEA by labeling their products “not for human consumption.”
Local distributors, such as truck stops, mini marts and even the Internet try to get away with selling it by claiming ignorance of the law or selling it under different names. Some shops have tried to sell “bath salts,” for instance, as jewelry or window cleaner.
“They want you to believe it’s legal and it’s safe for you to buy, use or sell,” Markowski said. “I am here to tell you now that it’s totally false.”
Possession of synthetic drugs became a Class 4 felony in January of 2012, and brings a minimum of one to three years in prison and a fine. Selling synthetic drugs is a Class 3 felony and can result in three plus years in prison, depending on the quantity sold.
Markowski advised parents and staff to keep watch for a smell of cloves, coffee grinders which are used to grind synthetic cannabis before smoking, rolling papers and other drug paraphernalia, like pipes.
For parents and other adults, he encouraged talking with teenagers about the dangers of drugs, knowing who their friends are, and watching for changes in behavior or grades that could indicate drug use.
“Talk to your kids, listen to your kids, know what’s going on,” Markowski said.
Research shows that children whose parents let them know they strongly disagree with drug use, and create consequences, are 43 percent less likely to use drugs, he said.
To the students, Markowski had this to say at the end of the assembly: “We wanted to have this assembly because drug abuse is real. We care about you. You care about other people, your friends and your brothers and sisters.
“If you have knowledge of them (using drugs) you should encourage them to seek the help of an adult. If you have questions about this assembly, or drug use, don’t hesitate to ask your teachers or administrators for help.”