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Synthetic Marijuana Outmaneuvers Law, Returns to Store Shelves

Months after the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made synthetic marijuana illegal by banning the five chemicals that gave it its mind-altering properties, manmade weed is back on the market.

Manufacturers tweaked the formulas to make them legal, and fake pot – a laboratory creation of chopped plant material coated with substances that mimic THC, marijuana’s active ingredient – is once again on the right side of the law. Marketed as incense and sold at gas stations and head shops under names like Spice, K2 and Cloud 9, synthetic marijuana has lots of buyers. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is the second most frequently used illicit substance among high school seniors, trailing only true marijuana in popularity.

Synthetic marijuana’s fans regard it as harmless, but the product has been known to cause serious side effects. Seizures, hallucinations, vomiting and even some deaths have been linked to its use, and calls to poison control centers related to synthetic marijuana have increased significantly. In 2010, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) took in 2,915 calls concerning synthetic marijuana. Last year, the number jumped to 6,890.

Few contractors conduct drug tests for synthetic marijuana, but the technology exists. An employer’s drug test policy specifies which drugs are targeted. Even if a contractor is not drug testing for synthetic marijuana, it may still be looking for indications that it is being used. As in the case of inappropriate and unsafe behaviors that can be associated with alcohol consumption, any actions that negatively affect job performance or put others at risk, can get a worker removed from the worksite.

Parents should be on the lookout for anything resembling incense in their children’s rooms. They should also watch for signs of increased anxiety.

For concerns about synthetic marijuana, the AAPCC offers free and confidential services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Access all local poison centers by calling 1-800-222-1222.

The LHSFNA is committed to helping contractors keep their jobsites safe and free from drugs and alcohol as well as helping LIUNA members who have drug or alcohol problems. The LHSFNA has various educational and program materials available through the Fund’s online catalogue. The Fund also assists in all aspects of drug-free workplace programs, including policy review, employee or management training, implementing testing programs and rehabilitation.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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