While the debate over whether or not to legalize marijuana makes most of the headlines, there is a far more serious drug problem in our communities. Synthetic or "designer" drugs, while virtually unknown five years ago, have exploded in popularity in both Canada and the United States. These drugs are made of chemical compounds designed to mimic drugs that are illegal, such as marijuana and cocaine.

Synthetic marijuana is the most common.  Synthetic marijuana is a product containing plant material that has been sprayed with cannabinoids. The chemical compounds in synthetic marijuana are not illegal, and the drug is sold in convenience stores, tobacco shops, and head shops. Synthetic marijuana is often marketed as exotic herbal incense and is sold under such names as "IZMS", "K2", "Spice", "Yucatan Fire", "Earth Impact", and "Herbal Highs". This gives it the illusion of being harmless. However, synthetic marijuana is anything but.

On February 27th, 2013, Health Canada issued an advisory for synthetic marijuana, detailing the risks associated with the drug, which include anxiety/panic attacks, memory loss, acute psychosis, seizures, rapid or irregular heartbeat, vomiting, high blood pressure and chest pain, among others. Emergency rooms in the United States  saw 11,406 visits involving synthetic cannabinoids in 2010, and a January 2014 study surveyed research findings on the biological effects of cannabinoids and found there is a "growing evidence of impairment, psychosis, tissue injury and isolated deaths attributable to this emerging class of drugs". Essentially, users of synthetic drugs are gambling with their lives each time they take the drug, as these drugs are not subject to any safety trials, and are cooked by chemists with no regard for how they might harm the human body.

So, what kinds of legislation are being enacted to combat these dangerous drugs? Well, it's complicated. It's almost impossible to draft laws for every possible drug. Once a law is passed, chemists "tweak" the formula ever so slightly as to make the drug legal again. In the United States, lawmakers are looking to pass a law that will go after the way the drug is marketed, rather then focusing on it's chemical structure. In Canada, synthetic drugs fall into a "grey" area legally, as many have not been declared by Health Canada in schedule II of the Controlled Drugs & Substances Act.