By Anne Allred
ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. (KSDK) - Synthetic marijuana hit the drug scene 2 ½ years ago. The DEA banned it, but NewsChannel 5 is learning drug dealers have found a way around the law.
Synthetic marijuana is any plant vegetation that is then sprayed with a dangerous chemical.
"I smoked so much I just fried myself," said 16-year-old Gary Dalton.
Dalton started using synthetic marijuana in eighth grade.
"The short term effects are agitation, rapid heart rate, sweating, hallucinations, sometimes psychotic episodes, seizures," said Milli Palmer, clinical director at Preferred Family HealthCare.
Synthetic marijuana is advertised as incense or potpourri. When smoked the side effects are ten to 100 times worse than marijuana according to police. It can also be easier to obtain than other illegal drugs.
Newschannel 5 was able to buy two packets of synthetic marijuana online.
NewsChannel 5 had the packets tested at the St. Charles County Crime Lab. At the time of testing, Lab Director Bryan Hampton didn't find any evidence of chemicals banned by the DEA. However, he did find the product was sprayed with a chemical extremely close to the illegal ones called XLR11.
Hampton says changing the chemical makeup can be a simple process.
"It's just so hard to keep up with," said Major Raymond Floyd, supervisor of the Lincoln County Narcotics Enforcement Team.
Floyd has been trying to take synthetic marijuana off the streets for more than two years.
"On synthetics they are always one step ahead of us because they're always changing the chemicals," said Major Floyd.
When the producers of synthetic marijuana change a chemical compound successfully, it can take up to one year for the DEA to catch on.
"In Lincoln County we use the Missouri Highway Patrol to test this stuff and you're talking about an 8-12 month turn around before the lab can get the stuff tested," said Major Floyd.
There are many reasons it can take months to get lab results. Sometimes the labs are backed up, bigger cases can take priority, but it also just takes longer to test.
"It can take 20 to 30 times longer than a marijuana case," said Hampton.
Floyd says during the time it takes the lab to test for illegal chemicals, the drug dealers are still putting the synthetic marijuana on the streets.
When asked, Floyd said there is only one way to solve the problem.
"The solution is education and prevention and that's where it lies," he said.
Nine days after NewsChannel 5 tested the synthetic marijuana obtained online, the DEA banned the chemical compound XLR11. However, the St. Charles County crime lab has identified a new synthetic marijuana compound called PB22. It has not been banned.