Stacy Huberty of Hastings, Minn., had been on a crusade to get synthetic marijuana off store shelves in her state. She had worked with a group of concerned parents and lawmakers, including State Sen. Kate Sieben, in this effort. Huberty learned of synthetic marijuana in a most disturbing way. She received a call from her daughter that her son, Sam, 14, had passed out on the bathroom floor after trying it once. Huberty rushed to the hospital.
"It was extremely scary," Huberty recalled. "I reached over to touch his arm, and he was just cold and clammy. I didn't know if he was going to die."
After spending five hours with Sam in the emergency room, the distraught mother spoke to a police officer who stood in the hospital's hallway. Hoping to find someone to hold accountable for giving her teenager this harmful substance to smoke, Huberty asked the officer what he knew about synthetic marijuana. His response "floored" her.
"There is nothing that can be done," she said he told her. "It's not an illegal substance" and "no charges could be filed."
Her painfully shy son recalled the moment that nearly cost him his life, and his cousin's simple question that sparked his decision.
"He asked me if I wanted to get high, and I said yeah," Sam Huberty said. "He was like, 'It's kind of like pot. It's legal.'"
In Sam's Minneapolis suburb, emergency incidents resulting from the use of synthetic marijuana have increased exponentially in the past 18 months.
Last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration said it would ban five chemicals used to produce synthetic marijuana, making the product illegal to sell or possess in the United States.
The move comes as a wave of young people across the country has embraced synthetic marijuana, which was sold legally in many places, as a way to get high.
The temporary ban on chemicals in fake pot will take effect in the next 30 days, the DEA said today in a news release. The ban will be in place for at least a year while the federal government considers whether to place permanent controls on the substances.
"Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that 'fake pot' is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case," DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart wrote in a statement.
"Today's action will call further attention to the risks of ingesting unknown compounds and will hopefully take away any incentive to try these products."
Also known as K2 or "spice," synthetic marijuana is a mixture of common herbs sprayed with synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana. A disclaimer on the package stating that it is not for human consumption had allowed the substance to remain on store shelves.
Sold in head shops as incense, tobacco stores and even in gas stations, its popularity has soared. Before the DEA ban, the sale of synthetic marijuana had already been prohibited in at least 12 states, including Kansas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oregon, Illinois, Michigan and Kentucky, as well as some cities in Texas.
More than 500 cases of adverse reactions to synthetic marijuana had been reported across the country in the past year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, up from six reported incidents from the previous year.