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A cause for alarm

As a Health Officer for the town of Rindge, I address issues that represent a threat to the public health of my community. I am also a full-time police officer. My duties as health officer are in addition to my law enforcement responsibilities.

I am writing today in an effort to relay the dangers posed by the use and abuse of synthetic marijuana and bath salts, which are sold legally throughout the state.

Despite changing attitudes, the recreational use and possession of marijuana is still a crime in New Hampshire. The popularity of synthetic marijuana stems from attempts of individuals to circumvent this fact. They wish to obtain a legal high by smoking a combination of compounds that have not been specifically controlled by the government.

Synthetic marijuana products are not combinations of natural herbs and organic materials, as many believe. They typically consist of plant materials that have been sprayed with synthetic chemicals designed to mimic the effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the psychoactive component of marijuana. They are packaged and sold legally throughout the region as herbal incense, plant food and potpourri.

The problem with this “fake marijuana” is that buyers don’t know what chemicals they are smoking. Most packages do not list their contents. Some claim that they contain no illegal substances, while others only list illegal substances they say they do not contain. This is a purposeful attempt to mislead parents and local authorities.

The fact is that some of these individual products can contain chemical combinations that are nearly 500 times more potent than THC. Because of this, we are seeing an alarming number of users, particularly young people, in our local emergency rooms suffering from significant psychotropic episodes.

Some users of synthetic cannabinoids, popularly known as Spice or K2, report effects similar to those produced by marijuana — elevated mood, relaxation and altered perception, while many others describe stronger effects, such as extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.

According to the website Drugfree.org, the paranoia that is associated with K2 and Spice is closer to the psychological reaction to phencyclidin, PCP or angel dust as it is commonly known, than to the paranoia associated with marijuana.

One user described her experience like this: “I felt as if I was in hell — this morbid place that I couldn’t get out of,” according to a posting at cenblog.org.

Bath Salts represent a different category of synthetic drugs. They are typically a fine powder that is ingested orally or snorted through the nose. The powder is similar in appearance to the products you would use in a bath, but contain no soaps. These products contain chemicals that mimic the effects of cocaine, methamphetamine and LSD. Users of these products experience extreme paranoia, hallucinations and violent behavior, which often lead to physical injury or death to either themselves or others.

Many salacious crimes have been attributed to the abuse of bath salts, which are sold at the same retail locations that sell Spice and K2.

New Hampshire has banned specific formulas of synthetic marijuana and bath salts, but manufacturers of these products can easily stay one step ahead of control efforts by simply replacing the chemical compound of a banned substance with a different formula that is not yet identified. This increases the risk to users because they do not know how they will react when they ingest these new substances.

I strongly feel that these drugs have no place in our community. Simply put, they are dangerous. I choose to live here because it is a safe environment for my family. I do not want to see a drug culture develop here, and I am willing to make my position known publicly. If others feel as I do, then I encourage them to offer their support and make their feelings known.

Together, we can take a stand and succeed in keeping these substances at bay. If not, then the legal loopholes will continue to be exploited and we will have to deal with the consequences as they arise.

Tom Horne is Rindge’s health officer; he is also a full-time police officer with the Rindge Police Department.

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