33 People in Brooklyn Overdose on "Synthetic Marijuana" in One Day

33 People in Brooklyn Overdose on "Synthetic Marijuana" in One Day

(Christopher Lee, New York Times)

In the words of John Oliver, how is this still a thing?

At least 33 people in Brooklyn were taken to the emergency room Tuesday after overdosing on K2, also known as Spice, also horribly, misleadingly known as “synthetic marijuana.”

The past two years, marijuana news has been riddled with stories of K2 overdoses. While the synthetic drug—whose effects include lethargy and a disturbing altered mental state, which has led more than one observer to describe users as “zombies”—actually has nothing chemically in common with marijuana, it is consumed by being smoked like weed. Producers capitalized on this similarity in its nickname “synthetic marijuana” and until recently it was legally sold in convenience stores.

Though its only similarity is the possible method of consumption, under-informed consumers saw and heard a way to legally consume “synthetic marijuana”—even if it wasn’t marijuana itself—and paid the price with their health and occasionally wit their lives. Last summer, more than 6,000 emergency room visits cited K2 as the cause, two of which ended in the user’s death.

Thanks to widespread media coverage and statewide bans, K2 overdoses have greatly decreased over the past year. However, this dangerous, piece-of-shit drug has found a new audience, as evidenced by Tuesday’s disaster: the homeless.

In spite of the city’s crackdown, the area around the Brooklyn subway station at Myrtle Avenue and Broadway has been littered with K2 users to the extent that local business owners have been forced to put up signs reading “No Smoking K2” in front of their establishments.

Nury Rodriguez, a hairstylist that works in the area, told the New York Times that she’d gotten used to seeing a group of men gathered on her street every morning, openly smoking K2, loitering and acting “crazy” through the entire day. On Tuesday, she watched a few of them collapse.

“It’s very scary because you never see something like that,” Rodriguez said. “They look like they’re going to die. They can’t help themselves.”

Brian Arthur was on his way to work Tuesday when he saw people begin to collapse.

“It’s like a scene out of a zombie movie, a horrible scene,” he told the Times. “This drug truly paralyzed people.”

It’s a stain on marijuana’s reputation to have its misnamed “synthetic” counterpart wreaking such havoc, especially since K2’s major appeal to consumers is that it’s (ALLEGEDLY) a dangerous though legal substitute for an illegal, harmless plant. As long as marijuana remains illegal, people who want to use weed (for medicine or fun) will continue to substitute harmful prescription drugs or this synthetic bullshit for what would otherwise be a harmless experience. The time to educate and legalize is now; as long as marijuana remains illegal, we’re only harming ourselves.