A fool's drug

Synthetic marijuana, sometimes called "kush" may be sold in packages with brand names such as Scuby Snax, Kush Grape, Angry Birds, LOL and Breaking Bad, but whatever the name, it's causing a world of hurt.

Often, users who try these dangerous products are looking for alternatives to marijuana. They can get more than they bargain for. "This stuff is so bad. It is not anything like marijuana," Dr. Spencer Greene, a Ben Taub and Texas Children's Hospital emergency room physician told Chronicle reporter Dane Schiller ("Fake pot ODs are raising alarms," Page A1, Jan. 18). The symptoms might be a pleasant buzz or chest pains. Some users "are tearing their clothes off, screaming obscenities, biting themselves and attacking people," Dr. Clay Brown, director of adolescent services at Memorial Hermann's Prevention and Recovery Center, told Schiller.

Given that self-preservation is a strong human instinct, one can legitimately ask: Why would anyone buy this stuff? Some smoke shops and convenience stores sell these drugs, which often are marketed to teens and young adults, as potpourri or incense. Some naively believe that if a product is sold at a store then it is legal. Many products even claim on their packaging that they are legal, along with the disclaimer that they are not safe for human consumption. The disclaimer is certainly true.

Despite the viciousness of this drug, usage is growing. Regional emergency rooms are reporting a dramatic increase in the number of patients who have overdosed. While users are experiencing seizures, unconsciousness and even death, unscrupulous manufacturers and dealers are making money off this stuff. The prognosis is not good: Experts say the strains are growing more dangerous.

Prosecutors need tougher and more workable laws on the books to go after the manufacturers and dealers of kush as well as those who possess synthetic drugs. City Council passed a law in October to ban the sale and use of these types of designer drugs, but regardless of whether someone is caught with one packet or a truckload of drugs, people caught with the chemicals can be charged only with misdemeanors.

This session, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, has introduced two bills needed to change the law so that people caught with larger amounts will face more severe punishment. As proof that the Legislature should view passage of these bills as a top priority, the emergency room at Texas Children's Hospital recently saw what is believed to be its youngest Kush overdose victim. She was unconscious. Her body temperature had plunged. Her pupils didn't respond to light. The 12-year-old girl survived, but law enforcement needs better tools to crack down on these purveyors.