The Sport of Synthetic Marijuana

Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Neal Catalano for North Bay Recovery Center

While most drug-related news in America surrounds the country’s deadly opioid epidemic, another drug has been entering news in the sports world recently. Synthetic marijuana – also known as K2 or Spice – is an incredibly dangerous "designer" drug produced by spraying herbs with extremely dangerous chemicals.

Spice is meant to mimic the effects of marijuana, but its chemical composition actually makes it far more potent and dangerous than natural cannabis. The drug is capable of producing psychotic episodes in users, as well as severe paranoia, hallucinations, and seizures. In recent months, prominent news stories have featured numerous examples of the drug’s dangers, with 33 people suspected of having overdosed on Spice in Brooklyn alone while dozens became sick from its consumption in Los Angeles.

Recently, the NFL has banned synthetic marijuana although it was already illegal nationally. It now appears on their list of prohibited substances and will be routinely tested for in athletes. Among college athletes, use of the drug appears fairly low – at least according to a 2014 NCAA survey. Although there is no evidence of a widespread epidemic of use among football players, there have been a number of cases in which the drug was involved. Most recently, in January of this year, New England Patriot’s linebacker, Chandler Jones, was hospitalized after having experienced a reaction to synthetic marijuana. In 2010, use of the drug was cited as a contributing factor in an armed robbery committed by some members of Auburn’s national championship team. It was also linked to the death of Lamar Jack, an Anderson University basketball player, in 2011.

Some believe that medicinal marijuana can aid in recovery, allowing athletes to better focus during the exertion of physical sports. This belief, founded or not, could significantly contribute to the increased use of synthetic marijuana. Perhaps the main reason some athletes have turned to synthetic marijuana has been its ease of concealment. Until recently, synthetic marijuana has frequently been left out of drug tests in the NFL – a case that is soon to change with recent measures taken by the NFL. The NFL mandates that no more than 2.5 nanograms per milliliter of the drug may show up in urine, and has also instituted a rule that drug test samples are to be taken within four hours of players being notified of the test. These rules make it much more difficult for athletes to disguise their use of the dangerous drug and should reduce its use significantly among players.

With the institution of these new rules and regulations discouraging its use, synthetic marijuana usage will hopefully become a rare occurrence in sports. The addition of the new 4-hour specimen collection rule should go a long way towards achieving that goal in the NFL. As more of us learn of Spice’s dangerous and unpredictable effects every day, we can hope that this increased awareness will reduce the use of this dangerous drug inside sports and outside as well.