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Poison control calls, urgency to ban synthetic pot on the rise

Friday - 3/23/2012, 7:01am  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers are racing to ban synthetic marijuana following increased calls to poison control centers from people who have used the drug.

Synthetic marijuana mimics the effects of THC, the drug's main stimulant, but the chemical compounds are very different. It has several street names including Spice, K2 and Red X Dawn.

Since the beginning of 2012, the National Capital Poison Center has taken calls from 34 people in altered mental states or with elevated heart rates after smoking the substance. That compares to 128 for all of 2011.

The Maryland Poison Center had 200 similar cases in 2011.

The chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana are more of a problem than the high itself, Tom Cargiulo, director of the Alcohol and Drug Administration in Maryland says.

"There's also a more significant danger because these are made for human consumption, but there's no quality control," he says.

"Many people who take the drug assume it is safe because it is legal," Cargiulo says. But, he adds, "legal doesn't equate to safe."

The drugs also don't show up in employer or court-mandated drug screening.

Synthetic pot is already banned in Virginia and bills to make it illegal are making their way through legislatures in Maryland and D.C.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)