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Fake Highs, Real Consequences: Illegality of Synthetic Marijuana and Designer Drugs


Scientific developments over the past century have been incredibly astounding and transformative of the human experience. There have been great leaps and bounds in technology regarding pharmaceuticals and other medical treatments. However, this same scientific intelligence has been applied in the black market to develop innovative designer drugs in attempts to produce a cheaper high, or to develop alternatives to traditional drugs that are not addressed directly by traditional drug laws.

Recently, “synthetic marijuana” substitutes have become quite popular with offenders who are trying to get a legal high or are trying to avoid testing positive for THC on a drug test. These substances go by popular brand names such as K2, Spice, Incense, and hundreds of other brand imitators. Synthetics became quite popular due to how easy it was to obtain them as they were originally legal to buy at smoke shops or online. While some shops may still sell them, this is against the law as the DEA enacted a national ban on them in 2012. Any shops still selling them are in violation of federal law. Now the punishment for selling or possessing synthetic marijuana is a potential felony, as opposed to the reduced criminal penalties your traditional marijuana user would face.

Also popular are MDMA/Ecstasy analogues commonly known under the broad umbrella label of “bath salts.” The most common substances classified as “bath salts” are MDPV, Mephedrone, and Methylone. However a sleuth of hundreds of research chemicals are marketed as bath salts as wells. Most of these will trip a blood test for amphetamines, and have unpredictable and potentially serious side effects including psychosis and death. Using bath salts or even synthetic marijuana has unpredictable health effects. Due to their novelty, scientific studies have not been thoroughly done on most of these substances and the sellers don’t seem to care about the health of the user. Many have been hospitalized or died due to using these illegal, unpredictable substances.

In its efforts to keep up with the new drug compounds that are being created every day, the state and federal legislatures have drafted drug laws targeting broad classes of analogues and designer drugs. These laws often fail to capture the nuance of each substance in an attempt to group them all together. Dealers and users may believe they are being clever by using chemical analogues instead of traditional drugs. Instead, they face similar or increased penalties depending on the substance, and the mere possession of a designer drug in and of itself may be a felony.

Title 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(36), prohibits the knowing or intentional manufacture, distribution, possession with intent to distribute or possession of a designer drug. A designer drug is roughly defined as a substance other than a controlled substance that is intended for human consumption that has a chemical structure substantially similar to that of a controlled substance or produces an effect similar to a controlled substance.

Not every person charged with possession, or possession with intent to deliver these designer drugs has knowledge that what they had is in fact a designer drug. And the potential consequence of selling these drugs is severe. If you or a loved one is facing charges involving designer drugs, you need an experienced attorney to help you. An experienced attorney will know the expert testimony needed and arguments to advance on your behalf. With years of experience, Attorney Frank Walker has the knowledge and experience fighting drug cases to advise you in this most serious of times. With offices in Pittsburgh, PA and Morgantown, WV, he is prepared to fight for you!

Call us now at (412) 212-3878 for the Pittsburgh Office, and (304) 712-2089 for our office in Morgantown.