Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued a health alert on April 16, 2015 warning New Yorkers that a recent increase in the use of synthetic marijuana has caused more than 160 people to be hospitalized since April 8th.

Synthetic marijuana consists of plant material coated by chemicals which mimic THC, the active component of marijuana. Popularly known as “K2” or “Spice,” it often is marketed as legal products such as incense, herbal mixtures or potpourri to disguise the true purpose of the substance. The sale and possession of synthetic marijuana has been banned in New York since 2012 under Department of Health regulations. Anyone selling these synthetic drugs can be charged with possession of an illicit substance which is punishable with a fine up to $500, or 15 days in jail, or a civil penalty of up to $2,000 per violation.

Calls to New York State poison control centers due to the use of synthetic marijuana increased dramatically in the last two weeks. Users of the synthetic mixtures typically experience symptoms that include agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, tremors, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia and violent behavior. These effects can be similar to phencyclidine, or PCP. Synthetic drugs are dangerous because it is impossible to know exactly which chemical compounds are contained in the product.

New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez said, “These substances are artificially manufactured drugs that change brain function. Young people may be fooled into thinking that these substances are safe because they are sold over the counter or are in colorful packaging, but they are not made for human consumption. They are dangerous and can have significant, long-term effects on the brain.”