“Why does synthetic marijuana make people act like zombies?” asked an actual CBS News headline Thursday, seeming to take the idea that this occurs as established fact.
“Synthetic marijuana”—a misnomer—is a catch-all phrase that may describe any of myriad so-called “synthetic” drugs, including K2, Spice and more, that are marketed as alternatives to marijuana. Chemical formulations are often tweaked in attempts to circumvent the law.
The zombie myth has been spawned by police misinformation and media hysteria. Last summer, for example, the NYPD released two videos purporting to show nude individuals freaking out on K2. Trouble is, the videos were BS. One of them was shot years earlier, and featured a man with many issues who was very unlikely to have been using K2; the other was of a man suspected of using PCP from a 2003 episode of Cops.
“Synthetic” drugs, better termed Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), canbe dangerous—apart from anything else, you never know exactly what you’re getting. And one of the biggest tragedies around K2 and the rest is that the substance they’re intended to replace—regular ol’ marijuana—is much safer. It’s another bad consequence of prohibition.
In direct contradiction of all the sensationalized headlines, here are just five of the ways in which using K2 definitely does not make you act like a zombie.
1. People who use K2 do not have an insatiable lust for human flesh and/or brains; zombies do.
There is no evidence that using K2 is likely to make people behave violently.
2. People who use K2 have the option of turning to a less risky alternative; zombies are screwed.
Precisely zero marijuana overdose deaths occur each year—even according to the DEA. Much K2 use results from the criminalization of marijuana, whether it’s to avoid the consequences of a failed drug test or to avoid arrest.
3. People who use K2 do not have superhuman strength; zombies might.
NPYD Commissioner Bill Bratton has stooped low enough to ascribe “superhuman strength” to people who use K2, but that doesn’t mean we have to be stupid enough to listen to him.
4. Social workers and others are developing ways to help people who use K2; they are still stumped on zombies.
To take one example, Therese Sonesson, a Swedish social worker who works in New York, has developed a guide to help talk down K2 users experiencing adverse psychological effects. Many other services either are or should be available.
5. People who use K2 have feelings; zombies do not.
Sure, any zombie worth its salt can cheerfully survive having limbs hacked off, for example, or being demonized by the press. We would advocate treating actual human beings rather better.