COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Despite the best intentions of legislators, teens and young adults are still finding synthetic marijuana. There may not be receipts to point to but emergency rooms, the Drug Enforcement Agency and now the Centers for Disease Control can now attest to its presence.
The September deaths of three people in the Denver area, likely from synthetic marijuana or k-2, prompted an investigation by the CDC that is ongoing.
In Colorado Springs, doctors at Memorial Hospital have started tracking spice related illnesses. In less than a month, they've determined 30 cases are tied to synthetic marijuana and 40 more are being investigated. In one case, the drug is suspected of causing Jonathan Walder, 19, to slip into a coma.
"The problem with these synthetic drugs is that they're man made, usually by people with no chemistry degrees," said Matthew Barden, agent in charge of the Colorado Springs division of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
In 2011, Colorado lawmakers passed a law that banned the drug but Barden said that law just complicates things.
"Each substance can be different," said Barden. "With state guidelines and federal guidelines -- the laws could be very different."
Craig Simpson of the Colorado Springs Police Department said Colorado law should be clear to both shop owners and users. Possession of spice is a misdemeanor, getting caught selling the product is a felony which could lead to jail time.
Simpson said there's a clear distinction between marijuana and it's chemically-made sibling.
"We see things that we don't see with marijuana like overdose deaths," said Simpson.
He calls it a powerful and hard hitting drug that and users should not think it's okay even if they buy it over the counter.
"It does not make it safe or acceptable by any stretch," said Simpson.
Barden said spice has taken off over the last year because of it's ease of availability and low price. But he warns no one knows what kind of chemicals are being used in the product or in what quantities.
"There's no rationale," said Barden. "There's no method that I've heard except for spray it and hope it comes out to be the best quality it can be."
Barden believes that cavalier approach to producing synthetic marijuana and another synthetic drug known as bath salts make the products dangerous.
"We're looking into the overdose situation," said Barden. "We're doing the very best we can as far as finding out where this stuff is sold, what particular store its being sold from."
In the meantime, Barden suggests education as the best way keep people from ending up in the hospital.
"Every package I've ever seen has a sticker on there," said Barden. "If a package says not for human consumption I would take that package's advice."