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Department of Health Launches New Campaign to Discourage Youth from Using Fake Weed

Tuesday, May 7, 2013
District-wide social marketing effort aims to educate youth about the dangers of using an increasingly popular drug

(Washington, DC) Today, Mayor Vincent Gray and the DC Department of Health (DOH) launched the city’s first campaign geared towards combatting instances of synthetic marijuana use among District youth by highlighting the negative side effects and dangers of the illegal drug.

Synthetic marijuana goes by a variety of different names such as Spice, Spice Gold, K2, Zombie World, Scooby Snax, and Potpourri. It is often packaged in bright, colorful three-ounce plastic pouches decorated with designs, graphic imagery, sayings from cartoon characters, popular movies, as well as other recognizable mainstream logos. Public health and law enforcement officials have traced the sale of the drug to many District tobacco and smoke shops, gas stations, convenient stores and can even be purchased over the internet.

"One of my top priorities is to ensure District youth have an opportunity to learn, live and grow in a city that takes a proactive approach to ensure their right to a healthy, safe and drug-free life," said Mayor Gray. "I look forward to accomplishing this goal with the help of this new initiative and want to commend the collaborative efforts of both Department of Health and Metropolitan Police Department for helping me in this fight to protect one of our most fragile and impressionable populations."

Synthetic Marijuana’s Appearance and Side Effects

The drug is often mistaken for a natural or herbal product as a result of false advertising. The drug is made of shredded plant material and is typically marketed as "100 percent organic herbs," wrongfully convincing consumers that they are using a natural product that is completely safe. Additional public health data shows that synthetic marijuana contains a vast number of extremely harmful and dangerous chemical additives. Side effects of the drug have been linked to dizziness, chills, rapid heart rate, fainting, coma, vomiting and in some documented cases stroke, blood clots, loss of body movement and motor skills, brain damage and blindness.

Focus Group Data and Report Findings

According to reports from the District of Columbia Prevention Centers, the average age of synthetic marijuana users in the city is 13 years old. Recent focus group findings, in partnership with DOH and local youth-based organizations indicate that synthetic marijuana is seen as an alternative to marijuana, as a result of its cheap cost and ability to go undetected in routine drug testing.

The 2012 Monitoring the Future study, found that synthetic marijuana now ranks as the second most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors, after marijuana. Poison Control Centers have reported that calls related to synthetic marijuana have doubled between 2010 and 2011 with more than 5,500 calls as of October 31, 2011. Synthetic marijuana use sent 11,406 users to the emergency room in 2010, according to a recent report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). The National Institute on Drug Abuse released survey results in Dec 2011 reporting that one in nine high school seniors had used "Spice" or "K2", "making synthetic marijuana the second most commonly used illicit drug, after marijuana, among high school seniors.

"As the District’s health officer, it is my responsibility to inform and protect the health and safety of District residents. The launch of the synthetic marijuana prevention campaign is the first step in the right direction," said Dr. Saul Levin, Interim Director DC Department of Health. "It is also important for youth, parents and community leaders to know that synthetic marijuana is harmful. Use of this drug has proven to cause serious and lasting health effects that jeopardize the body and developing mind."

The campaign will be visible across the city throughout the spring and summer with advertising on Metro transit, Internet, newspapers, radio and billboards. There will also be an interactive website,; and social media elements where District youth can interact directly with the campaign elements.