Special Segment: Synthetic Pot

November 8, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The drug is known as synthetic or fake marijuana. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says keeping it off the streets is a "significant challenge." Just this week doctors in Texas said three 16-year-olds had heart attacks after smoking the drug. While it's often marketed as a legal alternative to pot, Illinois doctors and law enforcement officers say it's causing real problems.

"It was the worst moment of my life," said Karen Dobner.

In June, Dobner's youngest son Max was killed when he ran a stop sign in North Aurora at a high rate of speed and crashed into a house.

"There are no words for what this has done to my family," she said.

Before the crash, Max had called his brother to say he was having a panic attack after smoking "that legal stuff" -- synthetic marijuana.

"This stuff is being sold around every corner, in every gas station, tobacco store, and convenience store nearly in your town," said Dobner.

Synthetic marijuana is made up of herbs and spiced soaked in chemicals that doctors say can be much more powerful than marijuana. Although federal and state officials tried to ban the chemicals earlier this year, manufacturers just change the recipe by a molecule and keep it on the shelves.

"The severe reactions we're seeing with children are just terrifying," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

This Thursday, Madigan is organizing what she calls an emergency summit to combat the growing problem of synthetic drugs. She says law enforcement, doctors and parents from all over the state will meet in Springfield to raise awareness about the dangers of these drugs and find a coordinated way to get them off the streets.

"We're now seeing easily once a month a significant case, a death occuring in the state of Illinois, and it's invariably somebody below the age of 20, 25," she said.

Dr. Greg Teas says an increasing number of young people are showing up at emergency rooms with psychotic symptoms after smoking synthetic pot.

"It's playing Russian Roulette with your mind," said Dr. Teas. "We don't know, are these episodes of illness, often times psychosis, brief episodes that only last for a week or so, and then go away spontaneously or are you actually altering the brain."

"The only thing I can do is scream from the mountain tops," said Dobner.

Dobner has now formed a foundation hoping that Max's death will raise awareness about the potential dangers of synthetic drugs.

"I'll never get my son back, but maybe I can save somebody else's son," she said. "Max wanted to make a difference in the world, and this is the least I can do for him, he was such a wonderful son."

Thursday's summit includes a focus on so-called bath salts, a synthetic stimulant that Attorney General Madigan calls "convenience store cocaine". Madigan plans to make this fight a priority and find a way for law enforcement to combat the sale of these kinds of substances in Illinois.

Karen Dobner's foundation, which fights synthetic marijuana: 2themax.org.

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