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A federal law signed by President Obama this week that bans synthetic drugs may not be effective in reducing use of the products, several experts tell NPR.

The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 bans synthetic marijuana, “bath salts” and other synthetic drugs. Dozens of states and local governments already have banned these drugs. Often marketed as legal substances, synthetic drugs are sold in small pouches or packets over the Internet, in tobacco and smoke shops, drug paraphernalia shops, gas stations, and convenience stores. Use of synthetic drugs has been blamed for hundreds of emergency room visits, and some deaths, NPR notes.

Christine Stork, Clinical Director of the Upstate New York Poison Control Center, said synthetic marijuana can be 20 times as potent as real marijuana. She adds it is difficult to predict the strength of any one brand or packet, since there is no regulation or oversight of the production of these products.

“Anybody with a working knowledge of chemistry, or that can follow a simple set of directions, can obtain and mix these substances and create these compounds,” says James Burns, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration in upstate New York. He noted that even though many states have banned some chemical compounds used to make synthetic marijuana, drug makers can manipulate the molecular structure to produce legal compounds that are similar to the ones that have been outlawed.

Anthony Tambasco, a forensic scientist in Mansfield, Ohio, says despite the new federal law, new compounds will continue to be created. He notes that as soon as Ohio outlawed some chemical compounds used to make synthetic marijuana, he started to see new ones in local stores. He expects drug makers will quickly find ways around the federal law as well. “They already are. They’re already out in front of it. They’re already on their next batch,” he said.


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