A CBC News hidden-camera investigation has found that a new, potentially dangerous form of synthetic marijuana is now being sold openly in some Vancouver-area shops.
The substance, which is blamed for deaths and brain damage in the U.S., is being sold in mass-produced foil packages under names like K2 and Spice.
The price list, plainly posted on the counter of one Vancouver head shop on Granville Street, shows the synthetic pot goes for $29.99 for three grams.
“Three puffs makes you high,” the clerk said.
CBC News also purchased K2 at a store in Burnaby, B.C., as part of the investigation.
Selling compounds that produce a pharmacological effect similar to marijuana is illegal in Canada.
Manufacturers declare in printed instructions on the packaging that the substances are “aromatherapy incense mix” or “herbal blends,” and are “not for human consumption.”
But users are not discouraged from smoking it.
When asked if it’s dangerous to use, the clerk in the Granville said it wasn’t.
“Oh no, this is the same as marijuana,” he said.
Varieties of K2 seized in the U.S. and analyzed showed it was actually dried plant material laced with synthetic chemicals that mimic natural substances called cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the active ingredient in marijuana.
But the potency of synthetic marijuana can be many times greater, judging from reported incidents in the U.S., where it has been blamed for psychotic episodes among young users, kidney damage, seizures and death.
Dr. Paul Daeninck, a Winnipeg oncologist, specializes in cannabinoids for medical purposes and said the synthetic variety should not be consumed.
“From a health point of view, it’s extremely dangerous, incredibly dangerous to be playing with any of this stuff,” Daeninck told CBC News.
The proprietor of the Granville Street shop refused an interview request from CBC News.
At one Vancouver high school, many students CBC News spoke to said they had not heard of K2, but some said they knew other youths who were using it.
Police have raided shops in Calgary and Winnipeg selling synthetic pot. Vancouver police say they have not received any complaints about it.
CBC News is taking steps to securely destroy the packages it purchased during this investigation.
-- With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin