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Synthetic pot arrests point to growing health trend, NYPD says

A package of K2, a concoction of dried

A package of K2, a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the main ingredient in marijuana, is shown in this file photo from Feb. 15, 2010. Photo Credit: AP / Kelley McCall

A team of city health inspectors and NYPD officers raided two locations on Lexington Avenue late last week and confiscated 2,000 packets of synthetic marijuana in the latest crackdown on what officials said is a dangerous health trend.

The seizures were made Thursday at a tobacco store and a bodega on Lexington Avenue near 125th Street and came just days after NYPD Commissioner William Bratton told his top commanders the synthetic cannabinoids -- herbal substances chemically treated to produce effects similar to regular marijuana -- were resulting in a disturbing number of emergency room admissions, about 100 a week. He said users were sometimes paranoid and showed signs of a violent "excited delirium syndrome."

According to NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis, cops from the 25th Precinct accompanied inspectors from the Department of Health and Department of Consumer Affairs, as well as the New York County Sheriff's office, during the enforcement operation to provide security for the city officials.

Synthetic marijuana originates in China and is sent to the United States through the mail. It is sold in smoke shops, bodegas and gas stations, according to a recent law enforcement bulletin. The chemical treatment of the herbs and leaves mimics the effects of the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, according to police drug experts. It is sometimes sold as potpourri and, according to investigators, is frequently found in Pakistani, Yemeni and Middle Eastern immigrant communities.

According to Project Know, a clearinghouse on addiction and rehabilitation information, nationwide reports to poison control centers involving exposure to synthetic marijuana have spiked by more than 300 percent since December 2014.

Possession of synthetic pot, sold as "K2," "Spice" and "Herbal Incense," is not a criminal law violation, police said, but selling it has been barred in New York City since 2012 by Department of Health regulation.

Investigators in last week's raids also found packets of khat, a plant found in the Middle East and parts of Africa, where it is known for its ability to produce euphoria. While legal in those overseas areas, khat is considered a controlled substance and is illegal in the United States. Two men were arrested Thursday on charges of possessing khat, police said.

Investigators also seized bottles of erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra and Cialis during the raids.

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