Perhaps you’ve heard of synthetic marijuana, also called K2, spice or syncanns. Maybe you’ve even seen it, but what you may not realize is that both its use and the dangers of being addicted to synthetic marijuana is on the rise.
In September, 43-year-old Richie Sanborn was found passed out behind the wheel of his truck after smoking synthetic marijuana here in Charlotte—with the blunt still lit.
Sanborn was charged with a DWI, and when news station Fox 46 Charlotte approached him about the incident, he agreed to an interview on one unusual condition: that they allow him to smoke in front of the cameras so he could show the world how bad being addicted to synthetic marijuana is. While talking to the cameras, Sanborn deftly rolled a joint of Brain Freeze, a popular brand of synthetic marijuana, and smoked it. Soon after, Sanborn was transformed from the energetic person first filmed to a slurring, unstable semblance of his former self as he leans against his truck lapsing in and out of conversation.
Sanborn is not alone. Synthetic marijuana is currently legal to buy and sell in many states, but illegal to smoke. North Carolina passed legislation to outlaw the manufacture, sale and distribution of synthetic marijuana in 2013 but it’s still here. Sold in small foil packets, almost exclusively in smoke shops and liquor stores, the synthetic pot is labeled as potpourri and marked “unfit for human consumption.” Despite this, use of and addiction to the substance that more closely resembles a synthetic designer drug than marijuana is sharply on the rise.
Sanborn says he’s addicted to synthetic marijuana, a drug with such negative effects that he says officials should “get it off the streets.”
“Trust and believe me, I’m gonna go get it again tomorrow, and the next day and the next day and the next day and every day they’ve (expletive deleted) got it, I’m gonna go get it,” Sanborn said. “’Cause I don’t know how to act without it.”
After filming Sanborn smoking and listening to his story of addiction, Fox News 46 looked for a way to help him. Producers approached our team here at The Blanchard Institute. Together, we reviewed the footage and came up with a plan. Soon after, CEO Ward Blanchard presented Sanborn with a certificate to receive help and treatment at Lakeview Health in Jacksonville, Florida, a nine-week treatment program valued at about $60,000.
“Richie, what I saw was a man crying out for help,” Ward said as he reflected on the news footage. Ward believes that Sanborn’s smoking on camera, while at great personal risk due to it being illegal, was a selfless act intended to reveal the ugly side of addiction. Sanborn agrees that people need to know how bad addiction is.
“I wasn’t going on there with my face blurred,” Sanborn said of the footage. “I was wanting the world to know that this is me and this is what it does to you, and this is what it does to your family.” Sanborn eagerly agreed to the treatment proposal.
“I’m ready to go,” Sanborn said. “I’m ready, man. I’m ready to start this right now. I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Sanborn thanked the news station, and he also gratefully acknowledged the state trooper who gave him the initial DWI that set the whole story in motion. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.”
As of mid-October, Sanborn has been in treatment a month and is doing well.
“He’s doing great,” said David Sentendrey, the reporter who covered the story. “From everyone I’ve been talking with, they say he’s just completely taking in the program. He has the option to leave but he’s sticking it out there. He’s been down there about a month and has a few more weeks left.”
As synthetic marijuana gains in popularity, it is also experiencing a continually evolving formulation which is producing progressively more harmful effects. In July 2016, more than 130 people were hospitalized following a widespread overdose in the Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant.1 Officials believe this incident of geographically clustered hospitalizations is likely due to newly introduced chemicals or an unusually potent mix.
Here in Charlotte, prison officials are recognizing the infiltration of synthetic marijuana as it has recently been linked to the death of an inmate and has resulted in several long-term hospital stays for inmates.2
Ward Blanchard has worked in the addiction treatment industry for over a decade and is no stranger to working with families struggling with substance abuse. He believes that everyone should have access to treatment if they need it, even if they can’t afford it. Ward’s treatment center, The Blanchard Institute, provides outpatient mental health, addiction treatment and family services to Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Blanchard Institute encourages you to know the severity of this substance. It isn’t safe. It isn’t harmless. It’s addictive and it’s incredibly dangerous, but there’s help available. The Blanchard Institute wishes Mr. Sanborn all the best in his recovery and encourages anyone impacted by addiction to reach out for the help that is readily available. To contact The Blanchard Institute, call 1 (800) 615-5563 or visit theblanchardinstitue.com.