JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Synthetic marijuana can kill, and the Jefferson Parish coroner wants new laws to fight a class of drugs often made in China.
It's been one week since the federal government banned "mab chiminaca," the latest form of so-called synthetic marijuana.
"I would be a proponent of making penalties for synthetic marijuana more severe than regular, because it's more dangerous," said Coroner, Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich.
Unlike organic pot, people are dying from the chemicals, mainly because of the side effects.
"[They] can include hallucinations, violent psychosis, cardiac issues, death," he said.
He said it's not made for smoking, and produces effects that are nothing like those from marijuana.
"This stuff's made in China, this synthetic marijuana. It's sprayed on dry herbs made to look like potpourri," said Cvitanovich.
He said teenagers are often attracted.
One father remembers his son's terrifying reaction after smoking synthetic pot three years ago.
"Immediately he had an unbelievable reaction," he said. "He just kept screaming out for two hours, 'I feel like I'm dying, don't let me die, don't let me die.'"
"It attaches much more drastically to the receptors, and that's why it causes different affects," said Cvitanovich.
The coroner is investigating at least one recent death to see if synthetic marijuana was a contributing factor. Toxicology tests are being run, and because new chemical derivations are constantly being developed, Dr. Cvitanovich wants to test for similar compounds.
"Going forward, it might be better to find a way to outsmart the people just trying to stay one molecule ahead of the feds," he said.
The message is clear.
"Don't use synthetic marijuana. It is not safe, it can be fatal and kill you," said Cvitanovich.
The coroner hopes would-be users get the message, before more lives are claimed.
Several Louisiana cities have seen scores of cases of people being brought to emergency rooms for treatment of problems from synthetic marijuana, especially the new form. Those problems include, accelerated heart rates, cardiac issues and psychotic behavior.