With the goal to learn what their kids already know, several dozen parents and community members attended a two-hour session at Neosho High School cafeteria titled “Eyes Wide Open.”

With the goal to learn what their kids already know, several dozen parents and community members attended a two-hour session at Neosho High School cafeteria titled “Eyes Wide Open.”

The event, sponsored by the Neosho R-5 Schools, the Neosho Area Coalition, the Freeman Neosho Family Y and the Neosho Arts Council, focused on the dangers of synthetic marijuana and bath salts, as well as a panel discussion on how to protect children from these dangers, presented by Presiding Judge Timothy Perigo, Neosho Schools Security Officer Dereck Price, Jim Lowans and current students from Teen Challenge, and others.

A presentation on synthetic drugs by Sgt. Brad Bearden, a 16-year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, started the event. He said use of synthetics is on the rise, partly because they are “legal” and do not carry the stigma of illicit drugs and did not show up in conventional drug testing.

“Just because it is ‘legal’ does not mean it is safe,” he said. “The words ‘Not for human consumption,’ are imprinted on every bag of synthetic marijuana.”

He said synthetic marijuana was marketed as “incense,” but cost many times what conventional incense would: $20-$40 for a 1-3 gram bag.

“It’s sold to burn in your car,” he said. “No one burns it as incense. They have it next to their smoking pipe.”

Bearden gave a brief history of synthetic marijuana, starting with Clemson University’s John William Huffman, a professor emeritus of organic chemistry who, beginning in 1984, sought out cannabinoids in his work to aid multiple sclerosis, AIDS and chemotherapy. Over the course of 20 years, he developed about 450 cannabinoid compounds.
However, in the late 2000s, two of these compounds began to be manufactured in German under the now-familiar names of Spice and K2.

Huffman himself likened using these compounds to playing Russian roulette, as there was no toxicity data, or information on their effects on the human body.

"I figured once it got started in Germany it was going to spread. I'm concerned that it could hurt people," Huffman said. "I think this was something that was more or less inevitable. It bothers me that people are so stupid as to use this stuff.”
In response, many states, Missouri included, began adopting laws outlawing these two compounds. Bearden said the manufacturers fired back by changing the chemical composition somewhat, therefore skirting the law, which must specifically list the banned compounds.

“I apply the ‘duck test,’ where if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck.’ ” Bearden said. “Only here, if it looks like a controlled substance, is used like a controlled substance, it is a controlled substance.”

Bearden said use of synthetic marijuana has several effects on the body, including elevated blood pressure, tremors and seizures, unconsciousness, hallucinations / delusions, paranoia, and anxiety. Side effects include vomiting, memory loss, incoherent or slurred speech, and feeling cold.

He also spoke on bath salts. These are not used in bathing, but are a substance which is snorted into the nose. Bath salts have many long lasting side effects, including possible kidney failure, Bearden said.

Bearden concluded with a brief question and answer period. He assured those present that local law enforcement agencies were taking steps to combat the problem, but were hampered by continually changing formulations of the cannabinoids and expense of testing kits.

To heighten awareness of Eyes Wide Open, the Neosho Arts Council sponsored an Eyes Wide Open Art Contest. More than 60 Neosho R-5 students in grades 7 through 12 had their entries displayed at the high school on Thursday evening.