The state health department is asking for public comments on the use of synthetic marijuana-like substances that may cause severe reactions in some people and are regulated at the federal level and in at least 40 states.

The products are sold under the names Spice, K2, Yucatan Fire, Skunk and Moon Rocks, among others, according to a statement Wednesday by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Over the next month, the health department wants to gather public insights about these products, including their potential for abuse and any risk they may pose to public health. The department is also seeking comment about the pharmacological effect of synthetic marijuana and whether it is addictive.

The comments will help the department determine whether and how to regulate the products on the state level, the department said.

"Fake marijuana" substances are often sprayed on dried plant matter and are most commonly consumed by smoking the organic material. According to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, they can cause "paranoia, panic attacks and giddiness" and increase heart rate and blood pressure. The chemicals in the products seem to stay in the body for a long time, according to the DEA, and their long-term affects are not known.

In December 2010 a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy experienced seizures after smoking a synthetic marijuana-like substance. Several midshipman have been expelled from the academy for possessing similar drugs. This fall a Maryland high school student had a severe reaction after consuming a product called Mr. Nice Guy.

The Baltimore County Council voted unanimously last year to ban some substances that produce effects similar to a marijuana high. Under Baltimore County's law, anyone attempting to sell, distribute, possess, buy or use these products could be fined $500, sent to jail for 60 days, or both. In August, Ocean City banned the sale, manufacture and possession of synthetic cannabinoids.

Last spring, the DEA placed five chemicals used in some types of imitation marijuana products under temporary restrictions, making them illegal to possess or sell in the U.S. These restrictions will be in effect while the DEA determines whether to permanently list them as controlled substances, at least until March.

Public comments can be sent to the health department at 201 W. Preston St., Room 512, Baltimore, 21201 or emailed to regs@dhmh.state.md.us. Faxes will be accepted at 410-767-6483.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

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