David McFadden, ASSOCIATED PRESS
PARAGOULD, Ark. — He thought it was a safe alternative to marijuana, but when 41-year-old Jay woke up sober one morning and realized he had lost everything to synthetic marijuana, he decided it was time to quit.
"It looks like marijuana, but feels worse than crack," said the Paragould resident, who declined to give his last name for an article in The Jonesboro Sun (http://is.gd/6L9PcS ). "It makes you feel total doom, like you know you're going to die, but you have to have it. I lost everything I cared about in my life, my relationship with my daughter, my 401(k), five-bedroom home, land, vehicles, my mechanic business — everything."
The synthetic marijuana or "fake weed" is known as potpourri, or "pope," because of the sweet aroma it gives off when smoked. It's similar to K2 and Spice.
Experts say it's a leafy substance that, when smoked, generates a roughly 20-minute high that some compare to marijuana or even heroin.
"You don't think about anything else, you know? You don't care about calling your daughter up and seeing how she's doing; you don't care if your neighbor needs a hand with something," Jay said. "All you care about is where you can get 10 more dollars' worth of pope."
Jay said he had a home, tended to his land, worked on vehicles and was constantly helping people with home repairs or other odd jobs. It kept him busy.
But every $10 sack of pope he bought meant that his belongings ended up in pawn shops. He said that continued until all he had left was a pillowcase filled with clothes and a plastic sack filled with toiletries.
"My credibility is one of the greatest things I lost," he said. "People used to call me to work on cars all the time to the point where that's all I was doing. Now every tool I own is in the pawn shop. I spent 20 years building up my toolbox, and now nobody asks me to work on cars anymore."
Jay said friends introduced him to pope about two years ago.
They told him it was like marijuana, but it couldn't be detected in a drug screening. Around that time the drug was taken off shelves in local gas stations and tobacco stores and became illegal in many states, including Arkansas.
"Two years ago when all this started, I had a good 50 friends," he said. "And if you look back a couple months ago, I probably had 10 good friends, and all 10 of those good friends were still on pope. Right now I have one who isn't addicted to it. That's who I'm surrounding myself with — and family."
Sgt. Scott Snyder, a detective with the Paragould Police Department, said in 2010 there was a temporary ban of K2, pope and Spice, and the synthetic drugs have since been added to the Arkansas criminal code.
He said even though pope is classified as a Schedule 6 controlled substance in Arkansas, the same as marijuana, it is closer to methamphetamines or LSD.
"It is not a safe alternative to marijuana; it's not even comparable to it. It's as pervasive as and more widely used than methamphetamines ...," Snyder said. "I did a search last Friday on a guy I've known most of my life who is now addicted to the stuff. He literally thought he was in Alice in Wonderland and said pope is the Mad Hatter. He kept yelling, 'Don't go in the hole!' This guy lost everything to pope, and he's so far gone, he'll probably never come back."
The Paragould detective said the drug has reached epidemic levels in the town of about 27,000 people.
Jay said that after the drug became illegal, people began making it out of catnip and ant and roach spray, or any other chemical that can be sprayed on a leafy substance.
"From my understanding, it's some sort of industrial strength powder, and they're mixing it with acetone and spraying it on catnip," he said.
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