The Straight Dope on Mr. Smiley
Published: Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Updated: Friday, September 24, 2010 19:09
Getting high without the risk of failing a drug test attracts many. Mr. Smiley is an herbal incense product that is said to mirror the effects of marijuana when smoked. This new "legal" marijuana began appearing in the Midwest less than a year ago and has been in local news several times since May.
According to Laura Myers Hieronymus, director of IU South Bend's Health and Wellness Center, Mr. Smiley is a chemical cousin to marijuana. Synthetic marijuana was developed by a Clemson University researcher trying to find treatments for patients who needed relief from pain and nausea.
"The process got out into the public and it is now being sold because there aren't many states that have made it illegal," said Hieronymus. "The herbal part of it can be any leaf that can be smoked and inhaled by humans."
Of course, Mr. Smiley isn't the only brand of herbal incense blend available. Some other popular brand names include K2, L.A. Spice, Voodoo Magic and Mr. Dutchy (a blend manufactured by a local entrepreneur). Many are smoking it just like they would marijuana. However, that is not always the case—sometimes it is lighted in a room and inhaled.
The hype surrounding products like Mr. Smiley is undeniable. Some tout the high that can be achieved without the risk of breaking the law, but many question the safety of such products.
"The problem I have with products like this is that since they are not approved by the FDA there is no quality control. No one knows what is really in it besides the person who manufactured it," said Hieronymus. "It is not uncommon for people who use substances (even alcohol) to show up in the ER with bizarre side effects from stuff put into things like Mr. Smiley."
One online retailer lists Mr. Smiley as containing Damiana Leaf and Mullein Leaf Extract, and it is sold for $9.99 per ounce plus shipping and handling.
One IUSB student described his experience with Mr. Smiley in an email interview.
"I tried synthetic marijuana in the spring and early summer, the experience was strange," said a student, who wishes to remain anonymous. "I decided to try synthetic marijuana out of curiosity. It had a similar look to marijuana, but definitely was something different."
He described a burning sensation in his throat and a bad taste during inhalation followed by several seconds of coughing after exhaling. According to the student, Mr. Smiley gives users a "buzz" or a "high" just like marijuana. However, unlike marijuana it is not inhaled cleanly.
"Traditional marijuana is a natural smokeable substance. It doesn't give you a sick feeling after smoking it," said the student. "Marijuana is a safe recreational drug to use, Mr. Smiley is not."
The student said that the "buzz" synthetic marijuana gives users comes with a headache and breathing problems, such as shortness of breath and coughing fits. He said it made him feel sick.
"The after effects make it obvious that it is dangerous and should not be smoked," said the student. "Marijuana does not have these bad after effects."
Since the substance is marketed as incense and is clearly labeled "not for human consumption", it does not require Food and Drug Administration approval for sale and consequently, no long-term studies of its use have been completed.
Although, no studies exist to indicate the dangers of use, many news sources have reported side effects including rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, respiratory problems, hallucinations, tremors, seizures, and severe agitation.
The student believes the problem with Mr. Smiley is that there are unknown, potentially hazardous ingredients added to it during its production much like cigarettes. However, unlike cigarette manufacturers, the producers of products like Mr. Smiley don't have to reveal what is in their "incense".
"Mr. Smiley is a marijuana substitute which targets vulnerable people as a way to legally get high. It is not a naturally grown herb; it is a manufactured product with dangerous consequences if smoked," said the student. "It was made to make a profit and directly aimed at a certain demographic. It is a successful scam that too many people are ignorant of."
In a recent Associated Press story, Indiana Poison Center director, Dr. James Mowry, said that the state has had one death possibly linked to smoking Spice and four people who have experienced seizures resulting from increased blood pressure.
The medical concerns raised by Mowry are reason enough to treat Mr. Smiley and its competitors with caution. It is also worth noting that the legality of the products is already becoming a thing of the past. Statewide, several cities and counties have passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of products like Mr. Smiley and legislators have said they will push for a law against it during next year's General Assembly.