People may think synthetic marijuana is less harmful than the real thing, but police are warning that it's not, and some believe it's much more dangerous.
Police in Connecticut are seeing a rise in synthetic pot overdoses.
The drug is known on the street by names like K2 and Spice. In Willimantic it’s becoming a big problem.
"Early August, it reared its head again," explaiend Willimantic police spokesman Cpl. Stanley Parizo. "We had seven overdoses over a 24-hour period; six were confirmed for the drug K2 or synthetic marijuana."
Willimantic police said they have seen 22 overdoses related to synthetic marijuana so far this year.
"Our biggest concern when we roll out to a possible overdose of synthetic marijuana or other drugs is the behavior given off by these people," said Parizo. "That psychotic behavior, extremely aggressive. They are hallucinating, so we're seeing people basically strip down to nothing. We've seen females completely naked, running around on the streets."
Hartford police conducted a sting in August and found one store selling synthetic marijuana.
But what is it made of? The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters gained exclusive access to the Drug Enforcement Agency to find out.
Jill Head runs a special testing and research laboratory in Virginia, where authorities analyze and identify drugs seized throughout the world.
"I want people to know that there is no association to these drugs with marijuana," said Head.
Despite how the drugs are marketed, they all start out as a white powder that, to the naked eye, looks identical to cocaine, according to Head.
Then, the chemicals are added to plant leaves.
"What happens is the drug is added to a solution and dissolved, the way you would dissolve sugar into ice tea, to make a solution and it's added to the plant material," said Head. "There are various methods for mixing, such as spraying or mixing it in a bathtub or in a cement mixer."
Head said the mixing is often uneven, so some people get a batch containing little or no chemicals, while others get highly concentrated doses.
"I think they are being fooled by the term 'synthetic,'" said Parizo. "Synthetic is being used as it is OK to take this stuff."
But the high that comes with synthetic drugs is very real and very scary to some who have experienced it.
"You just become violently ill from it and you can’t stop. You are constantly dizzy," explained Willimantic resident Ryan Ecklid.
"It makes you feel like crap," said Deyonna of Willimantic. "I tried it once and never again."
So what’s the appeal of synthetic pot? For some the answer is simple.
"He said it will never show up in your urine," Ecklid said, recalling when a friend got him to try it because he didn’t smoke real pot.
Fake pot used to be sold legally in stores and often went by the name K2.
"It was sealed and people knew what they were getting," explained Parizo. "Now what we are seeing is a totally different mixture."
Head also warned that the labels on synthetic drug packages often have nothing to do with the chemicals found inside. She explained that her team can analyze different batches of synthetic drugs with the same packaging, found at the same store, and find completely different chemicals inside.
"The scariest thing to me is how much is unknown and how much people don't know," she said. "It’s completely unknown. It's roulette."
Head said the DEA laboratory has been flooded with more than 300 varieties of synthetic drugs, including synthetic marijuana.
Synthetic drugs typically sold as Molly or Ecstasy stay in powder form or get pressed into a pill. Bath salts and Flakka are in a different class and have a crystal-like appearance, but all are dangerous.