A 17-year-old South Carolina high school student was transported to the hospital Tuesday for a reaction caused by an unknown substance.
Local TV station WMBF reports the male student is the third from Socastee High School to be hospitalized in the past week because of a reaction to an unidentified drug. Local authorities believe synthetic marijuana is to blame.
Sergeant Robert Kegler of the Horry County Police told local media outlet The Sun News that two Socastee students were also taken to the hospital on Friday, after the youths smoked what appeared to be synthetic marijuana. School staff reportedly witnessed one of the students, a female, having a seizure.
The three hospitalizations come on the heels of recent news that another teen, Emily Bauer of Texas, narrowly survived after complications from smoking the synthetic drug put her in intensive care.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana "refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as 'safe,' legal alternatives." However, the products contain plant material and chemical additives and often have adverse medical side effects.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, released earlier this month, linked synthetic marijuana to kidney damage in at least 16 teens and young adults. According to a Drug Abuse Warning Network report released in December, Synthetic pot was a factor in more than 11,400 emergency room visits in 2010.
Though President Barack Obama signed a federal ban on synthetic drugs in July, Wired notes that the law is already obsolete, since companies have turned to other drug formulations not specifically prohibited by the legislation.
Synthetic marijuana, commonly sold in colorful packages under such names as "spice" or "K2," may be particularly appealing to teens, who can purchase the drug at many gas stations and convenience stores nationwide. According to a 2011 survey of high school seniors, one in nine reported using synthetic marijuana in the past year, making it the second-most-used illicit drug (behind marijuana) among high school students.