UCM's Bob Welsh takes the lead in research on synthetic cannabinoids.
This was the first of two UCM-sanctioned studies Welsh and his team performed. The results varied, with some subjects taking a long time to emerge from "a very dark place," to others who were disappointed because they "wanted to catch a buzz," Welsh said. Overall, he said the results were similar to the effects of marijuana -- but with a catch. He said outside of their study, there were reports of some people committing suicide or making choices that hurt other people after smoking the drug.
Welsh unwittingly became a test subject at the end of the first test when he experienced chest pains. He was taken to a cardiologist who dismissed a heart attack, saying his heart muscle was irritated. Welsh said they found the drug absorbs through the skin. Thus, they were more careful during the second test by not touching the material and improving ventilation.
"What I found out after this, I talked to a lot of cardiologists, we're having 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids showing up in hospitals with cardiac arrest after smoking this stuff," Welsh said. "This is not weed. I hope if people will get anything from our study that it's not just cannabis. This stuff is a powerful group of research chemicals."
Welsh said the study was borne out of misinformation and confusion that people had about K2 because it was legal for some time. Also, police officers were seizing these colorful packages and were unsure what they had.
"There was virtually nothing on the Internet, anywhere, about this substance," Welsh said. He said they are now planning a third test to keep the research current as new compounds continue to hit the market.
Welsh manages the Breath-Alcohol Instrument Training program at the Safety Center, which in general, helps police combat drunk driving. This cannabinoid study complements that program, providing drug-testing laboratories with crucial information.
"The more substances that we can use, the better we create a list of what they have seen and how they are testing for those," Durbin said.
Welsh has worked at the Safety Center for 24 years and has run the BAIT program for 20. He becomes very animated, his face reddening and his gestures wild when he talks about his research on K2 and the loopholes the producers exploit to continue making the product. When asked why he's so passionate about the subject, Welsh looked inside for the answer.
"I don't know. I've got a 5-year-old, and God knows what substances will be around when he's 12 or 13," he said. "When I'm retired and gone, I want someone to say there are a lot of people alive today because (Bob Welsh) did his job."