CLEVELAND - An exclusive NewsChannel5 investigation uncovered a new and legal form of synthetic marijuana on sale in northeast Ohio.
NewsChannel5's investigative team went undercover to find out if packages sold as potpourri and incense in northeast Ohio head shops are innocent as they claim to be.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the packages often contain synthetic marijuana. He said the drug is also sold at gas stations and convenience stores.
"They always say not for human consumption. But we know that's why they're being sold. For human consumption," said DeWine.
NewsChannel5's investigative team took packages we purchased to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation's crime lab in Richfield. A chemist found three packages contained a form of synthetic marijuana known as PB-22.
"It's very dangerous," said Stephanie Laux, a forensic chemist at the state's lab.
It's also still legal.
Laux said chemists alter the components in synthetic marijuana to create news substances that are not covered under the law.
Ohio lawmakers passed HB 334 last December. The law banned dozens of forms of the drug, but Laux said the lab has already started to see an increase in the number of uncontrolled forms of synthetic marijuana.
"It's the ever constant battle in law enforcement... to try to stay ahead of the technology that's used by the criminals," said DeWine.
DeWine said, if necessary, he will approach lawmakers about banning more forms of synthetic marijuana.
The use of synthetic marijuana has surged in Ohio and around the United States.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers received 12,170 calls related to synthetic marijuana in 2011 and 2012.
The drug caused 11,406 visits to U.S. emergency departments in 2010, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network.
Synthetic marijuana usually consists of herb or spices sprayed with man-made chemicals and often has the opposite effect of the real drug, according to Laux.
Users often become agitated, paranoid and can experience hallucinations.
DeWine said the drug can also be deadly.
"Every time you buy one of these it's like Russian roulette. You don't know if that packet is going to kill you or not kill you," he said.