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How exactly the synthetic marijuana affects the body is not completely understood, said Bruce Goldberger, a professor and director of toxicology in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at the UF College of Medicine.

But this much is known: It's dangerous. And it's much more dangerous than the real kind of marijuana.

"We do know that one very serious outcome of synthetic marijuana use is �'' psychosis �'' there have been cases of acute onset of psychotic episodes in people who have had no history of psychosis, which is very troublesome," Goldberger said. "There also appears to be some cardiac effect in some people �'' myocardial infarctions."

There have been two deaths in Florida associated with the drug.

Doering likens the altering of the complex THC molecule to pruning a hedge, snipping off unneeded parts of the drug and slightly altering others. The result is often a more potent variation.

With enough financial resources and motivation, Doering said a smart college student could concoct a new and legal batch within three weeks.

And there is ample motivation.

A clerk at Oasis Food Mart in Belleview, who would not give his name, said he sold about $3,000 worth of the brightly colored packages every month.

"People have to take personal responsibility," the store employee said.

"Everybody (bought it). They go to church, then they use it," he said, standing outside his store. "Everybody, everybody, everybody ... bought it."

In 2010, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported it received 2,906 telephone calls about exposure to synthetic marijuana. In 2011, that jumped to 6,659 calls. As of February, the Poison Control Centers had received 1,261 calls.

Alachua County Sheriff's Office Spokesman Sgt. Todd Kelly said synthetic marijuana is not often seen in this area, but when it is, there's no way to positively identify it with a field test, the way marijuana or cocaine is. Similarly, employer drug screens don't pick it up either, he said.

The only way to confirm the drug's illegal properties is to send it to a lab for testing, but that can take weeks or months. And the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which conducts most testing for police departments statewide, is too backlogged with drug cases to bother with misdemeanor cases.

Criminal attorney Peter Aiken, who handles mostly drug cases, said he thinks prosecuting people for possession of synthetic marijuana is not easy because people who buy it from stores can claim they assumed it was legal.

Arresting someone for possessing the drug would bring about other problems, he said.

"What about the delivery driver, the FedEx (employee). Should they be arrested too?" Aiken asked.

Dr. Frank Fraunfelter, medical director of emergency services at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, said there is little that can be done when people come to him fearing they've smoked too much of the drug or complaining of unwanted side effects.

The problem is that doctors aren't sure what's in the version of the drugs their patients have smoked, he said. In most cases, the only treatment is to ensure the patient's vital signs are stable and wait for the symptoms to subside.

Fraunfelter said part of the solution is to stop making individual versions of the THC molecule illegal, but rather ban any variation of the drug.

The Florida Attorney General's Office was the agency that asked for the latest THC drugs to be banned.

John Lucas, a spokesman for the Attorney General's office, said it would not have been possible to ban all possible versions because it would have involved trying to "make something illegal that doesn't exist yet."

DEA spokeswoman Mia Ro agreed.