PITTSBURGH — Thirteen-year-old Brandon Rice is fighting for life instead of looking forward to entering eighth grade at Southmoreland Middle School this month.
Tonya and Raymond Rice of East Huntingdon are praying that he just makes it home from Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
The Rices have been unable to speak to Brandon since June 18, when he was placed on a respirator to keep him alive after his lungs were damaged by smoking synthetic marijuana.
“Kids experiment and think they are invincible. People don’t think it can happen to them, but it happened to us,” Tonya Rice said.
“Parents need to keep their eyes open,” she said.
Synthetic marijuana, marketed as K2 incense, Spice, “legal weed” and other names, is an herbal substance sold as incense or smoking material. The products contain one or more synthetic compounds that mimic the effects of marijuana. The mixture of herbs and chemicals varies with different manufacturers.
On June 23 — five days after Brandon was placed on the respirator — Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation banning the sale of manufactured drugs, including synthetic marijuana and synthetic cocaine known as “bath salts,” because of the dangers. The ban goes into effect Aug. 23.
Dr. Robert Whipkey, director of emergency services for Excela Health System in Westmoreland County, noted that studies are in progress, but synthetic marijuana is known to pose many dangers.
“It’s 10 times as potent as run-of-the-mill marijuana and hits the brain so hard it creates other problems,” he said.
“Anything taken to excess causes problems, and this is 10 times as powerful, plus it could be contaminated, which has other side effects. With such high doses, you may notice increased heart pressure, delusions, many unpleasant symptoms,” Whipkey said.