HOUSTON --As the men arrested in Tuesday's nationwide sting appeared in court for the first time, including a professor at the University of Houston-Victoria, we're getting a clearer picture of the availability, cheap cost and addictive qualities of the drug those suspects are accused of trafficking across the country.
We met with a pair of recovering addicts at The Open Door Mission, a non-profit, privately funded rehabilitation clinic on Houston's east end.
"Synthetic marijuana is basically marijuana times ten," said David, who's been in recovery just a few days. "If you're not used to smoking it, you get paranoid. You might even hear stuff or see stuff. "
He said a joint costs as little as $1, and a bag of it costs just $5. He said it's easier to score than virtually any other drug.
"Downtown," he said. "It's that simple. Just walk downtown and if you look like the kind of person that might use, you'll be approached."
Another man in recovery, Doug, a 43-year-old, said he'd also used synthetic marijuana he purchased in local convenience stores.
"It's very intense. I'll put it that way," he told KTRK-TV, Eyewitness News' sister station in Houston. "It's ten times worse than regular marijuana. As far as the getting high part of it. It's gonna hit you. You take one or two hits and you're just laid down."
The DEA calls synthetic marijuana, made of a variety of chemicals, an emerging and serious public health threat. The men in court today were charged with mislabeling the drugs as potpourri or incense and in some cases labeling it as 100% legal and lab certified.
None of the men entered pleas on Wednesday or had bond hearings. But we do know the government wants to confiscate all property it proves is connected to the alleged operation. It includes cars, large bank accounts, and several properties, including this home in Sugar Land and this gas station on Beechnut in Houston.