Synthetic marijuana use is on the rise and it’s got anti-drug activists and the legalization movement concerned. Health experts claim fake pot is a chemical cocktail that produces a similar — and legal — high, but is far more dangerous than the real thing.

Manufactured marijuana retails at gas stations and in convenience stores, sold as ‘K2′ and ‘Spice.’ Some of the side effects, besides the desired high, include paranoia, agitation and psychosis. Then, there’s the phenomena known as “couch lock,” where the user is conscious but cannot move after taking the drug.

One drug counselor in La Jolla, CA recounted an incident where a teen who used the stuff was convinced he was Jesus Christ and nothing could make him think otherwise. She called the drug “nasty, evil, and very scary stuff.”

Scientifically, the manufactured marijuana is three to five times more potent than the THC found in natural marijuana. Manufactured chemicals are sprayed onto dried herbs and plants, mimicking the look of organic weed.

According to reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in nine high school seniors has tried synthetic marijuana. Even more disconcerting is the fact that poison center calls regarding the drug topped out at 7,000 in 2011, a sharp increase from the 2,900 that were logged in 2010. In the first two months of 2012, 1,200 calls came in, indicating a clear rise in usage.

By March 2011, 20 states had enacted bans on the substance, with legislation pending in 37 other states.

However, makers of the synthetic marijuana remain undeterred. When a substance is banned, they merely alter the chemical makeup and molecular structure of the products, swapping out banned ingredients with ones that have similar properties, creating new highs.

The increase in synthetic marijuana comes at an interesting time — more than 300 economists recently signed a petition which claims the government could save $7.7 million a year if pot was legalized.