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A Brief Look at “Spice” (Synthetic Marijuana)

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A Brief Look at “Spice” (Synthetic Marijuana)

Not long ago, authorities reported more than 30 overdoses in Austin, Texas, believed to be related to a batch of synthetic cannabis known as K2 or ‘Spice’ that had been purchased in Dallas. Such overdoses generally wind up in the ER for treatment of symptoms that include high blood pressure, panic and agitation, nausea and vomiting, and hallucination. Often there’s an initial period where the user is unable to move, followed by another period of aggression and in some cases psychotic behavior. It’s scary for both the user and those around him, and unfortunately, accidental ODs are common.

Synthetic marijuana isn’t actually what it claims to be. Instead, it’s a blend of dried medicinal herbs and an assortment of other substances designed in the lab to imitate the effects of cannabis (technical term: cannabimimetics). These fakes can be quite different chemically from the real thing, and since there’s been no formal testing, the user is largely in the dark as to the risks.

Much of the early popularity of synthetic grass has been among college students, usually males. Synthetics allegedly played a role in the suspension of football star Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu by LSU a few years back, and also in the arrest for possession of Buffalo Bills Pro-Bowl tackle Marcel Dareus.

Why do users turn to synthetics instead of ordinary pot? First, because they believe it is more potent, with a high that is both more intense and longer-lasting. Second, pot users are reassured by the appearance of a leafy green or brown product purposely designed to resemble their drug of choice. Ironically, analysis of labels on some commercially produced brands has shown them to be quite inaccurate as to the real ingredients. Some of the adverse effects reported by K2 and Spice users are no doubt related to unidentified substances used to adulterate the product.

Which brings us to another issue: the principal ingredients in these preparations have been designated as controlled substances by the DEA and are therefore illegal. Drug producers have responded by changing the composition in ways that we can only guess. This sort of cat-and-mouse game between law enforcement and drug developers has in the past led to increased risk. The user ends up smoking something quite different than he intended.

Cases of Spice abuse are showing up routinely in treatment centers, usually as part of a larger pattern with other drugs and/or alcohol rather than alone. Some of the experiences described by users are quite frightening, along the lines of what we heard when PCP first appeared on the streets.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Spice addiction, but unfortunately, it appears we’re about to get a chance to learn.

 

Scott McMillin

 

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