Synthetic marijuana elicits concern
Eleven states have already outlawed it.
On Friday, with the signing of legislation by Gov. Haley Barbour, Mississippi became the 12th state to ban what is commonly known as “K2” or “Spice,” making it an illegal narcotic to possess or sell.
K2 or Spice is described as a synthetic marijuana. Until the bill passed by the state Senate in last week’s special session was signed by Barbour, the drug was sold as a mixture of legal herbs, “incense” or “potpourri” in convenience stores and cigar shops, including at least three locations in Starkville. A popular “flavor” of Spice seen locally is known as Blueberry Mania.
But if Spice — which physically resemble marijuana and is smoked like marijuana — is tested or if someone who uses, the tests come up clean, said Starkville Police Department Narcotics Detective Matt Henson, who has investigated multiple incidents involving the use of the drug locally within the last three months.
“It doesn’t have the smell of marijuana, but whatever herb is used to make it,” Henson said.
What makes Spice a narcotic is the fact that the herbs are sprayed with synthetic cannaboids such as JWH-018, JWH-073, HU-210 and cannabicyclohexanol that, when the drug is smoked, produce the same type of effects as marijuana, police said.
“It’s a commercially produced chemical substance that has no safety guidelines through the Food and Drug Administration and does not fall under conventional government regulation. Any consumer
may be subjected to great risk during consumption,” said SPD Chief David Lindley.
Depending on how much of the synthetic cannaboid chemical is sprayed on the herbs in Spice, the effects of the drug may be significantly greater than a marijuana “high,” Henson said.
“In the cases we’ve seen so far, the people using it seem to be more impaired than they would be just from marijuana,” Henson said.
“It’s far more potent. In some cases, the effects of a single use of Spice are up to 10 times greater than a marijuana joint. A really potent dose could make one legally intoxicated.”
Spice itself has only begun gaining popularity in the United States within the last year to year and a half, though it first appeared in Europe in 2004. The first reported cases of Spice in the Starkville area were seen in late June and early July, Henson said.
Thus far, there is no known research into the long-term effects of using the drug, though law enforcement officials locally and around the nation have observed symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, vomiting and hallucinations in users.
Reports nationwide show that as of May 24, some 352 cases of illness from Spice use have been documented in 35 states across the nation.
Some of the cases of Spice use he has investigated saw the drug used in combination with alcohol, Henson said. The half-dozen cases investigated locally have primarily involved university students, Henson said
“The impairment level is that much greater if under the influence of alcohol when this is used,” Henson said.
Up until the signing of the legislation into law, Spice could be legally sold anywhere in Mississippi and, since it was labeled as “incense” or “herbs,” could be purchased by anyone at any age.
Since Spice is a synthetic form of marijuana, it is also cheaper to produce and buy, Henson said.
An ounce of marijuana, depending on the grade, could be purchased for anywhere between $100 and $600 an ounce, while an ounce of Spice could be purchase for between $25 and $45, Henson said.
“It’s much more cost-effective, and you could be buying a ‘high’ that’s greater than marijuana. Plus, it won’t show up in a urine or blood test,” Henson said.
The new state law requires Mississippi retailers to immediately stop selling Spice and similar products and allows them up until Oct. 1 to return the products to distributors.
Penalties for possession or sale of Spice mirror those in the state’s marijuana statute. For example, offenders may be imprisoned for up to 3 years and fined up to $3,000 for possession of an ounce of marijuana.
Attorney General Jim Hood applauded the passage of the Spice ban legislation.
“We are sending a message with this law, saying Mississippi will not tolerate the clever disguising and marketing of harmful substances,” Hood said.
In addition to Mississippi, other states that have banned Spice included Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah.