HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Legal, Synthetic 'spice' Emerges As Latest Challenge For Anti-drug
Pubdate: Mon, 28 Jun 2010
Source: Daily News, The (Longview, WA)
Copyright: 2010 The Daily News
Contact: http://www.tdn.com/forms/letters.php
Website: http://www.tdn.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/2621
Author: Tony Lystr

LEGAL, SYNTHETIC 'SPICE' EMERGES AS LATEST CHALLENGE FOR ANTI-DRUG GROUPS

On a weekend sometime in late winter or early spring, four young
people checked themselves into the emergency department at St. John
Medical Center complaining of similar symptoms. Each were nervous,
panicky, and their hearts were racing, said Dr. Brian Hoyt, the
director of the hospital's emergency department.

Two of them arrived together, two others showed up separately. The
teenagers and young adults, between the ages of 13 and 26, said they
had smoked a synthetic form of marijuana known generically as "spice"
but also called by its brand names, Black Mamba and K2.

"It's a new thing that we never saw before," said Hoyt, whose staff
observed the patients for several hours before releasing them.

The drug, which looks like ground and dried oregano and smells much
like burning marijuana, is legal in Washington and sold in several
stores around Longview, including Smokin' J's and Video Store N' More.
It costs around $26 per ounce.

Spice is labeled as incense and its manufacturers say it isn't for
"human consumption." But it's often rolled in joints or smoked in
marijuana pipes.

Dawn Maloney, of the Longview Anti-Drug Coalition, said she worries
the synthetic pot is becoming more popular with local youth.

"Kids have found yet another way to get high," she said last
week.

Eleven states have banned spice, which has been a hit on the East
Coast and is increasing in prevalence in the West, but Washington's
Legislature has yet to consider outlawing it, Maloney said.

Hoyt said the drug is designed to attach itself to the receptors of
the brain that respond to THC, the main ingredient in old-fashioned
organic pot. But a "small percentage" of people are having a
"dysphoric reaction" to the drug, becoming nervous and scared, he
said. One of the four to visit the emergency room this year had a
heart rate of around 160, which could cause heart failure in a person
with cardiovascular problems, Hoyt said.

Information about what exactly is in spice is hard to come by. A
container of Black Mamba included the label "100 percent high quality
Damiana," which is an herb native to Central and South America and is
used to treat a variety of ailments.

An article about synthetic pot on WebMD.com said researchers at
University Hospital Freiburg, Germany, found that spice contained "at
least two different designer drugs known as synthetic cannabinoids,"
which interact with the brain much the way marijuana does.

The drug's side affects, according to the Anti-Drug Coalition, can
include hallucinations, vomiting and even seizures. Asked about its
long-term effects, Hoyt said, "I haven't seen any real good published
papers on that. .. I really don't know."

Still, he said, "It's always dangerous to put things in your body that
you don't know what they are."

Longview police spokesman Mike Hallowell said he wasn't aware of
anyone telling police they'd used the drug, but he said the head of
the department's Street Crimes Unit wasn't available to discuss the
issue Monday.

An employee at Video Store 'N More who would identify himself only as
Andy said the store has sold spice for at least six months and that
people must be at least 18 years old to purchase it.

The store sells between 12 and 20 grams a week to people mostly
between the ages of 18 and 25, he said.

"It seems to be pretty popular," he said.

Andy, 35, said he had not tried the drug, but "from what I hear it's
the same effect as marijuana."

A clerk at Smokin' J's, which prominently displayed posters for two
brands of synthetic marijuana, declined to talk to a reporter Monday.

For years, certain websites and retailers, including smoke shops,
adult stores and convenience stores, have sold small packets of
substances marketed as alternatives to street drugs. There have been
stimulants jammed with caffeine and ginseng, and even "herbal" ecstasy.

Users of the fake street drugs have reported mild to no effects,
although the result is said to vary from person to person.

Nearly four years ago, the Video Store 'N More and other local shops
sold a substance called salvia, which was also billed as a legal pot
alternative and was purported to cause hallucinations.

"That was kind of a trend, too," Dr. Hoyt said of salvia. "It went
through the schools."

But salvia's use appears to have faded, he said, because "people don't
like the way it makes them feel." (Video Store 'N More said it is not
selling salvia anymore because it is too controversial.)

Hoyt said spice is "in a different category," because it appears to be
more potent.

"I think it's starting to pick up - the usage in the schools," he
said. "It's just becoming more popular, I guess. People are getting
the word out."

Maloney's anti-drug group, which is funded by a federal grant, is
distributing a pamphlet about spice to parents and local leaders and
plans to discuss the issue with retailers. Maloney said some
convenience stores have placed spice in plain view. She said she would
at least like them to put it behind the counter.

"I feel we're obligated to go in and say, 'We've got four kids who
already ended up in the emergency room on this.' "
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