It’s been cited as the cause of 18-year-old Bloomfield Township resident Oliver Smith’s death and is alleged to have influenced 19-year-old Farmington Hills resident Tucker Cipriano’s fatal attack on his family. It’s called Spice, or K2, but what exactly is this increasingly infamous substance?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines “Spice,” as “a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as ‘safe,’ legal alternatives to that drug.”
However, NIDA, law enforcement officials and doctors in the Metro Detroit area say the substance is anything but “safe.”
Although Spice is commonly defined as “synthetic marijuana,” Dr. Sanford Vieder, director ofBotsford Hospital’s Emergency Trauma Center, said, “it really isn’t. Marijuana has a sedating effect … This stuff actually has the opposite effect.”
Made up of dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives, the drug has been known to have psychoactive, or mind-altering effects. There is a “hallucinogenic component,” Vieder said, adding that “violent reactions to even the slightest stimulus” can be caused by the substance.
NIDA calls the labels on Spice products “false advertising,” as they often claim to contain “natural” psycho-active material from plants but don’t immediately alert consumers to their active ingredients, which are primarily chemical additives.
What’s in it?
Because the product is marketed as “not for human consumption,” there is no requirement on the part of manufacturers to list packaging contents or ingredient amounts, and no two packages are the same.
Even beyond the dangers of its chemical additives, the herbal mixture itself may produce allergic reactions to sensitive users, according to Livestrong.com.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has designated five of the chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances, making it is illegal to sell, buy or possess them. However, because these chemicals can be easily substituted for others that produce similar highs, manufacturers of Spice products are able to continue selling the product legally.
Commonly sold as incense or potpourri, users will smoke the substance in joints or pipes, or even make it into a tea to achieve a high.
What are its side effects?
According to a recent article in The Journal of School Safety, one in nine high school seniors has used synthetic marijuana in the past year.
The article states that the use of Spice is now the second most frequently used drug among high school seniors, second only to marijuana.
The Drug Enforcement Administration states that smoking spice gives a person psychological effects similar to those of marijuana, including paranoia, panic attacks and giddiness. It also can cause increase heart rates and blood pressure. Because the manufacturing of Spice is not regulated, the DEA states the combination or herbs and chemicals used can be potentially dangerous, and smoking the drug can cause serious reactions including nausea and, in at least one reported case, brain swelling.
How does it achieve a high?
The compound K2 affects the brain in the same way as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Both compounds bind to the CB1 receptors in the brain, which primarily affect the central nervous system, but K2’s affect is about 10 times greater than THC, according to LiveScience.com.
In simple terms, this means smoking a small amount of K2 can prove just as potent as a larger amount of marijuana.
Where is it sold?
Typically, gas stations, head shops and the Internet. In response to public outrage over sale of the substance, BP and Citgo gas stations have recently asked their franchises to stop selling Spice and K2.
Manufacturers of Spice are not regulated and are often unknown since these products are often purchased over the Internet, according to the DEA. Several websites that sell the product are known to be based in China.
What does it look like?
Spice is typically sold in small, metalic plastic bags. The substance itself resembles dried leaves and is marketed as incense that can be smoked. It has also said to resemble potpourri.