About 100 troubled youths on probation in Yuma County learned about the dangers of synthetic marijuana, commonly known as “spice,” during the sixth annual Yuma County Juvenile Justice Center’s Youth Summit on Saturday.
The summit was held at the First Assembly of God Church.
Spice usage has become a common problem among the youth who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, said Mark Reeves, Yuma County Superior Court Justice for Division I.
“It is not a large problem — it’s a huge problem,” he said. “They sell it in different locales, and you can buy it in different shops in Yuma very easily, and it makes it easy to get ahold of. It is very potent, and in my estimation very dangerous.”
In the time he has presided over Juvenile Court, “just about all of our drug cases — the majority of drug cases we have seen — involve spice, not methamphetamines like the adult population.”
The synthetic cannabinoid sprayed on the “herbal potpourris” stimulates the same part of the brain as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The synthetic herb can be bought at many Yuma County liquor stores and smoke shops easily because of a label on the packaging that states “not for human consumption.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has banned certain types of the synthetic drug in recent years, but the chemists who produce it stay one step ahead by changing out the banned chemicals for others that are still technically legal.
“They keep changing the formula, and so they can get around the law that way,” Reeves said.
“The problem is with spice, there are so many different forms of it. It is not just one formula, and it stays in the system a very long time and causes tremendous effects including psychosis, high blood pressure, sudden strokes, and sudden heart attacks. The ramifications of it are great.”
Some juveniles on probation use the drug because it is hard to detect during drug testing, Reeves added. “There is test for it but it is very expensive.”
The purpose of the annual summit was to educate both the children on probation and their parents about what synthetic marijuana really is, Reeves continued.
“We are going … to try and really educate everyone in our community, because this is a community effort.”
Martin Lara, a Yuma-area doctor who specializes in mental health, was on a special panel that spoke with the kids at the summit about synthetic marijuana.
“Most kids think they know everything about marijuana and automatically assume spice is like marijuana, although spice is a synthetic drug,” he said.
“I am trying to teach these kids the effects of spice. It is not the same as marijuana. Spice is a lot more neurologically and psychologically harmful.”
According to Lara, spice elevates the dopamine and endocrine levels of a user by about 1,200 percent, which is “similar to methamphetamines,” he said.
“Then it drops (those levels) suddenly, and that is when the person starts feeling the high. The effect on the person is very similar to morning glory, the little blue seeds. It is kind of like PCP. They get accelerated, get violent. Psychotic behavior is one of the main issues with spice.”
Many kids think that since they are not doing anything illegal, using synthetic marijuana is socially acceptable, Lara added, which has caused children to start experimenting with drugs at younger and younger ages.
And the problem is not just limited to children living in poverty, Reeves said.
“Just like drugs in general, it doesn’t just impact one socioeconomic group. It cuts across the board. And I think that is to the chagrin of a lot of parents, because they might think if they have upper mobility that won’t happen to their kid.”
While the use of synthetic marijuana has experienced an uptick among juveniles, so far the use of “bath salts” — synthetic stimulants that mimic cocaine, methamphetamine, PCP and MDMA — has not become widespread among the same age group.
Bath salts are also technically legal and also readily available at Yuma area liquor stores and smoke shops.