Oakland teen has brush with death from synthetic marijuana

OAKLAND, Calif. — A brand of synthetic marijuana that has been illegal since the federal government banned it last year is still easy to buy in local stores, a fact that led to a frightening near-death experience for a Bay Area teen.
Sidney Washington thought he could get high without getting caught. But one afternoon, the Oakland 16-year-old suddenly collapsed. “I felt like I was overheated. Like I was hot. I felt like I was paralyzed,” said Sidney.
When Sidney’s mom, Latoya, came to pick up her son from an after-school program, she found him lying lifeless on the sidewalk. “I thought my son was dying. I thought that that was my last moment with him. I thought it was over. I thought it was the end,” said Latoya.
Sidney had taken Spice, also known as synthetic marijuana.
“I almost died. I almost lost my life from just smoking, trying to get high. Trying to be cool, I guess,” said Sidney.
Spice is sold in packets usually labeled “incense, not for human consumption.” But police say most people smoke it.
An undercover officer told us just like Bath Salts, another dangerous drug once sold over the counter, Spice can contain a variety of chemicals including an ingredient used in fertilizer.
“It’s a mix of herbs laced with synthetic chemicals designed to mimic the effects of THC. It’s really just an unknown. You don’t know what you are going to get with every batch that you buy and for that it can be extremely dangerous,” said the undercover officer.
Paramedics have seen a range of symptoms. Those that have taken Spice have experienced extreme paranoia, heart failure, or kidney failure.
Many teens found out about Spice in juvenile hall where police say it’s become popular because it can’t be traced through a urine test. Sidney admits he was trying to beat the system while on probation when he first took Spice. “We’re still trying to get high but we don’t want to get in trouble for it,” said Sidney.
Although the first known cases of Spice sprung up in 2004, its popularity gained only recently in Oakland at smoke shops and liquor stores. In fact, Sidney bought his Spice just a block from the youth center. His mother showed our KTVU News crew how easy it was to buy. We went with her to a local store and were sold a packet of Spice for $13 dollars.
This past summer, the Drug Enforcement Agency made five of the most common chemicals used to make spice illegal. But experts say manufacturers keep manipulating the drug and calling it something else in order to avoid the law.
Despite it being banned, we found at least two smoke shops that sold something similar to Spice. Law enforcement officers tell us unless the drug is sold openly, they don’t have the resources to go after every store that may be selling the drug behind the counter.
Sidney’s advice to others thinking of taking it? “I would tell them it’s dangerous. Not worth it, and it’s life risking,” said Sidney.
Now Sidney’s goal is to get a high school diploma and spread the word about a drug so dangerous it nearly cost him his life.

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