Health Department regulation will make it a violation to buy, sell or possess synthetic drugs like bath salts and fake marijuana


ALBANY — State and local law enforcement would have new power to fight the growing problem of designer drugs and fake pot under a new regulation set to be announced by Gov. Cuomo.
The Health Department regulation, to be unveiled Tuesday, will make it a violation to sell, distribute, or possess synthetic drugs like bath salts and fake pot.
Violators could face up to 15 days in jail, a small fine, or even have their businesses shut down.
“It gives law enforcement a nimble, flexible tool they can take immediate action on,” a Cuomo aide said.
The state will also create a hotline for parents and others to report stores selling the illegal products. And the Health Department will spearhead a web campaign to educate the public about the deadly drugs.
The actions come a month after President Obama signed a law to ban designer drugs and fake pot.
The Cuomo administration order doesn’t hold nearly the same power as the federal law, which carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison — or more if someone dies or is seriously hurt. The federal law also carries fines of up to $5 million for first-time offenders.
Cuomo aides say the state action is similar to going after low-level drug dealers while the feds focus on the kingpins.
“The feds are going to go after the big fish, but it’s not the big fish that are necessarily the problem,” one aide said. “It’s the bodega on the corner. And a U.S. attorney is not going to go after a bodega on the corner.”
The regulation builds on an order Cuomo’s Health Department issued last year banning the sale of the synthetic drugs and allowing for the shutdown of businesses that ignored it.
That order followed an exclusive Daily News investigation revealing the deadly dangers of the designer drug.
But manufacturers responded by simply tweaking the chemical compounds to stay ahead of the authorities.
The new regulation outlaws dozens more chemicals than the previous one and, for the first time, makes it a violation that allows local law enforcement to get involved.
Also, unlike the federal law, someone simply possessing a synthetic drug without the intent to sell it can be charged, a Cuomo aide said.
Synthetic drugs are marketed as imitating the effects of pot, cocaine and LSD. They are often masked as everyday household items like bath salts or potpourri.
But they can cause hallucinations, seizures and suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
Emergency room visits and state Poison Control calls linked to the deadly drugs have been on the rise since 2011, the state Health Department reported.
Sen. Charles Schumer, who sponsored the federal law, called the Cuomo action “another tool at our disposal.”

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Pinellas officials considering banning bath salts and some incenses


In their latest salvo in the on-going struggle against synthetic marijuana, Pinellas County officials are seeking to ban the sale of bath salts and certain herbal incense products.

The proposed ordinance is an attempt to close the loophole created when Florida banned more than 90 chemicals used in synthetic marijuana. County officials said that by the time those products were off the shelves, drugmakers had already adapted by concocting new, legal cocktails that are as dangerous as their predecessors.

“What we want to do is make sure that we took the opportunity to close those gaps to ensure those things don’t come growing back,” said Tim Burns, the county’s director of Justice and Consumer Services.

In addition to banning synthetic marijuana, bath salts and kratom — a lesser-known substance that comes from a tropical plant — the ordinance would establish a five-person committee responsible for reviewing new products and possibly banning those as well.

Today, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners will vote on whether to hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations.

Leo Calzadilla, who owns three tobacco shops in Pinellas County and is planning to open a fourth, said he would protest the ordinance. When state law banned a variety of products, he changed what he sold, he said. But the race to pass new ordinances and outfox manufacturers seems pointless to him, as well as bad for business.

“Herbal incense is sold as herbal incense,” he said. “That’s what it’s intended for. … What people do with it is their prerogative.”

Many of the synthetic marijuana products are labeled “not for consumption,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, adding that this was “intellectually dishonest.”

Manufacturers know that teenagers buy their products intending to smoke or ingest them, he said. The drugs can cause extreme euphoria, as well as hallucinations and seizures. And there have been several high-profile instances in which teenagers died or were injured while under the influence of those substances.

Gualtieri said he is distributing letters to store owners, asking them to voluntarily drop the synthetic drugs from their inventories.

Randy Heine, owner of Rockin Cards & Gifts, a tobacco shop in Pinellas Park, said he would not object to banning synthetic marijuana, though this should be done at a state level, he said. But kratom is another matter.

Heine sells kratom leaves for smoking, kratom powder for making tea, and kratomite, a liquid concoction he described as a “relaxer.”

“I’ve been selling it steadily for 30 years without a problem, zero, nada, nothing,” he said. “There’s minimal reports of problems, compared to coffee, aspirin, cigarettes, and nobody has died of this; it’s just hysteria.”

“I’ve got to confess I don’t even know what it is,” Gualtieri said. “It’s not on my radar.”

But Burns maintained that kratom is an emerging product, one that might not be well-known to law enforcement officials now, but is poised to replace the synthetic drugs the county is hoping to banish.

The county’s proposed ordinance cites Thailand’s decision to outlaw kratom, as well as the substance’s inclusion on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of drugs and chemicals of concern as reason for banning it in Pinellas.

County officials also have proposed new regulations that would require stores selling glass pipes and bongs to post large warning signs on the front of their buildings.

Legal but Dangerous: Synthetic drug causing problems in Casa Grande


The “spice” container reads: “Warning This Product is Not For Human Consumption.” It’s marketed as incense, herbs or potpourri, but you won’t find it at your local home or candle store. You’ll find this spice at the local convenience and liquor stores, gas stations and smoke shops.The problem with this dangerous drug is so big that President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 in early July. The law bans synthetic marijuana and other synthetic drugs like “bath salts,” which are commonly sold as plant food. They have nothing in common with the toiletries used to soften skin.

But the manufacturers simply change the formula slightly to stay one step ahead of the law.

No numbers are yet available for emergency calls resulting from using spice, but the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported more than 6,100 emergency calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 — up from just 304 in 2010 — and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.

What exactly is spice?

“People say that it’s synthetic marijuana,” said Cindy Schaider, executive director of the Casa Grande Alliance. “It’s not marijuana — in fact that’s part of the danger. People in the first place erroneously believe marijuana is safe — which it’s not — but then if marijuana is safe, then synthetic marijuana would be safe. Neither one is safe, but spice is a really dangerous drug.”

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.

Spice looks like dried grass clippings or shredded plant materials, but it contains chemical additives responsible for mind-altering effects that have been linked to violent behavior across the United States.

According to the National Association for Addiction Professionals, there are two receptors in the human brain that react to cannabinoids. One reduces pain and the other allows people to “get high.” Synthetic or natural substances used to get high can have many other effects on humans: severe anxiety, panic attacks, disassociation, racing thoughts, hallucinations, rapid pulse (tachycardia) and death/suicide.

“The chemical in marijuana stimulates the part of the brain called the cannabinoid receptor and that is what gives them the feeling of intoxication,” Schaider said. “Spice has synthetically created a similar chemical — they spray it on these leaves so when you smoke it, it stimulates that part of your brain.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was able to get five of the major chemicals banned for a one-year period but companies that produce spice are constantly reformulating the chemicals to stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

What smokers say

It’s legal to buy yet everyone I interviewed didn’t want to provide a real name.

“James,” 45, smokes spice every day. “I’ve been smoking it for a couple years — it’s off the chain!” James said. “It’s awesome — for one thing it doesn’t show up on my job’s drug screen. I operate heavy equipment and am drug tested frequently.” James was constantly shifting and appeared nervous, while beads of sweat appeared on his face, despite the fact the interview was conducted in an air-conditioned building.

“You get the same effect as marijuana but you don’t get as sleepy or hallucinate — you get a high but it stops sooner — you stay high for an hour or two. I roll mine in a flavored blunt — try to cover up the taste.”

 

Mom, 40, and Daughter, 19, smoke spice together. This particular day they bought 10 grams of spice, the volume equivalent of $30 in marijuana. “We smoke spice because marijuana is too expensive,” they said.

Mom works in the behavioral health department at a Florence correctional facility. “Not only that but my job drug screens and this isn’t detectable. I’m a little scared and nervous about the things I’ve heard about it though,” she said.

“How people are ending up in diapers or losing their hair or have internal bleeding.” But that doesn’t stop them from using it. “It’s almost the equivalent of smoking marijuana,” Mom said. “Except this is a little more intense — it’s a quicker high but it goes away quicker too. There have been times when I smoked it and I’m sitting down — I have to literally think about what I’m going to do even if it’s just to go to the bathroom — I have to plan it out because I feel like I’m about to fall.”

Drivers under the influence of the drug may face charges of driving while impaired, said Officer Thomas Anderson of the Casa Grande Police Department.

Boyfriend, 28, and Girlfriend, 25, smoke spice regularly.

“I’ve smoked it quite a few times,” Boyfriend said. “It gives you a good high for 15 to 20 minutes. I’ve smoked some that has made me hallucinate — pretty wild.”

Girlfriend said she doesn’t believe it makes people sick.

“I think it’s just mass hysteria — it’s the legal way of smoking marijuana,” she said.

“It’s all a conspiracy made up by the government,” said Boyfriend. However, “I heard people died from it — that makes me nervous.”

Why do they sell it?

It’s legal to sell but the store owners don’t want to use their names.

One Casa Grande smoke shop owner said he didn’t know anything about it when asked if it was dangerous.

“It says not for human consumption,” he commented. “You seem to know more than I do about it.” Other questions received an answer of “no comment.”

A spokeswoman at Smoke’m, 1397 E. Florence Blvd., said the store sells spice as “exotic potpourri.” She said people are using it as synthetic marijuana. Her store doesn’t advertise the product and keeps it hidden behind the counter because children sometimes come into the store with parents.

“It’s [spice] not for human consumption — but it’s in my top six sellers — it’s very common. One of my employees got sick off the old stuff and he had to take a couple of days off from work — flu-like symptoms — it’s not for human consumption,” she said. The owner said she believes the drug will become illegal to sell eventually.

An employee at a liquor store in Casa Grande said she wouldn’t smoke it. She said the store has at least three regular customers, including one man who buys $30 a day in spice — that’s $900 per month.

All the stores I spoke with said they only sell the second generation of spice. However, one customer said he knew of one store that still had the original stuff — you just need to know how to ask for it.

After the first generation of spice and its chemical makeup were made illegal, developers of the product tweaked the molecular structure to avoid prosecution.

One family’s experience

Joe Rodriguez, 46, of Stanfield said he found out his 25-year-old son was smoking spice in November 2011.

“I didn’t know until I went through his room and found a little jar with a screw-on lid,” Rodriguez said. “I asked him, what is this?”

The son told him it was a legal form of cannabis since he couldn’t smoke pot at work due to drug testing.

Rodriguez said he noticed his son’s habits change — from the way he dressed to cleaning up his room.

“Stuff around the house started coming up missing — a PS3 I won at work, a watch and some other stuff,” he said. “I don’t know what he did with it — he just said he needed it. He acted totally different.”

The son had graduated from college with a computer science degree.

“This was a kid who could sit down, look at a computer and say ‘this is the problem’ without even touching it and now he’s forgetting it. My son taught me how to use a computer — he knows how to break them down, he knows code, he knows DOS. If you would have met him before he started smoking spice, he was respectful and a good kid.”

The son is now in the county jail on a misdemeanor charge for failure to appear in court. Rodriguez said one night his son got so angry he threw a speaker at his face, causing Rodriguez to need medical attention under his right eye. The son is scheduled to be released from jail later this month.

“Now he thinks somebody is following him, somebody’s bugging the house — he’s just paranoid,” he said. “This kid used to build robots in high school — this kid was smart.”

Rodriguez is worried the drug caused some permanent damage to his son.

“I know he’s not going to be the same,” he said. “But I’m hoping that he’ll stop it and move forward with his life because he’s a good kid.”

Affecting the community

“I’m really concerned about spice,” Schaider said. “We are part of the Pinal County Substance Abuse Council and put out a brochure each year about drug trends. This year our brochure is about spice and it’s perfectly legal to buy spice.”

Most employers screen with a general five-panel test, referred to as a NIDA-5. This standard test provides rapid results if marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines/methamphetamines, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP) are detected in the urine.

Donna McBride, spokeswoman for Pinal County Juvenile Court Services, said that last year the county was offered free testing for spice for all probationers.

“The numbers were quite high,” she said. “There is a specific test for spice — it’s quite frankly rather costly. If we have a probation officer that suspects a kid might be using this stuff, then they can request an additional testing.”

“When we test­ — we find kids using because it’s easily accessible,” she said. “Have we seen it increase? Yes, because it’s like a new fad — something that kids are going to gravitate toward — something new to try.”

McBride said that if the test comes back positive for spice, the probation officer sits down with the juvenile and the family to discuss counseling information and come up with a plan to help the juvenile. The juvenile is retested at a later date and faces consequences if the result is positive.

“If we start with this town, this county — and stop the sale of it,” Rodriguez said. “These kids are not going to drive to Phoenix to go get it. We can put a dent in stopping them from ruining our kids’ lives — or anybody’s lives.”

McBride offered up one way for the community to be more responsible.

“If you’re a business owner and you do drug testing, make sure that your drug test includes those drugs that are pertinent to our area, which includes spice and bath salts,” she said.

Synthetic Marijuana is ‘Dangerous Stuff’


In the wake of raids on a dozen Washington County businesses selling the drug, Dr. Neil Capretto of Gateway Rehabilitation said the problem is ‘everywhere.’

 

Dr. Neil Capretto said one patient who came intoGateway Rehabilitation called the synthetic pot he was smoking “like marijuana on steroids.”

In the wake of a raid of a dozen Washington County businesses that were selling the synthetic marijuana, often packaged as incense and labeled “not fit for human consumption,” Capretto, Gateway’s medical director, said the use of such “designer drugs” is on the rise.

“It’s everywhere,” the doctor said. “It’s through most of the country now.”

And it’s getting worse, he said. Right now, he said there are 140 different versions of synthetic marijuana, and each has its own “tweaked” version of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in the drug.

The concept is based of research done in the 1990s by a scientist who was working to create a synthetic form of the drug for legitimate reasons, trying to mimic the relaxation and sedation effects of marijuana.

But Capretto said the doctor later abandoned the research because the synthetic version was similar “but much, much more potent.”

How much more?

“It was two to 10 times more potent,” Capretto said, adding that the potency causes much more extreme effects, including hallucinations and loss of motor-coordination skills.

Generally smoked, the products sold and seized at local shops come mostly from China, where makers spray the drug on plant material, and market it as incense or potpourri.

“It’s like, ‘Wink, wink,” but everyone knows,” Capretto said. “This is some very potent, dangerous stuff.”

And while the drugs have made its way into many circles, the doctor said it’s use it most common in two groups.

The first group includes people between the ages of 18 and 30.

The other group? People in the legal system or a work environment that requires regular drug testing.

Capretto said that while technology is advancing, it’s difficult to screen for the drug because its make-up is slightly different from traditional THC.

 

“So you pass your drug test,” Capretto said.

He asked parents and members of the community to be vigilant—and not assume that the name “synthetic marijuana” or the fact it can be found in convenience stores and gas stations are signs it is safe to consume.

And he said he thinks the stores, which he said have made as much as $100,000 a year selling the synthetic marijuana also known also as K2 or K3, should be held accountable.

“We have to hold their feet to the fire,” Capretto said.

USE OF SYNTHETIC DRUGS IS CUTTING SHORT CAREERS AND LIVES


As the surgeon general of the Navy, I am in awe of the young sailors and Marines who serve so gallantly. My most solemn days are those when I see a shipmate fall from wounds or illness. I also have the solemn task on occasion to review the case of a vibrant sailor or Marine who played Russian roulette with synthetic drugs such as “spice” or “bath salts” and lost, costing them their career, future and possibly life.

Sadly, this is no different from the real game where a round eventually chambers, and all is lost.

The issues that keep me up at night are the ones that have the most impact on personnel readiness and our ability to help sailors and Marines meet their missions. For me, undoubtedly the prevalence and growing popularity of synthetic forms of drugs like marijuana, the most common of which are spice and, in more recent months, bath salts, is one of those issues. These products are enough of a concern in our society that the federal government placed a ban on the sale of these man-made designer compounds earlier this month.

The U.S. military represents a microcosm of our much larger population and in many ways strives to be a reflection of the society we serve, so we share many of the same health and safety issues as the general population, including the increased use of these dangerous and debilitating drugs — which not only affect our service members’ health, but also our readiness as a military force. For nearly a year now, Navy leaders have taken a multitiered approach to combating this escalating issue in our forces, and with our partners in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Naval Personnel Command and throughout our naval enterprise, we have made progress in deterring and detecting use.

The challenge remains though, as these drugs are easy to obtain and are falsely marketed by manufacturers as a safe way to get high while avoiding drug detection. It is important for sailors and Marines to know that despite manufacturer claims, we can and are testing for these drugs.

The chemicals found in these drugs are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and no two batches are alike, meaning it is nearly impossible to determine the drug’s potency. Most packaging clearly reads, “Not for human consumption,” and that is for good reason. Military and civilian health professionals continue to learn more about the negative health effects of synthetic drug use, and the data are alarming.

Bath salts are essentially chemically engineered products meant to stimulate the central nervous system — similar to drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine and Ecstasy.

Detrimental effects of the drug, which is also marketed as “plant food” or “herbal incense,” include but are not limited to extreme paranoid delusions and hallucinations, anxiety, agitation, aggression, tremors, seizures and dysphoria.

Unlike marijuana, the synthetic chemicals in spice-type products are more potent to the brain and other organs because they bind themselves more permanently to receptors. Spice could have multiple unknown chemicals including harmful metal residues, with unknown potency potentially five to 200 times more potent than the THC in marijuana. Users are also experimenting by combining different products, which can dramatically change or increase the effects. Rapid tolerance in some users can lead to increased dosage and addiction, either physical or psychological. According to the DEA, increased use of spice and other synthetics has led to a surge in emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers.

 

DEA raids smoke shops in Las Cruces, Sunland Park, Alamogordo


LAS CRUCES — Federal and local law enforcement officers raided several smoke shops Wednesday in Las Cruces, as well as one business in Sunland Park, as part of a nationwide investigation into the alleged production and distribution of synthetic drugs.

Masked agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, assisted by LCPD officers, were seen removing several large boxes of evidence from at least three retail locations near the intersection of South Solano Drive and East Idaho Avenue.

Federal agents also raided the Station Recreation smoke shop on 1621 Appaloosa in Sunland Park. DEA officials did not say Wednesday if any raids in southern New Mexico resulted in arrests.

An affidavit filed in support of the search warrants in the U.S. District Court for New Mexico indicates that 14 businesses in Las Cruces, Sunland Park and Alamogordo were targeted for allegedly selling illegal synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as Spice, and synthetic cathinones, more popularly known as “bath salts.”

Two smoke shops in Silver City, Twisted Illusions and The Smoke Shop, were not raided and neither sells Spice, workers said.

In January, the DEA, joined by other federal and local law enforcement agencies, began investigating the smoke shops, often sending undercover agents to purchase suspected synthetic drugs, according to court documents.

“Each undercover operation has resulted in the seizure of individual-used sized containers containing a plant material that is believed to

have been treated with chemicals or a powdery-like substance,” DEA agent Jeffery S. Castillo wrote in his affidavit.

The raids in southern New Mexico appeared to be part of a coordinated nationwide investigation as the DEA on Wednesday also raided businesses in El Paso, Albuquerque, as well as locations in California, Utah, New York and New Hampshire, according to published reports.

“DEA agents are conducting numerous enforcement operations throughout the region … This is part of a bigger operation,” said Carmen Coutino, a spokeswoman for the DEA office in El Paso.

The search warrant for the businesses in southern New Mexico, signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen E. Garza, authorized agents to seize written and electronic documents, financial records, suspected synthetic drugs and paraphernalia, as well as security camera recordings.

Witnesses at Somewhere Else Comics Games, one of 10 businesses in Las Cruces targeted by the DEA, said Wednesday that police officers entered the business with guns drawn, announcing they were raiding the establishment.

“They pat-frisked me and my son. It was very scary for us,” said one woman who declined to give her name. She and her 13-year-old son sat inside a vehicle outside the store at 1230 S. Solano Drive.

Authorities also raided Phat Glass, located next door to Somewhere Else Comics and Games, and Smokin Supply, less than a quarter-mile away at 1315 S. Solano Drive.

“They came in, guns drawn, told me to put my hands up and handcuffed me,” said Maurice Portillo, co-owner of Smokin Supply, who was not arrested and subsequently released.

Portillo said the DEA agents “tore” through his shop, turning around security cameras and taking cell phones, business records, as well as glass containers and herbal incense products that are often described as synthetic marijuana because of their chemical composition.

Portillo, a 29-year-old U.S. Army veteran and student at New Mexico State University, said he believed the products he sold were legal, noting that he bought them from a distributor who also provided literature vouching for their legality with DEA drug scheduling provisions.

“I don’t do any illegal business out here. There’s no history of anything illegal here,” said Portillo, who opened his business about six weeks ago. Portillo said the DEA agents did not tell him what they were looking for, and made several references to the operation being “Obama (expletive).”

“I was like, ‘This is just (expletive) politics …,'” Portillo said.

On July 9, President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, which instituted tougher criminal penalties for selling some first-generation synthetic drugs — such as K2 and Spice — as well as some newer ones.

In March 2011, the DEA “emergency scheduled” several chemicals often found in herbal incense products that make them chemically similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

However, Castillo wrote in his affidavit that “clandestine manufacturers and traffickers” began distributing smokable cannabinoid products in an attempt to circumvent newly enacted federal and state laws.

Castillo said the criminal offenses possibly committed by the investigation’s targets include possession with intent to distribute analogs of a controlled substance, and selling drug paraphernalia.

Portillo, whose store also sells health items, regular tobacco products, cell phones, vaporizers and storage containers, said he never believed he was selling anything illegal and added that he cooperated with authorities. He also said the raid will only temporarily hurt his business.

“We’ll be all right. We’ll be back,” he said.

Brian Fraga can be reached at (575) 541-5462; Follow him on Twitter @bfraga

 

Closer look

The Drug Enforcement Administration, investigating the alleged production and distribution of synthetic drugs, obtained search warrants for the following businesses in southern New Mexico:

— Phat Glass, 1211 East Idaho, Las Cruces

— Phat Glass South, 306 Union, Las Cruces

— Phat Glass Too, 109 North New York, Alamogordo

— Phat Glass 3, 823 North New York, Alamogordo

— Sam’s Gift Shop and Smoking Accessories, 607-C South White Sands Boulevard, Alamogordo

— Neverwhere, 940 North Main, Las Cruces

— Somewhere Else Comic Books and Games, 1230 South Solano, Las Cruces

— Zia Tattoo, 1300 El Paseo, Las Cruces

— Station Recreation, 1621 Appaloosa, Sunland Park

— The Realm Hookah Lounge, 991 West Picacho, Las Cruces

— Smokin Supply, 1315 South Solano, Las Cruces

— Hookah Outlet, 1900 South Espina, Las Cruces

— Subherbia, 1200 East Madrid, Las Cruces

— Subherbia 2, 150 South Solano, Las Cruces
1:27 p.m.

LAS CRUCES — Federal and local law enforcement officers raided at least three Las Cruces smoke shops today as part of a wider investigation into synthetic drugs.

Masked agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, assisted by LCPD officers, are still on-scene at Phat Glass, 1211 East Idaho Ave., Smokin Supply, 1315 South Solano Drive, and Somewhere Else Comics and Games, 1230 South Solano Drive.

Police entered the comic store/smoke shop this morning with guns drawn and announced that they were raiding the business, said two witnesses who were inside the store.

Witnesses said the agents were “looking through everything” in the store, checking counters, receipts, and pat-frisking everybody inside the business and asking for their identifications.

Federal agents were also seen bringing evidence bags inside the stores.

DEA spokesman Carmen Coutino confirmed that the investigation was related to synthetic drugs. DEA agents in New Mexico and Texas have raided other smoke shops looking to confiscate synthetic marijuana, commonly known as SPICE, according to multiple media reports.

Coutino said more information will be released later today, adding: “DEA agents are conducting numerous enforcement operations throughout the region. This is part of a bigger operation.”

12:16 p.m.

LAS CRUCES — Shops near the corner of Solano Drive and Idaho Avenue may be part of a federal raid by agents looking to confiscate the synthetic drug Spice.

According to Sun-News reporter Brian Fraga, the Las Cruces Police Department is assisting the Drug Enforcement Agency in an investigation Wednesday at Phat Glass, 1211 E. Idaho Ave., Smokin’ Supply, 1315 S. Solano Drive, and Somewhere Else Comics and Games, 1230 S. Solano Drive.

 

Police entered the comic store/smoke shop this morning with guns drawn and announced they were raiding the business, two witnesses on scene said.

DEA agents are raiding locations across New Mexico, according to multiple media sources.

DEA agents raided at least one location in Sunland Park and KOB.com is reporting DEA raided 16 locations in Albuquerque today.

A spokeswoman for the agency told KFOX14 that they are looking to confiscate Spice.

Spice refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana and that are marketed as safe, legal alternatives to that drug, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Synthetic marijuana was banned in New Mexico in April 2011.

Troopers visit 3,500 stores in K2 drug checks


The Michigan State Police announced Thursday that troopers have visited more than 3,500 retail stores statewide since late June in an effort to raise awareness that it is illegal to buy, sell or possess K2 or other synthetic drugs.

Although most retailers were in compliance with the law, approximately 140 cases across the state are pending further investigation, according to a news release.

In one case, a detective received a tip about synthetic drugs being sold at a retail store in Menominee County, the release said. Four employees were arrested, and nearly 600 packets of synthetic drugs were confiscated.

In another instance, an employee of a retail store in Crawford County proactively called a state police narcotics team to turn over a quantity of synthetic drugs being sold after the law had taken effect.

Despite state and federal bans that took effect this month, the drugs — often marketed as herbal incense or bath salts that mimic highs from cocaine, marijuana and LSD — remain available in some convenience stores, smoke shops and online, according to authorities.

On Wednesday, police and federal agents raided dozens of businesses suspected of selling synthetic drugs in nearly 100 cities during the first nationwide crackdown. The Detroit DEA was not part of that, officials said.

“There is nothing OK, legal or safe about synthetic drugs like K2, and the Michigan State Police is taking a zero tolerance approach to enforcement,” Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police, said in a release. “While those who choose to break the law can expect enforcement action, we are pleased to report that the majority of businesses are true partners in this effort and chose to comply voluntarily.”

DrugFacts: Spice (Synthetic Marijuana)


“Spice” refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as “safe,” legal alternatives to that drug. Sold under many names, including K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and others—and labeled “not for human consumption”—these products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive (mind-altering) effects.

False Advertising

Labels on Spice products often claim that they contain “natural” psycho-active material taken from a variety of plants. Spice products do contain dried plant material, but chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic (or designer) cannabinoid compounds.

For several years, Spice mixtures have been easy to purchase in head shops and gas stations and via the Internet. Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances, making it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them. Manufacturers of Spice products attempt to evade these legal restrictions by substituting different chemicals in their mixtures, while the DEA continues to monitor the situation and evaluate the need for updating the list of banned cannabinoids.

Spice products are popular among young people; of the illicit drugs most used by high-school seniors, they are second only to marijuana. Easy access and the misperception that Spice products are “natural” and therefore harmless have likely contributed to their popularity. Another selling point is that the chemicals used in Spice are not easily detected in standard drug tests.

A graph showing Past-Year Use of Illicit Drugs by High School Seniors: Marijuana/Hashish 36.4%, Spice 11.4%, MDMA 5.3%, Hallucinogens 5.2%, Cocaine 2.9%. SOURCE: University of Michigan, 2011 Monitoring the Future Study

How Is Spice Abused?

Some Spice products are sold as “incense,” but they more closely resemble potpourri. Like marijuana, Spice is abused mainly by smoking. Sometimes Spice is mixed with marijuana or is prepared as an herbal infusion for drinking.

Image of K2, a popular brand of “Spice” mixture.K2, a popular brand of “Spice” mixture.

How Does Spice Affect the Brain?

Spice users report experiences similar to those produced by marijuana—elevated mood, relaxation, and altered perception—and in some cases the effects are even stronger than those of marijuana. Some users report psychotic effects like extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.

So far, there have been no scientific studies of Spice’s effects on the human brain, but we do know that the cannabinoid compounds found in Spice products act on the same cell receptors as THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. Some of the compounds found in Spice, however, bind more strongly to those receptors, which could lead to a much more powerful and unpredictable effect. Because the chemical composition of many products sold as Spice is unknown, it is likely that some varieties also contain substances that could cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect.

What Are the Other Health Effects of Spice?

Spice abusers who have been taken to Poison Control Centers report symptoms that include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations. Spice can also raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart (myocardial ischemia), and in a few cases it has been associated with heart attacks. Regular users may experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms.

We still do not know all the ways Spice may affect human health or how toxic it may be, but one public health concern is that there may be harmful heavy metal residues in Spice mixtures. Without further analyses, it is difficult to determine whether this concern is justified.

DEA raids smoke shops across Valley for synthetic marijuana


Authorities are raiding smoke shops across the Rio Grande Valley in search of synthetic marijuana containing a recently outlawed chemical mixture.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents filed more than a dozen search warrants with a federal judge in Brownsville on Monday.

Authorities spent Wednesday morning executing the search warrants looking for Spice, Kush, K2 and other brands of synthetic marijuana.

Federal court records show that DEA agents filed search warrants for the following locations:

• Cloud 9 Smoke Shop, Padre Boulevard, South Padre Island
• Dark Secrets Smoke Shop, Central Boulevard Brownsville
• 420 Smoke Shop, International Boulevard, Brownsville
• Green Dragon Smoke Shop, International Boulevard, Brownsville
• Green Dragon Smoke Shop, Padre Island Highway, Brownsville
• Pokey’s Planet, Boca Chica Boulevard, Brownsville
• Pokey’s Planet, Alton Gloor Boulevard, Brownsville
• Pokey’s Planet, West University Drive, Edinburg
• Pokey’s Planet, Trenton Road, Edinburg
• Pokey’s Planet, West Tyler Avenue, Harlingen
• Eight Eighty Smoke Shop, South F Street, Harlingen
• Pokey’s Planet, Expressway 77/83, San Benito
• 420 Smoke Shop, Travis Street, San Benito
• Pokey’s Planet, Expressway 83, Weslaco

But Action 4 News viewers reported DEA raids at other locations in Pharr and McAllen.

Coordinated Effort

Action 4 News spoke to Will Glaspy with the DEA in McAllen.

Glaspy said that a total of 33 smoke shops were raided across the Valley on Wednesday morning.

The DEA in McAllen called in agents from other area and used the assistance of local police departments and the Texas Department of Public safety.

Results of the raids were not immediately available but the DEA is expected to hold a process conference.

Glaspy said he could not comment if the raids in the Valley were part of a larger national effort.

Search Warrants

Synthetic marijuana is described as an organic substance sprayed with chemicals to simulate the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Manufacturers label the product that it’s “not for human consumption” and are constantly changing the chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana.

Federal officials updated the list of prohibited chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana back on July 9th.

According to the search warrant application, the targeted stores sell synthetic marijuana as well as the pipes and other materials used to smoke it.

Undercover agents went to smoke shops across the Valley and spoke with employees about about which synthetic marijuana product was better.

The undercover agents bought the synthetic marijuana at different locations and had it sent to a lab where it test postive for the prohibited chemcials

Synthetic weed may cause heart attacks, but it’s tough to ban


Spice, Blaze, K2, Red X Dawn. Any of them sound familiar? They’re different brands of synthetic pot — psychoactive drugs (commonly marketed in head shops as incense) which contain chemicals that, much like the THC in marijuana, act on the cannabinoid receptors in your brain. Sounds peachy, right? There’s a catch. Unlike pot, which is known to increase heart rate but is otherwise rarely linked to heart problems, the synthetic stuff appears to be leading to heart attacks, most recently in three Texas teenagers.

Back in November, 80beats’ Douglas Main gave this rundown of the circumstances surrounding the cases, which are published in that month’s journal Pediatrics:

Serious as a Heart Attack:

  • All three teenagers were seen at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas within three months of one another, after complaining of chest pain for several days. Myocardial infarctions were confirmed with EEG readings and the presence of troponin, a chemical released when heart muscles are damaged. Each was treated and released.
  • Though all three admitted to smoking marijuana in the previous few weeks, their use of K2 occurred just before symptoms of chest pain began. Two tested positive for THC; all tested negative for other drugs of abuse. Only one patient was tested for two synthetic cannabinoids, which weren’t detected. This is likely due to the widely varying blend of cannabinoids used in these products.
  • Very rarely, marijuana use has been linked to heart attacks, thought to arise from THC’s ability to increase heart rate and cardiac output.
  • K2 may cause an increased risk for a heart attack due to a stronger activation of this same pathway, or via another unknown route. Colin Kane, a pediatric cardiologist at UT Southwestern & Children’s Medical Center in Dallas told Reuters he was “certainly suspicious that there was something in the K2 that would have caused these heart attacks.”
  • No chemical analysis was done on the products the teenagers smoked and is only described in the paper as, “K2, Spice (Dallas, Texas, manufacturer unknown).”

In any case, all these adverse reactions to synthetic weed were obviously attracting the attention of the U.S. DEA, which promptly stepped in to ban the stuff; but — surprise, surprise — attempts to curb the sale of these substances have been woefully unavailing. On July 9th, President Obama signed into law the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, a federal ban on, as its name suggests, synthetic drugs. But as Wired’s Brandon Keim reports, the ban has managed to become obsolete in a manner of days:

Drug formulations not covered by the law’s language, and almost certainly synthesized in direct response to legal pressure, are already on sale. If synthetics are supposed to be part of the War on Drugs, then this battle may already be lost.

“There are several compounds out there now, in mixtures that I’ve tested myself, that would not fall under this ban,” said Kevin Shanks, a forensic toxicologist at AIT Laboratories, an Indiana-based chemical testing company. “The law just can’t seem to keep up.”

It’s hard to watch this kind of scenario unfold and not reflect on the absurdity of marijuana criminalization. Is this a preview of what the war on drugs will look like in the years to come — a continuously escalating back-and-forth between the laws that would see a substance like marijuana banned, and the (potentially dangerous) reactionary measures designed to exploit loopholes in those laws?

“In this area of Indiana, we’re not seeing any of the classical compounds we’ve seen in the last year,” Shanks said. “We’re seeing the uncontrolled ones. I have no doubt they were designed specifically for that reason.”