Spice that's not nice: A new street drug plague

A new drug is sweeping the nation, subverting drug tests and escaping lawmakers on a molecular level. Get the facts once and for all. Photo: Spice

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2013-Whoever uses this drug is an idiot”-John W. Huffman, creator of spice.

There is a relatively new street drug sweeping the nation which presents dangers as significant as many so-called hard drugs of the past. It is called spice and may be of greater consequence than most hard drugs for two reasons; spice is not illicit in most states and is not detectable in standard urine tests. Lack of detection makes spice attractive to those who wish, or need, to conceal drug abuse.

Reports from physicians at the Navy Medical Center in San Diego, California support anecdotal evidence that spice has become popular among military personnel who choose to abuse mind altering substances and side-step the consequences of urinalysis.

Equally disconcerting, spice is popular with personnel in positions of public safety who are subject drug testing.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) tells us spice is synthetically formulated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, at 10 times the strength of natural THC. This high dose of THC results in an effect that can induce a state of psychosis.

NIH reports this psychoactive designer drug can be altered so quickly that laws to ban spice are by-passed by rearranging the molecular construct and re-introducing the newly-changed drug almost overnight. By the time the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) can confirm that a particular version of spice endangers users and society at large, producers alter the compound to skirt the DEA’s efforts.

Spice was created by an organic chemist at Clemson University, John W. Huffman, for potential medicinal use. Apparently, the drug escaped the lab in the same manner as killer bees.

Subsequently, sinister chemists applied the drug to a mix of herbs via aerosol spray and marketed the product as incense, clearly marking on each package the warning: “Not for human consumption.”

Curiously, spice cannot be purchased by those under the age of 18 which begs the question-why is there an age restriction to purchase incense?  

Recently, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced multiple cases of renal failure as a result of spice use, and NIH reports nausea, confusion, disorientation, eating disorders, emotional issues and aforementioned psychosis as direct effect. The CDC reports one death resulting from spice abuse. In all likelihood, there are more to come.

A recent conversation with Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA), revealed a shared frustration among nation’s lawmakers of spice manufacturers circumventing legislation. When law is passed to make spice illegal in its formula du jour, the formula is altered and it’s back in business. Conversations will law enforcement officials align with opinions of frustrated lawmakers.

NIH, among other scientific institutions, universities and research facilities claim the potential pharmacological numeric variations of molecular alteration of synthetic THC combined with a Rubiks Cube of multiple THC receptors in the brain is creating a cat and mouse game between legislators and spice manufacturers that could continue in perpetuity.

Meanwhile, this drug can, without question, be ruinous of the lives of thousands, perhaps millions of people and invariably, there can be serious consequences from those who choose to abuse in positions of public trust. Crime has already affected shopping centers where spice is sold via robbery, thus supporting opinion that spice abuse as a new twist to an ugly old, highly predictable story.

The pathway to addiction with spice is similar to any number of mind altering substances. Spice has a much shorter mental shelf life than marijuana, requiring users to repeat ingestion to maintain the effect in a fashion similar to crack cocaine. Users devote income normally designated for essential expenditures, such as rent, car payments, food and clothing to buying the drug to continue their “high.”

Channeling funds to support drug use causes a myriad of problems. It can weaken the family unit, when users are unable to provide basic necessities because they diverted funds for drug use. It can also substantially increase payouts by state and federal medical, housing and support organizations which bail out users. Addicts are often unemployed, increasing the burden on taxpayers as abusers turn to public assistance programs for help.

Funneling money to drugs to maintain a high disrupts domestic tranquility, creates evictions, car repossessions, asset pawning and empty wallets. Compounding this issue is the fact that spice is available at many tobacco shops just around the corner.

This author is on the front lines of spice abuse, responding to friends whose spouse and/or children are in trouble as a result of abuse and assisting spouses of military personnel on a personal issue resolution website. The increase in the number of those impacted is alarming.  

The fact that spice is not illegal further complicates the problem.

Legislators are not expected to overwhelm their schedules chasing molecules. There are too many issues on legislative tables to be sidetracked by the cat and mouse game of altering the molecules in spice that manufacturers seem to enjoy.

In fact, as manufacturers learn that an investigatory process has begun on a given recipe, by the time the investigation is complete and goes to legislation, the recipe has changed forcing new law into antiquity as soon as the gavel strikes.

Legislators should come to an understanding that passing broadly written law they fear can be challenged is the best they will do. The manufacturers of spice products are small, unorganized in terms of mutual cooperation and cannot spend the small fortune it would take to challenge a legal broad stroke.

Many states already have existing law that could immediately ban spice if lawmakers were to assuage their fear of broad language and use these weapons to combat the newest wave of substance abuse before it grows to national tragedy comparable to heroin, cocaine, illegally obtained narcotics and methamphetamine.

Some say the marijuana advocate group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) would gather to challenge laws too broad in scope for fear of affecting their efforts.

The differences in the drugs make this unlikely. The strength and concentration of synthetic THC is far greater than natural THC. Local representatives of NORML did not return calls or e-mails and some e-mail addresses were invalid but logic dictates defending a scourge of a drug like spice would only dilute and weaken NORML’s message and deplete resources.

Defending spice could cause NORML to be a socio/political pariah. Supporting spice, even in principle, could create a perception of questionable motive for NORML and affect any measure of respectability and influence NORML has struggled to achieve regardless of public opinion of existing marijuana law.

Currently, spice can be detected via metabolites in urinalysis but is not mandatory in standard drug screening.  Moreover, if an employee lost his job as a result of testing positive for spice, the termination may be successfully challenged because spice is not illicit in most states and there is scant evidence regarding blood levels regarding enduring influence.

Fortunately, spice addiction is not as difficult or complex to treat as heroin, narcotics or methamphetamine. From a standpoint of psychology, a method known as habituation, a means of altering habit, can serve to alleviate psychological dependence. Available data on physical dependence is minimal and to date, research has not revealed clues- providing research exists to the extent any determinations or conclusions can be drawn.

It would seem obvious that spice is a serious threat to humanity when the creator claims anyone who uses it is an “Idiot”. The idiot list is growing fast and furious.

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