Herbal Incense? Ha! Buyers Beware: Spice is Not so Nice
Wikipedia’s definition for spice states that it is ”a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or vegetable substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food.” Well, the qualities of the Spice you are about to read about won’t reflect any of those stated characteristics. In fact, this type of spice doesn’t come from a plant at all. This spice is a man-made chemical compound designed to replicate the effects of cannabis.
Below the facts behind Spice and other synthetic drugs:
What is This Chemical Concoction Made Of?
DEA Drug Fact Sheet definition for spice has it as a mixture of herbs and spices that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana. The chemical compounds typically include HU-210, HU-211, JWH-018, and JWH-073.
So what do these psychoactive drugs actually do to you?
HU-210: According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the synthetic cannabinoid HU210 induces spatial memory deficits and suppresses the hippocampal firing rate in rats. HU-210 is purported to be an ingredient in the herbal mixture “Spice,” which may be smoked for its psychoactive effects. In mice, behavioral pharmacology studies reveal that HU-210 decreases overall activity, causes analgesia, decreases body temperature, and produces catalepsy. HU-210 abusers report the drug is 100 to 800 times more potent than THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is also a controlled substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.
HU-211: The National Drug Court Resource Center refers to HU-211 as a psychoactive with anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties. Moreover, HU-211 does not act on the cannabinoid receptor and does not produce cannabis type effects when ingested, though it is commonly listed as a synthetic cannabinoid. HU-211 was introduced into clinical trials for traumatic brain injury. Unfortunately, HU-211 is currently not controlled under the US Controlled Substances Act.
JWH-018: The same source points out that JWH-018 is an analgesic that was first developed by the Clemson University researcher John W. Huffman in 1995. The cannabinoid was therefore named after with the prefix JWH. The Office of Diversion Control of the DEA says it is used in scientific research as tools to study the cannabinoid system. JWH-018 is not currently controlled under the Controlled Substances Act.
JWH-073: According to the DEA Office of Diversion Control JWH-073 is a synthetic cannabinoid used legally in scientific research as a tool to study the cannabinoid system. JWH-073 has been found in herbal incense mixtures with names included “Spice” and” K2.” As for its illicit uses, outside of the scientific research field, the use of JWH-073 is illegitimate. DEA states that the substance has been identified spiked on plant material in numerous herbal products including “Spice,” “K2,” “K3,” and others. JWH-073 is not currently a controlled substance under the US Controlled Substance Abuse Act.
According to the DEA, Synthetic cannabinoids are used in an attempt to avoid the laws that make marijuana illegal. Manufacturers will often get around state and national laws (e.g., JWH-018 is currently illegal in many states and has just been banned nationwide for one year starting March 1, 2011) by selling a similar product with another, not yet illegal, substance (e.g., JWH-250).
Spice Taking its Toll in America
Often a day doesn’t go by without there being something in the media about how synthetic marijuana has led to hospitalizations as a result of drug poisoning and overdosing. While the numbers of closed human exposures according to the 2016 American Association of Poison Control Centers report have been up and down, in 2015 those numbers sharply spiked. It is worth mentioning that the American Association of Poison Control Centers uses the term “exposures” to denote when someone has had contact with the substance in some way; for example, ingested, inhaled, absorbed by the skin or eyes, etc. Needless to say, not all exposures are poisonings or overdoses. So the total number of “exposures” during the 2015 calendar year in America amounted to 7,779 cases, the largest number reported since 2011.
Meanwhile, in our own neck of the woods there was news of a recent mass of hospitalizations in the Los Angeles area. This time the victims were a group of Los Angeles homeless people considered by many as the most vulnerable sector of our population. A Los Angeles Times piece recently quoted the Los Angeles Police Department Police Chief Charlie Beck saying that 15 people in Skid Row were hospitalized after consuming a tainted form of synthetic marijuana known as Spice. However, this poisoning doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident limited to the Los Angeles area. The same LA Times article mentions that “tainted batches of synthetic cannabinoids have popped up in recent years in numerous locales including New York and San Diego.” In reference to the composition of synthetic marijuana, LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, a skid row veteran officer, was quoted on the LA Times saying: “They change the chemical components to make it untraceable. It’s five times stronger than marijuana and causes two common signs of overdosing depending on the chemical components.”
So What’s the Big Deal About Synthetic Cannabinoids
The National Drug Court Resource Center states that the pharmacological effects of smoked synthetic cannabinoids essentially trigger the same responses by those caused when smoking marijuana.
- Increase heart rate & blood pressure
- Altered state of consciousness
- Mild euphoria and relaxation
- Perceptual alterations (time distortion)
- Intensification of sensory experiences
- Pronounced cognitive effects
- Impaired short-term memory
- Increase in reaction times
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American Association of Poison Control Centers. Synthetic Cannabinoid Data: April 30, 2016. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
The Los Angeles Times. Tainted ‘Spice’ Poisoned 15 on Skid Row, LAPD Chief Says. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: K2 or Spice. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. The Synthetic Cannabinoid HU210 Induces Spatial Memory Deficits and Suppresses Hippocampal Firing Rate in Rats. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
Drug Enforcement Agency. Office of Diversion Control. Title 21 United States Code (USC) Controlled Substances Act. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
National Drug Court Resource Center. Spice and K2 and the Problem of Synthetic Cannabinoids. Retrieved May 3, 2016.