Ask NIDA scientist Marilyn A. Huestis, Ph.D., what she wants to tell young people about the synthetic (manmade) marijuana called Spice, and she responds with passion. In a recent interview with SBB, Dr. Huestis shared a news story about teens in Dallas who went to the ER with chest pains, only to learn that they had had heart attacks. All of them had recently smoked Spice.
Dr. Huestis said that dangerous health effects from Spice are possible because of the drug’s potency. “Using Spice is very dangerous because the chemicals and compounds that are in it vary from batch to batch. You might buy a package one week, go back to the same place and buy the exact same package the next week, and the ingredients may be completely different. Not only are the ingredients unknown, but so is the strength of the drug,” she said.
“Because its makeup varies so widely, studying Spice is a challenge,” said Dr. Huestis. “Essentially, if you use it, you’re experimenting on yourself.”
That experimentation could result in other life-threatening health complications. According to a recent news story out of Wyoming, three young people were hospitalized with kidney failure from using blueberry-flavored Spice. A dozen other people got sick. Everyone affected was in their late teens or early 20s.
Use Is Expanding
NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study asked teens about synthetic marijuana for the first time in the 2011 survey. What they found: Approximately 1 in every 10 high school seniors reported use in the past 12 months. Teens and young adults may be drawn to Spice because sometimes it comes in flavors.
Even though it’s illegal in the United States, Spice is still available in some truck stops and other places that market it as incense. Dr. Huestis said this is because manufacturers are constantly changing the ingredients to attempt to get around the bans. However, the United States does have an “analog law,” which bans drugs with chemistry and effects similar to illegal drugs.
“We’re learning more about Spice and how it works in the body and brain every day,” said Dr. Huestis. “Research is focusing on the body’s cannabinoid system, which regulates hunger, memory, and heart rate, among many other important functions. Spice and marijuana hijack this system.”
Read more about Spice.